In the past few months, Christians in Gagari have been living under tense circumstances, with the constant fear of being attacked or thrown out of the village. Gagari is a medium-sized village located about 25 kilometers from Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.
The village has only about 40 Christians, amongst a population of around 1,100. In recent times, these Christians were repeatedly summoned to village council meetings and threatened to denounce their faith or else face dire consequences.
On October 3, they were called once again to attend one such meeting. This time, the Christians were shocked to see that the religious extremists in the village had riled up a large mob of around 1,500 people. Many members of the mob belonged to neighbouring villages and had assembled together to pressurize the Christians. The police came to prevent the meeting from turning violent but instead of stopping the perpetrators, they took the Christians into custody!
In subsequent days, the villagers barred the Christians from accessing essential benefits in order to strong-arm them into giving up their faith. A pregnant Christian woman was denied medical benefits and not even allowed to take the help of a midwife.
In another incident, persons opposed to Christianity began to harass Surender* because he had accepted Christ. They forced Surender’s father to file a police complaint against his own son and falsely accused him of carrying out forceful conversions. As a result, he was detained at the police station for a whole day for questioning before being released following our team’s timely intervention.
Mahadev*, the pastor of a church in Gagari, who had reached out to us for help, said that he and his church members were being subjected to constant scrutiny. He had recently accompanied an ailing neighbour to the hospital. Even for this innocuous good deed, Mahadev was accused of attempting to convert his neighbour to Christianity!
As in many regions of India, the Freedom of Religion Acts or “anti-conversion” laws are being abused to harass Christians in Gagari. These statutes are in force in seven Indian states and have been enacted purportedly to regulate “forceful” and “fraudulent” religious conversions. They prescribe stiff jail sentences and fines for converting people through “allurement” or “coercion”, a cognizable and non-bailable offence, with a penalty of upto 3 years imprisonment and a fine of upto Rs 50,000.
In Gagari, the abuse of this Act has led to the harassment of peaceful, law-abiding Christians by those who according to Pastor Mahadev are uncomfortable with the growth of their fellowship. So far, there have been no physical attacks against the Christians. But, the increase in intimidation and threats have discouraged some of them from openly attending prayers.
Following ADF India’s intervention, the police issued a notice disallowing the village council from summoning the Christians for questioning. ADF India allied lawyers will continue to provide legal advice and assistance to the Christians in Gagari so that they can freely live out their faith as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution.
*Name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals