On April 22, 2021, Pastor Rohit* and his wife Sandhya* were brutally assaulted with rods and sticks by six persons in Riga village, Bihar. The pastor’s right arm was broken and both he and his wife suffered fractures on their ribs. The couple had been invited by a Christian to a prayer in his home. They were praying together when the perpetrators entered by force and attacked them. The person who had invited them also sustained serious injuries while trying to shield the couple. The attackers then vandalised the house while a large mob gathered outside yelling for the Christians to be killed! The assailants left after threatening the Christians of more attacks if they did not denounce their faith.
The victims reached out to ADF India allies in the district who rushed to the spot. The Christians needed urgent medical attention but several hospitals refused them admission because they did not have room for more patients. With much difficulty they were admitted at a hospital in Sitamarhi. Following this, Pastor Rohit unfortunately also tested positive for COVID-19 and his oxygen levels fell dangerously low. To save his life, he was rushed in an ambulance to the Duncan Hospital in Raxaul, a four-hour journey by road. He was kept in the Intensive Care Unit for over 11 days before he began showing signs of improvement. Pastor Rohit, Sandhya and the other Christian brother, are recovering slowly from the physical and emotional trauma.
This violent attack is the most recent in a string of incidents of religious persecution that the Pastor and his congregation have faced in the last two years. The repeated attacks have caused them grave physical injuries and heavy financial loss.
Pastor Rohit and his wife have been leading a church in Riga since 2016. The trouble first started in November 2019 when some of the villagers took offense to the polite refusal of the Christians to partake in their religious rituals because it violated their conscience. On 24 November 2019, a mob of 18 men physically assaulted Pastor Rohit and Sandhya in their own home. Their daughter, who was five years old at that time, was seriously injured when the attackers flung the child out of the house.
This premeditated attack was intended to intimidate all the Christians in the village and to warn them of similar consequences. The Pastor filed a complaint with the police, but the assailants were let off with a mere warning. Emboldened by this, the religious extremists continued issuing threats to the Christians in the following months with impunity.
This violence was repeated again in March and July 2020. In the July incident, after beating up the Pastor and two other Christian men, the assailants called the police and falsely reported that the Christians were carrying out forceful conversions. The police detained Pastor Rohit, Sandhya and the two other Christians for questioning.
In this instance, Pastor Rohit reached out to ADF India. By this time, he had become acquainted with our work through a legal training we had conducted in the region. Within a few hours, our allied lawyers secured the release of all four Christians from police detention.
Following these repeated attacks, some Christians helped Pastor Rohit and his family relocate to a safer location, in a village ten kilometers away. The couple sent their young daughter to live with their relatives in a neighboring district. The Christians in the region respect the Pastor and his family for their courage and commitment to continue serving the Christians in Sitamarhi despite the opposition.
Last month, when invited to the house prayer in Riga, Pastor Rohit had hoped that things had cooled down sufficiently by then and that the religious extremists would have forgotten about him. However, they somehow learnt of his visit and executed that brutal attack on 22 April 2021.
ADF India allied lawyers assisted Pastor Rohit to file police complaints before the local police station, the Superintendent of Police, and also before the Bihar Human Rights Commission. When no action was taken on these complaints, our allied lawyers filed a representation on behalf of Pastor Rohit before the National Human Rights Commission on 30 April 2021, seeking protection and immediate action against the assailants. The lawyers also assisted him to write a letter to the Chief Justice of the Patna High Court on 17 May 2021.
ADF India will continue to stand by Pastor Rohit and his church to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice. The Indian Constitution protects freedom of religion or belief to all persons. Nobody should have to choose between their safety and their faith.
ADF India provides Legal Assistance to those targeted for their faith through a panel of allied lawyers. To report violence or discrimination or to seek assistance, visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.
Watch our training videos on how to file a police complaint and how to represent before other Grievance Redressal Mechanisms including the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Minorities by clicking on the following links:
*Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals