“At least 6,000 were present for prayers, and within minutes the congregation scattered, and the police dismantled the stage and barricades,” Pastor Jaiswal recounts. The police found no evidence against Jaiswal, but they ordered him to stop the worship services.
Police broke up a congregational gathering of 6,000 Christian worshippers in northern India on Tuesday (Oct. 15) after Hindu extremists leveled false charges of black magic, arms possession and forcible conversion against the pastor, sources said.
An administrative officer from Bahraich District, Uttar Pradesh, arrived with police in Pandeypurwa village, in Hardi police jurisdiction, announcing that the outdoor venue for the gathering had to be vacated by 8 a.m., said 23-year-old pastor Santosh Jaiswal.
“At least 6,000 were present for prayers, and within minutes the congregation scattered, and the police dismantled the stage and barricades,” Pastor Jaiswal told Morning Star News. “I have received information that I have been booked for insulting religious beliefs and for possessing arms, but I had never spoken about any religions. I don’t possess any weapons.”
The administrative officer, Surendranath Tripathy, and officer Shankar Prasad investigated allegations of forced conversion and found no evidence against Jaiswal, but police ordered him to stop the worship services, the pastor said. He relocated to the area to proclaim Christ among rural villagers on the border with Nepal less than seven months ago, he said.
Pastor Jaiswal said that officers Tripathy and Prasad accused him of performing black magic on Hindus.
“About a week before inspection, a Brahmin [high caste Hindu] journalist came to Sunday worship with cameras,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “He videotaped the congregation lifting up their hands and praying, and some groaning as they were held by evil spirits, and he also interviewed some people who experienced healing. Soon the local news media reported the prayers as black magic rituals, and that a Christian priest is promoting blind belief.”
The police officers parroted the same accusations, he said. Attempts to reach officers Tripathy and Prasad were unsuccessful.
“Some of the members from the congregation came to me and urged me to go into hiding, fearing my arrest,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “I wanted to face the police even if it would lead to my arrest, but I was moved to safety to a believer’s home.”
The First Information Report also names as defendants the pastor’s wife, Kajal Jaiswal, his sister Kunti Devi and a female believer. The open worship venue of about an acre belongs to his sister, who made it available for ministry, he said.
“People suffering from long-term illnesses and those captivated by evil spirits are relieved through prayers,” he said. “We share the gospel with them, and when they put their belief in Christ, they are healed. Only their faith heals them, it is not me. I am nobody to perform any miracles or magic tricks. When a person in pain requests for prayers, all I do is pray for them.”
He was working as a supervisor at a pub in Delhi when he first learned about Christ and developed a strong yearning to boldly proclaim his faith before as many people as possible, he said. He left his job and received training in Haryana state for two years, then returned to his native Pandeypurwa to minister among his own people, he said.
“In March, we were a home church of 12 believers,” Pastor Jaiswal said. “Soon the sick and people in need of prayers came to us. As we prayed, Lord gave them deliverance, and people also came from villages far away. When one receives healing, the entire village, curious to know about Christ, throngs to prayers.”
Within months, hundreds of people increased to thousands, he said.
“Now at least 6,000 people gather for prayers on Sundays as well as on weekdays,” he said.
Village President Ram Sufal Mishra is aware of the services in the village and has never opposed them, he added.
India is ranked 10th on persecution watchdog, Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.