Hindu extremists beat and looted worshippers in northern India on Oct. 3, leaving one man unconscious, another with ruptured eardrums and others with internal and external injuries.
More than 200 members of the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad and the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party intruded into the House of Prayer church building as the service was about to begin in Roorkee, Uttarakhand state, brandishing wooden clubs and shouting Hindu nationalist slogans, witnesses said.
“The moment they entered, they started to break the stuff inside the church and began to beat the congregation members,” said Prio Sadhana Portor, 65, who has led worship service since the death from COVID-19 last year of her husband, pastor Dickens R. Lance. “We were all set to stream the service online for our online viewers, while about 10-12 people were inside the church.”
Seven or eight of those gathered for worship were women, and four or five were men, she said.
The assailants were both male and female and beat everyone, including women, except for Portor as they accused the Christians of forced conversion, she said. All sustained injuries, some of them serious, and the Hindu nationalists stole cash, debit cards, credit cards, cell phones and purses, besides breaking CCTV cameras, the sound system and other equipment, and chairs, she said. None of the attackers has been arrested.
One church member sustained an internal head injury when his head was thrust onto an electric circuit board inside the worship hall, Portor said. A 20-year-old man unidentified for security reasons said he was assaulted along with his older brother.
“Out of the mob, groups of about 20 Hindu extremists swarmed together and targeted each worshipper one by one, and everyone was hit without pity,” he said.
His brother underwent hospital treatment for head injuries and a torn ear after he tried to defend him, he said.
“He came to rescue me as the mob was beating me,” the source said. “He was dragged and taken outside the church on the road, where they beat him with iron rods until he bled profusely from his head, and a part of his ear tore. He fell unconscious.”
A local hospital referred the injured man to the Synergy Institute of Medical Sciences in Dehradun, 45 miles from Roorkee.
The Christian whose eardrums were ruptured was robbed of 10,000 rupees (US$133), his driver’s licence, his bank cards and his personal security information, witnesses said.
The Hindu extremists removed curtain rods from the windows and struck Christians with them, besides beating them with wooden clubs, chairs, a fan and other equipment, said Portor’s daughter, Eva Lance.
“Though the mob entered with only wooden clubs, on entering the church, they used all the instruments and things lying inside the church as weapons to beat all of us,” Lance said. “They hit men with the microphone stand, guitar, curtain rod, chairs and all the things that their hands could reach out to. The vandalization of property is huge.”
The assailants demanded to know the location of the Digital Video Recorder (DVR) containing the CCTV footage from a church member they beat so severely that he sustained several internal injuries and was rushed to a hospital due to panic attacks, Portor said. He is still traumatized, she said.
“Once they found out where the DVR was, one of the assaulters disconnected the DVR and fled with it,” she said.
The Christians did not expect such severe hostility, and they were also shocked that the assailants were not youthful rogues but educated men and women with high standing in local society, Portor and Lance said.
Lance said the assailants were 40 to 65 years old.
“One woman was a principal of a school,” Lance said. “When she was about to hit me, I stopped her, screaming, ‘Ma’am, what are you doing?’ Full of anger and hatred, she said, ‘I am a Hindu, and [obscenity deleted] you carry out religious conversions. Let me take you to task.’ Saying that, she gave me a very scary look and attacked me.”
Lance’s sister, Pearl Lance, arrived after the assault was underway and ran to see if her mother was safe, but the mob found her and dragged her down a stairway. Two men were holding her on both sides while a third hit her hard on the chest, Eva Lance said.
She said that as she watched the mob beating one Christian she feared he would be killed.
“His wife along with her parents, who are more than 70 years old, went and fell on the Christian to save him from the blows,” Lance said. “The women among the attackers who saw us intervene and plead for his life came and caught hold of each of us and began to hit us – pulled us by our hair as they slapped us on our faces. These were very violent ladies; in no way were they less than the men who were hitting the menfolk.”
Police registered a First Information Report (No. 643) on Oct. 3 against eight named assailants but have made no arrests, said Investigating Officer Vivek Kumar.
“The investigations are still on, but no arrests have been made,” Kumar told Morning Star News. “The people named in the FIR are all absconding.”
The attackers were charged under Indian Penal Code (IPC) sections against robbery, destroying, damaging or defiling a place of worship, disturbing a religious assembly, voluntarily causing hurt, breach of peace, criminal intimidation and causing loss or damage. The more serious charges were added to the FIR on Oct. 6, as some of those present belong to the Scheduled Caste category.
“On the basis of the medical certificates of the injured, stringent sections from the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 have been added to the FIR on Oct. 6,” Vivek Kumar said.
On Oct. 4, however, police registered a case against 11 Christians (FIR No. 644) under IPC sections for robbery, outraging the modesty of women, voluntarily causing hurt, criminal conspiracy, religious animosity, extortion and breach of peace/provocation.
A delegation of 10 Christian leaders – two each from Haridwar and Roorkee, and six from Dehradun – met with the state director general of police in Dehradun on Oct. 6 and delivered a memorandum requesting a just investigation.
“He admitted that the case against the Christians was frivolous,” Issac Ashish Charan, general secretary of the Roorkee Pastor’s Association, told Morning Star News. “He then called his district office in the presence of the Christian delegation and gave orders for the FIR against the Christians to be withdrawn.”
Director General of Police Ashok Kumar confirmed that he promised the Christian delegation that the FIR would be withdrawn.
“The FIR will be withdrawn, I have already instructed the district police,” DGP Kumar told Morning Star News. “It should be done soon.”
Preventive Action Lacking
Some church members had noticed people spying on the church site twice during the prior week and asked for protection, but police declined to act, Eva Lance said.
“We noticed a car stop in front of the church, and they were peeping inside the church,” Lance said. “Then two men riding a motorbike came and stopped in front of the church. One of them threatened, ‘We will deal with you,’ and drove away.”
On Oct. 1 Portor submitted a written application to the rural superintendent of police at Roorkee’s Civil Lines police station and mailed a copy to the senior superintendent of police in Haridwar. She requested security personnel for Oct. 3 from 8 a.m. to noon.
“I mentioned that we feel threatened and we don’t know what is going to happen,” Portor said.
On Oct. 2 she went to the police station and received assurance from police that they would be there, she said, with one officer saying, “We are on high alert, don’t be paranoid.”
Lance received a call from the sub-inspector inquiring about the complaint her mother had filed, and he reassured her that officers would look into it, she said.
On Oct. 3 Portor and her daughter arrived at the church site shortly after 9 a.m. and found no police officers guarding the building, she said.
“So I began to call the officer who had called me the previous day,” Lance said, “but he did not answer my calls.”
Other church members tried calling police without success, she said. After they set up the Sunday service for online streaming and were about to start, they heard an uproar in the distance, she said.
“Many of us frantically started to call the police, even on the hotline numbers, but nobody answered the call,” Lance said.
She said that after the assault, as the Hindu mob was leaving, one said to her sister, “For the cause of Hindutva [Hindu nationalism], if there is a need to kill you, we will do so.”
“The situation is very tense here,” Eva Lance said. “Although we are anxious – we have been beaten and are stressed out – deep down in our hearts we are all at peace.”
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian, as it was in 2020. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Modi came to power.