Christian families flee Indian village under threats of rape, murder after prayer house attacked by mob

An Indian man walks outside a deserted church, as India remains under an unprecedented extended lockdown over the highly contagious coronavirus (COVID-19) on May 5, 2020, in Delhi, India. | Getty Images/Yawar Nazir

Christian families in India have been forced to flee their homes following a series of mob attacks against a Christian prayer house and threats that if they didn't leave the village, they would be raped and murdered.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a United Kingdom-based human rights group that works in over 20 countries, is decrying the mistreatment of a small Christian community in the Dassmora village of the Azamgarh district in the Uttar Pradesh state. 

According to the nonprofit, two Christian families from the village fled their homes on Saturday and left behind their livestock after a string of attacks in the days prior carried out by groups of suspected Hindu radicals in the village. 

A local source told the NGO that Christians in the village first faced harassment last Thursday when a mob of about 35 villagers entered the prayer house — built in 2018 and said to be used by hundreds of Christians — and verbally abused those who were present at the time. 

The next day, another mob of people is said to have broken into the prayer house, assaulted Pastor Vikas Gupta and ransacked the property. 

According to CSW and also reported by (a news outlet staffed entirely by lay-people across Asia that supports the mission of the Catholic Church) is the claim that the mob threatened to rape and murder those who gathered at the prayer house. 

The mob also reportedly threatened to burn down the prayer house if the Christians didn’t leave the village. According to the reports, Gupta was dragged to a local temple shrine last Friday and ordered to bow before an idol. 

Then on Saturday, another mob was said to have torn down the walls of the prayer house and destroyed the windows and doors. Also, the mob is said to have destroyed a motorcycle. 

After Saturday’s attack the Christian community notified police, CSW reports. 

In response, the police reportedly arrested men connected with the mob attack, according to a local source that spoke with CSW. However, dozens of people went to the police station to pressure authorities to release the arrested men. According to sources who spoke with, the mob at the police station was led by the village head. 

The pressure resulted in the men being released.

“The police buckled under pressure and released those it had arrested earlier,” Gupta, 21, was quoted as telling the news outlet. 

Gupta said that the communal anger against him and other Christians grew after the men were released from prison, which resulted in another and more severe attack. 

“When we saw no other option, we fled from the village, leaving behind our houses, household and livestock,” they explained. “We have now become like refugees.”

According to CSW, two of the Christian families living in Dassmora initially took shelter inside the police station before fleeing to another undisclosed location. 

“We are deeply concerned by the repeated attacks these families have had to endure,” CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. “They have lost both their livelihood, and their fundamental freedom to worship. We urge local police to properly investigate the matter and bring the perpetrators to justice. We call on the authorities to take corrective measures to ensure these families are able to resume their way of life and support the faith of other Christians in the surrounding villages.” 

Patsy David, who works with the nonprofit advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom India, told that there are over 15 people in the targetted families who were forced to flee the village. 

According to David, those families had recently moved to the village and began holding prayers services in their homes, which drew the attention of the other locals. 

“There is a community called Raj Bhars living in the village and a few people from this community got inspired from the message of Christ and began attending the prayer services out of curiosity,” David explained. “This angered the village locals who accused the Christian families of forcefully converting people there.”

Attacks against Christians and other religious minorities in India carried out by Hindu nationalist radicals have become all too common in India in recent years.

Open Doors USA, a religious freedom monitoring group that operates in 60 countries, ranks India as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. 

Open Doors notes that incidents of persecution against Christians in India have increased since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014. Open Doors warns that Hindu radicals “often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”

“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India reads. 

International Christian Concern, another U.S.-based persecution watchdog group, reported this week that a Christian family in the Chhattisgarh state of India was attacked by suspected Hindu nationalists in their home on July 1 for refusing to renounce their faith.

A local source told ICC that a 21-year-old woman and 18-year-old man were seriously injured during the attack in which their home was ransacked and their “land taken away.” 

Tunaviram Markham, who attends church with the family, told ICC that the many people from the village surrounded the family’s house, broke in and beat up family members.

“I came to visit this family when I heard about the attack on Laxman family,” Markham explained. “There was nobody to help; also, the police are not allowing outsiders into the village. It was pathetic to see helplessness (of) the only Christian family.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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