Pastor Vimal (name changed to protect confidentiality) was leading a prayer meeting recently at a Christian home in Azamgarh, attended by around ten Christians, when the police arrived unexpectedly and disrupted the prayers. Some opponents of Christianity had called the police with the false information that people were being forcefully converted to the Christian faith at this prayer. Soon, a mob of around 60 goons surrounded the house and began to demand the arrest of Christians.
Despite police presence, the mob got to the Christians, started to shove them around and even used belts to whip some of them. The Christians couldn’t shield Pastor Vimal from their beatings. He begged the police to at least save the women and the children from their ire.
Instead of taking action against the violent mob, the police arrested Pastor Vimal and two other Christians. An FIR was registered against them under Section 3/5 of the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Law and Sections 504 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code.
In prison, the Christians were repeatedly beaten. They described their time in prison as dharatee par narak, meaning, hell on earth! Pastor Vimal is still unable to come to terms with the horrid treatment meted out to him for merely praying with other Christians.
He recalled how in 2013, at the age of 25, his prayer to be healed from a physical ailment was answered. After this personal experience, he had committed his life to serve people in Christ’s name. He fears now that the constitutional promise of religious freedom has been broken in the state because of this new law.
ADF India’s allied lawyers had responded to a request for help from one of Pastor Vimal’s friends and subsequently filed an application for their release on bail. On January 5, 2021, they were released after two full weeks in jail.
The disruption of the peaceful prayer gathering and harassment of Christians is a direct violation of constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights. It is extremely concerning that out of the 279 incidents of violence against Christians reported in 2020, 70 were from the state of Uttar Pradesh.
“No one should be persecuted because of their faith. The Indian Constitution grants the right to religious freedom”, said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India. ADF India allied lawyers are representing the Pastor and his friends and have moved the Court for the quashing of their FIR and for the striking down of the pernicious anti-conversion law. While the new law is in place, the harassment of religious minorities is sadly expected to escalate further.