(Compass Direct News) -- A church in Uttar Pradeshâ€™s Jaunpur district cancelled its weekly meeting yesterday (October 10) due to tensions in the region following false reports of conversions in newspapers. The reports led to two attacks in the past week.
A local Christian who requested anonymity told Compass that tensions began on October 4, when local editions of national Hindi dailies Hindustan, Amar Ujala and Dainik Jagran published reports on the supposed forced conversion of 350 Hindu villagers to Christianity in Belahta village.
Reporters of these newspapers had on October 3 come to the weekly prayer meeting of the Belahta village branch of the Abundant Life Church. More than 1,000 people, mostly believers from Belahta and nearby villages, were praying and worshipping in a tent pitched outside the house of a convert, Sanju Singh.
â€œOn October 4, when a few Christian families of the village were sitting in the tent, which had not been removed yet, local villagers along with extremists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or the World Hindu Council) and police came and vandalized the structure,â€ said the source, a church leader.
The VHP accused Singh of forcibly converting Hindu villagers, breaking idols of Hindu gods and goddesses and throwing them into the village well.
They threatened that if the meetings continued or any Christian from outside the village was seen again, they would resort to unprecedented violence.
The Hindu extremists also manhandled Singh, after which officers took him to the Baksa police station, where he was detained for interrogation.
During questioning, police allegedly demanded a bribe and pressured Singh to â€œreconvertâ€ to Hinduism if he wanted to live peacefully in the village. After he refused to give in, they released him at 9 p.m. and told him to come back to the police station the following morning.
On October 5, police held Singh from the morning till evening. When he finally reached home, officials of the Criminal Investigation Division showed up to question him.
The source said the officials could not find any evidence against Singh or any other church leader. â€œAll those contacted by the police said they had converted not because of money or force, but because they had known the truth,â€ he said.
On Friday (October 6), Hindu extremists of the VHP, local villagers and police stormed another branch of the Abundant Life Church in Lesuka village, about 12 kilometers (seven miles) from Belahta. They beat four believers, identified only as Rajesh Rana, Sangram, Rajpath and Lalman.
The extremists also announced that they would â€œreconvertâ€ the Christians in the village on Sunday (October 8). The source said, however, that they did not reconvert anyone in the area.
Due to tensions in the area, the main branch of the church in Line Bazar asked the Line Bazar police station to deploy officers for Sunday worship. â€œThe police simply signed the letter and gave it back to the Christians without providing them protection,â€ said the source.
Condemning the harassment of the Christians in Jaunpur, the New Delhi-based Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said in a statement, â€œThe police too seem to be working hand in glove with fundamentalist groups, and have been regularly detaining local Christians, pressuring them to return to Hinduism.â€
The EFI denounced the role of the local press in making â€œmatters worse for Christians.â€
Out of the total population of more than 166 million, only 212,678 are Christian in Uttar Pradesh.
In neighboring Madhya Pradesh state, Hindu extremists last night (October 10) attacked the annual convention of a Pentecostal church in Jabalpur, vandalizing the facility in spite of police presence.
The extremists also threatened that if the meeting continued, they would launch a bomb attack.
The incident took place at 9 p.m. at the Pentecostal Church in Khamaria Ordnance Factory Estate area of Jabalpur before the first day of the 53rd annual convention concluded with prayer and benediction. The convention, attended by about 150 people, continues until Sunday (October 15).
â€œAbout 70 people belonging to the Dharam Sena (Army for Religion) tried to enter into the tents where the convention was going on, but the police deployed for our protection stopped them on the main road,â€ Augustine Rao, senior pastor of the church, told Compass. â€œAngry with the police, the extremists broke the churchâ€™s signboard put up on the road and tore the convention banners.â€
The church is situated about 300 meters from the main road inside the ordnance factory. Rao had informed the police and district authorities about the convention and requested police deployment.
Rao said the Hindu extremists shouted abusive comments at Christians and accused them of forcible conversions for more than a half hour, then left only after police assured them that the program for the day was over. The police had asked the Christians to switch off all the lights as soon as the extremists arrived.
Rao has requested police intensify the deployment of officers in order for the convention to continue peacefully.
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