NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Four Christians, including three evangelists and a police officer, have been jailed in India’s central state of Chhattisgarh for “converting” Hindus to Christianity, after they were injured in an attack by Hindu militants, Christian officials confirmed Saturday April 17.
“The Christians were sent to Durg jail” near the city of Bhilai where the April 15 attack took place, said the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), which represents evangelical Christians and churches.
The troubles reportedly began early Thursday, April 15, when young activists of the hard-line Hindu Bajrang Dal and Dharam Sena groups attacked Christians of the evangelical Brethren Assembly Church in Bhilai, because they distributed Christian publications.
“Christians were injured and [still] suffer of cuts and bruises on [their] bodies,” added the All India Christian Council (AICC), a coalition of several Indian churches, organizations, and lay leaders.
Police soon arrived, “instructing” evangelists to halt the distribution of Christian literature, while warning Hindu militants not to take the law into their own hands, Christians said.
The Christians were transported to a nearby police station where a wooden sticks wielding crowd, including Hindu militants, managed to beat the evangelists again and demanded their arrest on charges of violating the controversial “Anti-Conversion Bill of Chhatisgarh”, explained AICC Regional Secretary Madhu Chandra.
After police agreed to send the evangelists to Durg jail, a Christian police officer, G. Samuel, tried to free the men, but he was also detained on charges of violating anti-conversion legislation, AICC added.
In statements, Hindu militants defended their actions saying they were also attacked by Christians and suffering injuries.
Following the detention hundreds of Christians protested the arrests Friday, April 16, demanding their release, according to witnesses. The AICC said it would ask the intervention of India’s National Commission for Minorities and Human Rights.
There have been several reports of Christians being charged with “forceful conversions” or attacking the predominantly Hindu religion in India, where Hindu groups protest the spread of Christianity.
In one of those cases outside Chhatisgarh police reportedly briefly detained Christians, including three children and a woman, on what evangelical leaders called “false accusations” of “denigrating Hindu gods” in the southern state of Kerala.
The March 29 arrests in the Madakara area came after “Hindu extremists attacked pastor Easow Varghese, his wife and three small sons, and Evangelist Biju P. George while they were returning home from showing a [Christian] film,” EFI official Samuel Varghese said.
“About eight extremists blocked the Christians with two motorbikes [and] more extremists suddenly appeared with sticks and started beating Varghese and George. The Christians sustained minor injuries,” he told BosNewsLife Saturday, April 17.
Pressured by militants police briefly detained the Christians — including the two children of nine and five years and a four-months-old infant — before releasing them without charges amid protests from local Christian leaders, officials said.
Police allegedly also confiscated film equipment and a vehicle transporting the Christians. It was not immediately clear when and if the properties had been returned.
Elsewhere in India, two Christians were detained in the state of Uttar Pradesh after “Hindu extremists” apparently complained about their allegedly “derogatory remarks against the Hindu gods” on Thursday, April 15 in the town of Unnao.
A local Christian leader and advocate Tehmina Arora stressed that police detained Budhi Ram and Vijay Phule from Church of God while they were conducted a prayer meeting, before releasing them the next day.
The Christians claimed that the accusation was false and that no derogatory remarks were made against Hindu gods.
However in some cases, police have taken action against Hindu militants, including late Friday, April 16, when 22 activists of the Bajrang Dal group were arrested when trying to break up a Christian worship meeting in a local stadium in the city Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh state, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.
Police also reportedly launched a criminal investigation against dozens of Hindu activists rioting in the city following the arrests. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
The AICC and EFI said they have “urged Christians to pray for all the suffering Christians and for peace and religious tolerance in India.” (With editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).