Eight Christians were arrested in India in late April and accused of violating a coronavirus lockdown order while they were putting together relief supplies to distribute to a poor nomadic community, a pastor says.
Pastor Ramesh Kumar told the nonprofit persecution news organization Morning Star News that he and three other members of his church in the Kaushambi District of Uttar Pradesh were preparing aid packages in a local home for distribution when they were detained by police along with four others who were helping them on April 25.
Along with the 32-year-old pastor and church members Shri Chand, Rakesh Kumar and Mohit Kumar, police arrested the homeowner’s three sons and their cousin, who were not members of the pastor’s church.
“Before they detained us, the policemen used vulgar language and beat me, Rajendra and Rakesh with clubs,” Kumar was quoted as saying. “Rakesh sustained an injury on his hand and developed swelling because of the beating.”
According to the pastor, the police accused the group of violating a social distancing order by holding a worship meeting. Kumar said that the officers acted on a complaint from locals and ignored his plea to speak with the head of the village to explain that they were not participating in a worship service.
Kumar insisted that he and the others were responding to a call by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for people to help out poor families throughout India. Even though Pastor Kumar pleaded for the homeowner’s sons and their cousin to be released, they were also arrested and taken to Sarai Akil police station.
Morning Star News reports that the eight men were booked for the crimes of “negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” and “disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant.”
While at the police station, the men were reportedly threatened with more beatings. Kumar said one officer asked him about where he got the money for the relief materials. Kumar said he was asked questions like, “Where does the money come from to lure people to convert?” and “From which country do you get foreign funds?”
Kumar contends that the money for the materials and food items came from a pool of cash created by several families from his church.
“The police officer persisted with the allegation that I receive funds from abroad and convert people by paying them huge monetary sums,” Kumar was quoted as saying.
The group obtained permission to distribute the relief materials to the local nomadic community from the head of Kakrahia village, who told Morning Star News that lawmakers and other groups have even been allowed to distribute food there without objection.
It wasn’t until the head of Kotiya village arrived at the police station that the detained men were released. Kumar said that they were told no charges would be pressed against them. However, police still registered a case against them the next day.
“When I called the police station the next day, we were shocked to know that a case has been registered against us,” Kumar told Morning Star News. “The policeman on the phone said that there is a lot of pressure from the authorities to file a complaint against us.”
The Christians’ arrest was confirmed to the news outlet by a representative of the Sarai Akil police station, who claimed that “10 to 12 people were found praying inside a room.”
“We had information that they had gathered and were praying, and we reached the spot and arrested them,” the representative of the police station told Morning Star News, adding that the investigation is still ongoing and that charges have not officially been filed.
India ranks as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on Open Doors USA’s 2020 World Watch List.
Since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014, there has been a dramatic increase in radical Hindu extremism targeting Christian and other religious minority communities.
In the early months of 2020, the quantity and severity of attacks on Christians in India have continued to escalate. The United Christian Forum in India has documented at least 56 threats against Christians as well as 78 incidents of violence that occurred between January and March of 2020.
A watchdog initiative led by ADF India reported last year that there were over 1,400 incidents of persecution against Christians in India since 2014.
In April, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended that the State Department list India as a country of particular concern for engaging in or tolerating systemic and egregious violations of religious freedom.
Additionally, dozens of Aid groups have called on President Trump and the World Bank Group to hold the Indian government accountable after reports surfaced that many Christians and other non-Hindus were being denied government-issued food rations.
“Specifically, many are being left out of the programs created to help the people during this crisis,” Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations Chairman John Prabhudoss told CP. “Obviously, there are several systemic flaws in the Hindu nationalist government's approach to the problem.”