150 Christians Forced to Stop Church Prayers in India Amid Accusations of Conversions

REUTERS/Pawan KumarPrime Minister Narendra Modi (L), Uttar Pradesh governor Ram Naik (C) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Yogi Adityanath (R) greet a gathering before Adityanath takes an oath as the new Chief Minister of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh during a swearing-in ceremony in Lucknow, India, March 19, 2017.

A Christian prayer meeting, which was being attended by over 150 people and 11 American tourists, was stopped by police after a Hindu nationalist group, which was started by the new chief minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, lodged a complaint alleging it was aimed at conversions to Christianity.

Hindu Yuva Vahini, a rightwing youth organization known for arson and violence on minorities, filed a police complaint against Pastor Yohannan Adam of an independent church in the Dathauli area of Maharajganj district in Uttar Pradesh, claiming that Hindus were being forcibly converted, the Indian newspaper Hindustan Times reported.

"No prior permission was taken before the meeting. We stopped the meet after a complaint was registered. A probe is underway and appropriate action will be taken if the charges are correct," a police officer, Anand Kumar Gupta, was quoted as saying.

Speaking to the newspaper, Krishna Nandan, a leader of the Hindu group, said, "The presence of U.S. nationals indicates that innocent and illiterate Hindus were being converted by the missionaries, who lured them with money to change their religion."

The U.S. tourists, however, had required documents and visas and were allowed to go. Police also confirmed no conversions were sought at the meeting Friday.

"We did not file any complaint as we found no such activity happening there," Gupta told The New York Times.

"We were all shocked," Dev Raj, a Christian and a friend of the tourists, was quoted as saying. "My friends said: 'Is this what normally happens in India? That you visit a church and are mobbed by a group of men?'"

Adityanath assumed office of Uttar Pradesh state's chief minister last month after the victory of the BJP in that state.

Attacks on the Christian minority have increased across India since the Hindu national Bharatiya Janata Party won the national election in 2014.

Earlier this year, the same Hindu group attacked the Full Gospel Church in Gorakhpur area in the same state, alleging conversions.

In February, an evangelist, 47-year-old Dr. Kusuma Anjeneya Swamy, reportedly fell into a coma not long after he was harassed by Hindu nationalists for publicly distributing copies of the New Testament in the southern city of Hyderabad. The group of men threatened to burn him alive and questioned whether "Jesus will save you from the flames."

Although there was no evidence of physical violence, the evangelist apparently suffered a brain hemorrhage and slipped into a coma hours after the incident.

Last month, more than 100 members of Congress wrote a letter to India's interior minister, urging him to allow U.S.-based Christian child sponsorship organization Compassion International to continue its work in that country. The charity ended its programs in India amid an ongoing crackdown by the BJP government on nonprofits that receive foreign funds.

The Indian government's treatment of Compassion International has "caused serious concern within the U.S Congress," said the letter addressed to India's Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

"We are writing because we believe the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued an inter-bank circular preventing all commercial banks in India from processing CI's wire transfers without prior Ministry approval. As a result, Compassion is unable to process the funds it needs to continue … to the detriment of the hundreds of thousands of children Compassion serves in India. Many of our constituents, who have built emotional attachments through years of building relationships with these kids, are devastated by this wrenching cutoff," the letter continued.

The Indian government alleges that Compassion was funding religious conversions.

A representative of India's chief Hindu nationalist group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which is connected with the governing party, sought to engage with the charity through back-channel negotiations.

"You think, 'Wow, am I negotiating with the government or am I negotiating with an ideological movement that is fueling the government?'" Santiago Mellado, the group's chief executive officer in Colorado Springs, was quoted as saying.