A mob of 35 people barged into a Christian House of Prayer on 2 July where young Vinod and Sujatha (not their real names) were leading prayers in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh.
About 15 Christians had peacefully assembled that morning to pray when the unruly mob arrived and disrupted the prayers. They threatened to kill the worshippers if they gathered there to pray again. The Christians were very frightened because the mob was led by the son of the village head.
Sujatha and Vinod felt a sense of déjà vu. Almost two years ago, they had been targeted for their faith in a neighboring district. They had fled from there to escape persecution and begin a new life in Azamgarh. They had set up a small shack to quietly assemble to pray and find strength to rebuild their lives.
The Christians went home shocked by the threats of the mob. The next day, a larger mob of around 130 persons stormed into the prayer house and ransacked it. The women who were present there were molested and threatened not to seek help from the police. They told the Christians that the men would be murdered, the women raped, and the house set on fire, if they dared to lodge a complaint with the police.
The mob then accused Vinod of carrying out forced conversions. He was dragged and paraded in the local market and forced to bow down before an idol. He explained to the mob that they were only conducting prayers peacefully and hadn’t insulted anyone’s religious sentiments. Some of the villagers sympathized with him and convinced the mob to let him go.
Despite all this, the mob attacked the Christians again on 4 July and vandalized their homes. They surrounded the village from all sides so that the victims could not reach out to the nearest police station.
The persecuted Christians reached out to the UP Legal Aid Cell of ADF India. The Christians in Azamgarh were greatly relieved by the arrival of the team who helped them lodge a police complaint.
While the Christians were still at the police station, they learnt that their children were in danger and arranged for them to be moved to safety. The ADF India team secured police protection for the Christians on their two-hour journey to the place where they had moved their children. The families are now reunited in another location and taking stock of the situation.
Sadly, the situation in Azamgarh continues to be tense. The ADF India team helped the Christians make a representation to the Senior Superintendent of Police, demanding a thorough investigation into the matter.
An FIR was registered and six persons who were leading the mob were taken into police custody. A mob of 100 people gathered outside the police station and demanded the release of the criminals. The police called for reinforcement to handle the situation which was spiraling out of control. Even the District Magistrate arrived at the spot. Later that day, the police buckled under pressure and released the six persons from their custody.
Incidents of targeted violence against Christians in Uttar Pradesh continue to witness a steep rise. Despite the lockdown, there have been at least 25 cases of targeted attacks on Christians this year. In 2019, there were 73 recorded incidents of violence targeting Christians in the State.