Government officials in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state have demolished a Christian prayer centre and arrested a pastor and 17 church members on false charges of allegedly attacking police and other officials.
That’s according to the Union of Catholic Asia (UCA) News which reports the Hindu nationalist officials sent a special squad, escorted by police, to tear down the Jeevan Jyoti Church mission center and its place of worship last week, claiming it was built without permission on illegal land.
The squad destroyed the centre that had stood for more than a decade by bulldozing its two-storey building and boundary walls. They also blocked all roads leading to the facility.
“Police so far have arrested 18 people associated with the mission, including Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav,” said a Pentecostal Church official from Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The church official said: “They are in jail and efforts are being made to get them out on bail.”
Officials accused Pastor Yadav, his wife, and his brother of criminal conspiracy in a state information report. They ordered the mission to pay A$5,000 in costs to carry out the demolition. A church officer admitted a portion of the centre, including the boundary wall, was on illegal land, but insisted the facility was built with government permission.
CBN News reports millions of Indians believe the country belongs to Hindus and that all other religions, including Christianity and Islam, must be eliminated from society. It writes that this ideology, called Hindutva, is changing the nation’s religious landscape and is a large reason why India ranks as the world’s 11th-worst country for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors’ 2023 World Watch List.
Hindus make up around 80% of India’s population. Muslims are at 14% while Christianity is India’s third-largest religion with about 26 million followers or about 2.3% of the population. In Uttar Pradesh, Christians make up just 0.18% of the population.
“Increasing numbers of states are implementing anti-conversion laws, supposedly to stop Hindus being forcibly converted to other religions, but in reality, they are often used as an excuse to harass and intimidate Christians who are just doing things like distributing aid or having a private church meeting. These laws do not seem to protect Christians from being coerced back into Hinduism,” Open Doors stated.
Since these laws were enacted in 2020, nearly 400 believers have been charged and jailed. Each month, this number exponentially increases, with 50 added in September, the Christian Legal Centre reports. In Uttar Pradesh currently, 89 Christians, including a Catholic priest, are in different jails in for alleged violation of this law.
“The government does not want Christians to organise prayer services as many people who attend them come closer to Christ and His teachings,” Pastor Dinesh Kumar from Uttar Pradesh told UCA News.
“Many Hindus follow Christianity, but they don’t change their religion as they recover from illness and achieve peace after praying to Jesus. We don’t convert anyone illegally but still we are targeted and our prayer services are targeted,” he said.