ICC Regional Manager visits persecuted pastors in India to investigate the rise of persecution in the southern states.
Beaten and Falsely Accused in Karnataka
Persecution in India is not unprecedented. Attacks on Christians are so common in some areas that many pastors go into ministry knowing one day they will be a victim of assault and arbitrary arrest as a result of their pastoral work.
Pastor Monish was the first person I spoke to regarding this trend of Christian persecution. In August 2012, Monish was leading Sunday worship when Hindu radicals broke into his meeting hall and attempted to end the worship service by force. Although cooler heads prevailed and no one was injured, the radicals did not suffer any legal consequences and therefore were only emboldened to attack again. That next Sunday, they broke into the meeting place and beat Monish in front of his fellowship.
Police were called to the scene, but this made the situation for Monish worse. When the police arrived, radicals claimed Monish started the fight and that he was “forcefully converting people to Christianity.”
Accusing Christian pastors of “forceful conversion” is a classic maneuver used by radical Hindus to repress Christians across India. In 1968, India passed its first freedom of religion act which made conversion to any religion by force illegal. The law restricts conversions resulting from force, fraud or inducement. Police, in concert with radicals, often use this law as a means to arrest Christians without a real charge, a systemic form of Christian persecution.
Monish was arrested and taken to jail based solely on the false accusations of his attackers. At the police station, radicals gathered 150 people to bear false witness against Monish. Against this volume of false testimony, Monish stood little chance of proving his innocence.
In response, Monish filed a police report against his attackers for assault. After the report was filed, radicals tried to strike a deal with Monish. They told him if he was willing to sign an agreement to not lead Christians worship anymore, they would drop all the charges against him. Visibly appalled, Monish didn’t even consider signing the agreement an option.
As I concluded my interview with Monish, he told me he was still in court fighting for justice and that many of the 150 false witnesses have retracted their statements. This has led his assailants to renew their efforts to settle the dispute outside of court. “I will not settle until justice is done in this case,” Monish said. “I will attempt to stop this violence before it happens again.”
Christian Persecution by Police in Tamil Nadu
Monish and his fellowship in Karnataka are not the only Christians affected by this wave of persecution. Christians living in the southern state of Tamil Nadu are being attacked in a near identical fashion. To give me insight, Pastor Robinson from Marthandam, a town located on India’s most southern tip, traveled to my hotel to share his testimony.
As Robinson was leading his fellowship, Hindu radicals broke in and started to beat him with clubs. Tensions between Robinson and radicals in the area had been on edge for several months prior to the attack due to the success of Robinson’s ministry. Usually, the radicals would just stand at the windows of the Robinson’s meeting hall and shout during the service, attempting to disrupt the proceedings.
As tensions escalated, Robinson contacted local police, who sent guards to ensure trouble didn’t break out during a worship service. Unfortunately, these guards proved useless when Christian persecution did break out. As Robinson was beaten, the guards stood by and watched.
Robinson was beaten so badly he was hospitalized for ten days. Before he could fully recover, police arrested him in the hospital and held him for questioning at the local police station. As if reading from a script written by Monish’s attackers, Robinson’s assailants had filed a complaint alleging Robinson of forcefully converting people to Christianity.
Released on bail, Robinson was approached by radicals and told that the charges against him would be dropped if he signed an agreement saying he would no longer lead Christian worship, eerily similar to the agreement presented to Monish. Pastor Robinson refused, telling me, “Even if I were threatened with death, I would not sign that note.”
Instead of getting a fair trial, local police decided to punish Robinson outside of court. Robinson was ordered to report to the police station twice a day, once at 10 a.m. and then again at 7 p.m. Unfortunately for Robinson, the police station is located over 40 miles away.
Under threat of arrest, Robinson was forced to travel the 160 miles every day for 20 days. After twenty days, police allowed him to check in with local police once every Sunday. Robinson continues to sign in every Sunday and is usually detained by police who are attempting to stop him from leading his Sunday worship service.
As I concluded my interview with Robinson, he told me he doesn’t care what his ministry costs him personally. “Money, tears, blood; they are well spent in the Lord’s service,” Robinson said with a smile.
As I left southern India, I did find a silver lining in the sad result of my investigation. Even though persecution is likely to increase, Christians in southern India have strong leaders like Monish and Robinson to follow.
BY WILLIAM STARK