Rising persecution in Punjab, India, alarms Christian community

Christian beaten almost to death for defending Christian cemetery

On Wednesday 25 May, in the city of Jalandhar in India’s Punjab state, a Christian was severely beaten by eight Hindu extremists after he protested against Hindu desecration of a Christian graveyard. Even though a complaint was registered with the police on the day of incident, a First Information Report (FIR) was not registered until Monday 13 June.

Anoop Masih cannot afford the surgery and is fearful of malpractice because of the influence of local Hindu extremists over doctors in the area
Anoop Masih cannot afford the surgery and is fearful of malpractice because of the influence of local Hindu extremists over doctors in the area
Anoop Masih, aged 47, is a resident of Jalandhar and works as an auto-rickshaw driver. In his recollection of events to Barnabas Fund, Masih said that on the evening of 25 May a man “who seemed to me a learned gentleman” was booked for a ride. “I was asked to stop for a moment in front of a shop in Santokhpura area, where seven men were waiting to ambush me. They suddenly pulled me down from my auto-rickshaw and started to assault me, saying that they are going to put me in a grave today.”

Masih continues, “They hit me all over my body with many blows using their fists and legs, and then started to hit me in my private parts. One of them was wearing boots and his boot repeatedly hit one of my testicles so hard that I collapsed with the intensity of pain and I almost thought I’ll soon be dead.”

The attackers fled, leaving Masih lying on the street. All of the shopkeepers in the area quickly closed their shops and left. A passer-by who recognised Masih informed his family who came to his aid.

Vishnu Dev, pastor of a church in the nearby city of Ludhiana, said, “The Hindu extremists intended to spread fear and teach Masih a lesson for speaking for the Christian community.”

The incident had begun earlier in the day when Masih went home for lunch. His mother informed him that a group of Hindu extremists were throwing waste soil and garbage on a graveyard designated for Christians. Masih went to the graveyard and spoke to the groups. “I told them not to demean the Christian land and reminded them that the sentiments of the Christians are with their dead buried here,” said Masih.

This particular graveyard is common land given to the Hindu and the Christian communities to cremate bury their dead respectively. According to land records, this was designated even before India’s independence in 1947. Government officials subsequently divided the area a few years back and assigned separate portions to the two communities.

“Some Hindu troublemakers are trying to grab the whole graveyard land for the Hindu community. Amendments are being carried out to the Christian portion of the land without our consent. The idea is to take complete control over the Christian portion gradually,” said Masih in frustration. “We will deal with this issue through the court now.”

Doctors have recommended surgery for Masih, but being poor he cannot afford this. He is also fearful of malpractice during the surgery because of the influence of local Hindu extremists over the doctors in the area.

“The situation for Christians in Punjab is getting difficult. This also coincides with the rise of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in the state. Now that elections are just around the corner, the political elements are using these incidents to polarise the state and divert the attention of the people from the real issues like corruption and drug addiction that plague the state,” said Rev. Vijayesh Lal, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.

“We appeal to the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mr. Prakash Singh Badal, to direct his officials to look into this matter in particular and also on the issue of increased targeting of Christians in the state and take appropriate measures to ensure that the rule of law prevails,” he added.

“Small incidents of violence against Christians used to happen sporadically in Punjab…now since the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government come to power [in 26 May 2014], every now and then there are major incidents reported,” said Pastor Vishnu Dev.

Grandmother and granddaughter thrown out of their home

In another incident, which took place in Pakhowal village, in the district of Ludhiana, a seven-year-old girl and her grandmother were thrown out of their home by the girl’s Hindu father because of their decision to convert from Hinduism to Christianity. The father of the girl has also filed a police complaint against Dharminder Bajwa, the pastor of the church which the girl and her grandmother attend.

The grandmother became a Christian five years ago. Her family opposed the decision and tried to convince her to return to Hinduism. The trouble heightened when the young girl – who had been watching her grandmother’s life closely – decided herself to follow Jesus. This was met with strong opposition, and after the young girl stood firm in her new faith both she and her grandmother were asked to leave home.

Pastor Vishnu Dev told Barnabas Fund that the grandmother is now working to support both herself and her granddaughter. “[She] has started to work in a small school where she serves water to the staff and sweeps the school,” he said.

Attacked with sickle for holding Christian rally

Elsewhere in Punjab state, in the city of Gurdaspur, Arif Chouhan, aged 29, had organised a Masih Chetna Rally (Christian Awareness Rally) on Tuesday 31 May. Four days before the rally, on 27 May, Chouhan was chased by four masked men in a car whilst travelling home on his motorbike. The men stopped Chouhan and brutally assaulted him.

Arif Chouhan (centre) said, ““In my 16 years of ministry as a Christian leader, I have not faced such opposition before”
Arif Chouhan (centre) said, ““In my 16 years of ministry as a Christian leader, I have not faced such opposition before”
“Each of them was carrying a sickle in their hand and they hit me holding it upside down in a way that I would get internal injuries and not bleed,” said Chouhan to Barnabas Fund. The attackers told Chouhan that they wanted to stop him from running the Christian rally. They hit Chouhan until he fell unconscious. He was left on the road for an hour, after which time he regained consciousness.

Chouhan added that the attack was well-planned, saying, “While assaulting me the attackers said that they had been following me for ten days and finally found me in a secluded place.”

Chouhan sustained internal injuries and fractures to his elbow and ankle. The incident was registered with the police on 28 May. “I was unable to move for two weeks and the police have now given me two security personnel for my safety,” Chouhan said. He went on to say, “In my 16 years of ministry as a Christian leader, I have not faced such opposition before.”

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