By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent reporting from India
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Police in northern India briefly detained five pastors of mission group ‘Gospel Messengers Team’ on charges of “trying to convert people to Christianity”, shortly after Hindu hardliners stormed their evangelistic prayer service, witnesses said Monday, July 25. The incident was the latest in a series of reported attacks against devoted Christians in India.
Pastors Ganga Prasad, Om Prakash, Desh Kumar, Vinod Kumar, Prem Shankar, were held in the town of Bighapur in Uttar Pradesh state following pressure from about 75 followers of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said a source who asked not to be identified.
Christians said the mob “falsely accused” the pastors and other Christians of paying people to attend the gathering and convert to Christianity.
Organisers have strongly denied the accusations. Evangelical Christians argue hat “forcing” people to embrace Christianity is impossible as the Bible teaches that accepting Christ is based on a personal, free, decision
Christians said some 150 Christians gathered at the house of Pastor Om Prakash for a regular weekly prayer service, when the angry nationalists stormed the gathering.
Hindu nationalists reportedly warned the pastors and other Christians not to continue their activities in the town. There were no reports of injuries.
Arriving police forces briefly detained the pastors following the July 13 incident, but they were already released later in the day after hundreds of supporters went to the police station to proclaim their innocence, witnesses said.
In a separate incident, police on June 28 detained two Christians after Hindu extremists allegedly from the Bajrang Dal group attacked Pastor M. Sandeep and a man identified only as Isaac while returning home from a prayer meeting in Heggere village in Hubli city, part of India’s southern state of Karnataka.
Christians said the mob accused them of “forceful conversion” and even “searched their bags for Christian literature, slapped them and verbally abused them.”
They then took the Christians to the local Old Hubli police station, where they were detained for about six hours. Police reportedly filed charges for “hurting religious sentiments, violation of private property and unlawful coercion.”
On the same day, the Christians were sent to Dharwad Jail and were released on bail only after two days, Christians said.
Elsewhere in Karnataka, police reportedly detained four tribal Christians on June 21 in the area of Bagragola in Virajpet town after Hindu extremists accused them of forceful conversion.
The Christians, three of which were only identified as Mani, Agela and Ravi were allegedly held at the police station for about five hours without food and water.
They later appeared before a Virajpet judge, and the Christians were released on bail the same day following the intervention of area Christian leaders, locals said.
Christians claim “Hindu extremists were jealous of improvements in the tribal Christians’ lives after they received Christ.”
There has been growing opposition against the spread of Christianity in especially rural and impoverished areasof India, a heavily Hindu nation of over one billion people.