Hindu extremists in northern India launched an attack on a house church service on Dec. 25 that seriously injured a pastor’s son, one of at least 10 cases of aggression in Haryana state that stopped Christmas celebrations for hundreds of Christians.
Pastor J.J. Singh, a Christian leader in Haryana state, said a team formed to help distressed Christians was exhausted by calls from churches attacked on Christmas Day, as they received reports from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
“Our Christmas was completely spoiled,” Pastor Singh told Morning Star News. “Our team left the Christmas program taking place in the church and sat around a table dealing with one case after another. The calls were still coming, but we were extremely exhausted and decided to shut down our phones.”
In the attack on the Christmas service of the house church in Siwanka village, Sonipat District, Hindu extremists brandishing wooden batons and stones assaulted 73-year-old pastor Ram Kishan and seriously wounded his son, Vinod Kishan, the pastor said.
“Five or six men pounced on me, and an equal number on Vinod, and began to hit us,” Pastor Kishan said. “They hit Vinod so badly that he began to bleed from his head.”
Vinod Kishan was rushed to a local hospital and then transferred to the Post Graduate Institute in Khanpur for further treatment and tests before he was released that evening.
Shouting “Jai Sri Ram [Hail, Lord Ram]” and carrying saffron flags, the mob of 80 to 100 Hindu nationalists pelted the house church with stones, bringing the service to a stop.
“There was no Christmas this year,” said Pastor Kishan. “We were all looking forward to celebrating Christmas; we could not celebrate last year due to the pandemic.”
After much effort, Christian leaders submitted a written complaint at a local police station, but no action was taken against the assailants at this writing, Pastor Kishan said.
Hindu nationalist groups subsequently circulated a video claiming that they had staged a peaceful procession while shouting Hindu slogans outside Pastor Kishan’s house that Christians disrupted by hitting them.
Pastor Kishan roundly denied the allegation, saying that stones Hindu extremists threw from a distance hit a few of their own men in the forefront and injured them. Hindu nationalists have also filed a case against the Christians.
At this writing 13 police officers were deployed outside the house church of Pastor Kishan to prevent further attacks.
Sources asserted that the Hindu nationalists’ aim was very clear – halting Christmas celebrations throughout the state – and Christian leaders said police did little to stop them.
“They were extremely well-planned attacks,” Pastor Singh told Morning Star News. “In many cases, when we spoke to the higher police officers, they straightforward told us, ‘Do whatever you can, don’t call us for help – we have official pressure on us.’”
In Indri, Karnal District, villagers deprived Christians of a venue to celebrate Christmas by demolishing their church building between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. on Dec. 25. That day the congregation gathered on another piece of land next to the demolished structure and celebrated in the open air, including a Christmas lunch, said pastor Lalit Kumar.
Local Hindu extremists were monitoring Pastor Kumar as he made arrangements for the Christmas service, he told the Religious Liberty Commission of Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFIRLC).
“They did not want us to celebrate Christmas, and that is why they demolished it,” Pastor Kumar said.
Local police and the deputy superintended of police reached the site and assured him of a full investigation, but police have not yet registered a First Information Report even after Pastor Kumar filed a complaint, he said.
In Kurukshetra, a Hindu nationalist mob of about 100 people disrupted a Christmas Day celebration. A half hour into a Christmas program in which children were performing, the mob led by the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal intruded into the venue shouting “Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram],” destroyed property, stopped the music and put on “Hanuman Chalisa,” a popular mantra to “purify” those present, sources said.
The mob frightened the children who were performing, said Pastor Gurudev Singh, who had organized the Christmas celebration of songs, dances and a meal at a local party venue. The local convenor of the Bajrang Dal later released a video claiming the event was being used for religious conversion.
Christians called police and filed a complaint, but officers took no action even after finding allegations of religious conversion were false.
In Panchkula District, 12 to 15 members of Hindu nationalist groups disrupted a Christmas celebration of a church in Barwala led by Pastor Qayum Sheikh and physically assaulted Christians, sources said.
The assailants claimed the Christians were converting people. Police took a statement from the pastor but have taken no action against the assailants.
Historic Church Damaged
In Ambala Cantonment, two unidentified men between 12:30 a.m. and 1:40 a.m. on Dec. 26 damaged a historical church building constructed more than 170 years ago, breaking a statue of Christ. The assailants were later arrested.
CCTV Footage revealed that the two men arrived on a motorbike and entered the premises of the Holy Redeemer Church after jumping over the main gate.
“We don’t know what their intention was,” the Rev. Antony Chacko, assistant parish priest, told Morning Star News. “The intention was not only breaking the church, but they also urinated near the entrance door of the prayer hall. God forgive them.”
The CCTV footage shows the assailants tried and failed to enter the locked prayer hall.
“They pulled the lights and damaged the decorations,” Chacko said. “Before leaving, they also broke the glass case and pulled down the 5-and-a-half-foot, ancient statue of Christ, which was more than 100 years old.”
At the written complaint of the Rev. Patras Mundu, head parish priest, police registered an FIR against two unidentified persons under Indian Penal Code sections for “deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings,” “mischief causing damage to the amount of 50 rupees” and “house trespass.”
Arrested within 48 hours were Sandeep Kumar and Ravinder Kumar, both of Vashisth Nagar in Ambala District, according to police.
Mundu told media that the CCTV footage showed the suspects were in contact with someone over the phone as if taking instructions.
“It seemed that they were acting at someone’s behest,” he said.
The desecration was the first such incident in the history of the church building, constructed in the 1840s and rebuilt in 1905, he said.
“Thousands of people come on Christmas to this historic church, offer their prayers and go,” he said. “This has been the tradition for many, many years. Never ever has such a thing happened. From morning till late night, they come, but this time we opened the church keeping in mind the curfew norms and following all COVID protocols. We vacated the church by 10 p.m. and locked the gates before 10:30 p.m.”
In Karnal District, Hindu nationalists on Christmas Day carried out a protest featuring black flags and chants against religious conversion. Local media recorded the protestors saying that they will suffocate Christians.
“We have begun the protest from Karnal on this Christmas Day, and it will spread like a wind to the whole of India,” said a Hindu leader.
The protestors demanded stringent laws in the state to stop conversions by force or allurement.
In Hisar City, Hisar District, about 80 to 100 people disrupted a Christmas Day celebration and called police alleging conversions, resulting in the arrest of a pastor identified only as Rajesh. Local Christian leaders managed to persuade officers to release the pastor.
In Rohtak District, nearly 30 members of a Hindu nationalist group on Dec. 26 camped at the entrance of a church in Sampla and intimidated Christians attending a Sunday service. The service was overflowing with church members and the situation remained calm, but the next Sunday (Jan. 2) the Hindu nationalists descended on the church and attacked worshippers, sources said.
Police rounded up six or seven Christians and took them to the police station for questioning, and they were later released.
In Gurugram District, members of Hindu nationalist groups disrupted a Christmas Eve celebration in Narhera village in Pataudi town. Members of House of Hope Church had organized a Christmas celebration at a local public school featuring dance and skits by children, and the assailants intruded into the venue and accused Christians of converting people.
Led by Ram Pradeep Pandey, leader of the Dharam Jagriti (Religious Awakening) Mission group, the attackers shouted “Jai Shri Ram [Hail Lord Ram]” and other Hindu slogans, went onto the stage, snatched the microphone from singers and asserted that Christianity was not acceptable there as they continued chanting.
Police have taken no action, though Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar termed it an “unfortunate’’ incident that should not have happened.
In Mussimbal village, Yamunanagar, about 50 members of the Hindu nationalist Hindu Bhawani Sena disrupted a Christmas celebration, arguing with the pastor and chanting at the entrance of the tent. The mob alleged that the Christians were carrying out conversion by paying 500,000 rupees (US$6,710) to each person.
They also objected to regular Sunday church services as well as Christmas gatherings in the village, sources said.
Videos of the incident on social media show local police were present when the intrusion took place. People at the Christmas service told local news media that they were under no pressure to forcefully convert to Christianity.
Hotbed of Attacks
Haryana state has become a hotbed of Hindu nationalist activity as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) umbrella group has instructed Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other groups to rein in minority groups such as Christians, an attorney said.
Hindu nationalist groups have formed small cells in areas throughout the state, said the attorney, whose name is withheld for security reasons.
“They have been instructed to keep a keen eye on the Christian population of the area,” he said. “They are monitoring who comes and who goes – what all activities are taking place. What is the pattern of the prayers? It has become very easy for their mother body to immediately receive information.”
The attorney said Hindu nationalist groups can mobilize groups of 20 to 50 people on very short notice that disrupt worship services, damage church property or carry our protest rallies.
“The aim is to create an atmosphere of chaos, stop church services and threaten and harass the Christians mentally as well as physically and issuing warnings to them,” he said.
Pastor Singh of Haryana state said the attacks have caused deep insecurity among church leaders, and that many cases go unreported.
“When incidents such as these take place, police most often take the side of the extremists,” he said. “This is because they have a political backup, as well as they are massive in numbers, which puts pressure on police to take action against Christians.”
Officers tell Christians and pastors not to hold worship meetings and ignore their pleas for help, he said. Hindu extremist mobs have not only issued threats and disrupted services but forcefully performed Hindu prayers and mantras inside churches, though such cases have not been reported to police, he said.
“We were already treated as second-class citizens, and now it’s their strategy to completely crush us, destroy us to an extent that we would not be able to ever stand on our feet again,” Pastor Singh said.
Surender Pokhal, a consultant with the EFIRLC, said the rule of law must be upheld without bias.
“In India, the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion, which includes freedom of conscience, free profession, practice and propagation of religion,” Pokhal said. “Therefore, incidents such as these are indeed a sorry state of affairs. Law enforcement must uphold constitutional values at all costs, since they take an oath of allegiance to the Constitution, not to a religious book, to perform their duties.”
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.