Ten Christian families in India have reportedly been driven out of their homes in the Jharkhand state after they refused to denounce their faith in Jesus Christ last month.
International Christian Concern, a nonprofit persecution watchdog based in the U.S., reported Tuesday that the 10 families have not been able to return to their homes in the Pahli village of the Latehar district after they were forced to flee the village for refusing local radicals' demands that they convert to Hinduism.
According to sources who spoke with the charity, the families were summoned to a meeting with the group of local Hindu radicals on June 5 and were given two options: recant their faith or leave the village.
Upon the families' refusal, the radicals were said to have beaten the families before driving them out of the village. Moreover, the perpetrators placed the Christian families' homes on lock down.
One of the Christians attacked by the Hindus, Shyamlal Kujju, told ICC that the 10 Christian families worshiped regularly in one of the homes prior to the attack against the community.
This expulsion is one of the latest examples in a troubling trend of impunity given to Hindu extremists who persecute Christians in parts of India.
"We are living in fear, away from our homes," the 25-year-old Kujju told ICC. "It is almost a month since my house is locked by Hindu radicals and there is no attempt by the police or the government to resolve the issue. Our lives are devastated as we hide ourselves from the Hindu radicals. We do not know how long this will continue."
The incident was reported to local police. Although the authorities have been able to unlock some of the Christian homes, the police have not arrested or charged the extremists responsible.
"We here at International Christian Concern are deeply concerned to see that 10 Christian families have been beaten and displaced for merely exercising their religious freedom rights," ICC Regional Manager William Stark said in a statement. "Article 25 of India's constitution says that every individual has the right to freely profess, practice, and propagate the religion of his or her choice. This right has obviously been denied to these 10 Christian families in Pahli village."
Stark called for decisive action from local authorities to "correct this denial of rights."
"Without enforcement, India's religious freedom rights will remain only words on paper and attacks on Christians and other religious minorities will continue to rise in both number and severity," he said.
The plight of the 10 Christian families comes as India ranks as the 11th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2018 World Watch List.
Last year, the Jharkhand state adopted an anti-conversion law that banned forced conversions. At the time, Christian leaders warned that it would have a negative impact on the Christian community as the definition of forced conversions is broad. One pastor even stated that the law would "ruin the lives and the witness of the church."
In other states, such as Madhya Pradesh, anti-conversion laws have been abused by Hindu radicals to have Christians and other religious minorities arrested. In some cases, Christian chaperones transporting children to summer camps have been arrested after being accused of violating such a law.
Christian leaders in Jharkhand told ICC that since the anti-conversion law was passed there last year, attacks on Christians have been more frequent.
"Things have become increasingly difficult to serve as a pastor in Latehar," Pastor Rajdev Toppo told the organization. "On a daily basis, I am threatened and ridiculed for teaching Christians the Word of God. The local government has not been helpful including when cases of the Christians were taken to the police and administration."
The situation with the Christian families in Pahli village comes as it was reported last week that prominent Hindu leader Om Swami Maharaj warned Christians to "leave now" or be forcibly expelled from their communities.
Last month, it was reported that a pastor and his son in Tamil Nadu were attacked by a group of Hindu radicals as they were tending to a compound on which they were building a church. The pastor was later abducted and could have likely been killed if he had not jumped out of a moving car right near a police station.
However, police reportedly refused to take down information about how the pastor had been threatened by Hindu radicals.