Two Christian men were hospitalized after being attacked and beaten by an enraged Hindu mob while on their way to a Christian camp in Eastern India, as persecution against Christian missionaries continues to escalate.
According to the Christian persecution news outlet Morning Star News, the attack occurred on Feb. 26 after Christians aboard a bus bound for the city of Bettiah in the Bihar state told passengers onboard their reason for traveling.
However, not everyone onboard was pleased with the fact that they were talking about their faith and the Christian camp.
One angry Hindu reportedly began to argue with the Christians on the bus, most of whom were women and children.
The man accused the Christians of "always converting innocent and poor villagers," an accusation similar to the ones that other Christians have faced in the past year, especially those traveling to Christian conferences and camps in India.
It is believed that the Hindu man made phone calls to Hindu nationalist groups because once the bus arrived at the station, a group of about 60 to 70 Hindu extremists were there waiting.
According to a local source who spoke with Morning Star News, two Christian men were separated from the group and severely beaten. Those Christians are D. Joseph, a missionary for the Gospel Echoing Missionary Service, and a Christian man named Baldev Singh.
"It was evident from the mob that it was a pre-planned attack," Pastor Mariosh Joseph, the coordinator of the missionary service, told the outlet. "There was a media person present to record and publish the entire episode in the media, along with the Hindu extremist mob."
Pastor Joseph explained that D. Joseph sustained a number of injuries, causing him to go into a deep state of shock. Meanwhile, Singh also had to be hospitalized due to minor injuries. Singh suffered inner-ear damage that led him to suffer hearing loss.
"The [radical Hindu] groups are specially instructed to hit in a way that [doesn't cause external bleeding], but cause gruesome injuries internally," Pastor Joseph told Morning Star News.
Another church leader told the outlet that the mob interrogated the Christians about their purpose for being in the town.
GEMS zonal superintendent Pastor Palanivelu told the outlet that the mob accused the Christians of coming to the town to lure "innocent and poor villagers with money and benefits" in order to "fool them into becoming Christians."
However, D. Joseph denied the allegations and told the attackers about the camp they were planning to go to, which took place as planned from Feb. 26–28.
"Even being in a public place, no one came to their rescue, and passersby were mere spectators as the mob beat both the Christians mercilessly, while the other Christian teammates cried for help," Palanivelu said.
Even after nearby police officers responded to the violence, the mob reportedly outnumbered the cops until backup arrived.
"Some of the women got so frightened that they fled the site and returned home from the bus station itself without attending the camp," Palanivelu said.
Palanivelu added that a total of 11 women who were on the bus went to the camp.
The attack in Bettiah 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. Most of the violence against Christians in the country come at the hands of Hindu radical groups.
"These radicals are intent on cleansing the nation of both Islam and Christianity and employ violence to this end," Open Doors explains. "Usually, converts to Christianity experience the worst persecution and are constantly under pressure to return to Hinduism."
Advocates warn that Hindu radicals have been emboldened by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government.
A recently released report by the Religious Liberty Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of India highlights over 351 cases of Christian persecution in India in 2017.
"Of late there have been a lot of incidents that have been happening against Christian believers," Pastor Joseph said. "Even if there is a disagreement, violence is not a way."
GMES reports that there were at least 12 cases of persecution against its missionaries last year.
According to Pastor Joseph, Bettiah police initially were investigating the Hindu attack on the Christians exiting the bus as a case of forcible conversion. Joseph said that he was told later by the police superintendent that they are now treating the situation as a case of human trafficking.
Joseph added that although police recorded the statement of the two hospitalized men, they did not file an official report.
"The police, in most of the cases, are biased and try to see how they can frame the victims, rather than doing the other way around," Joseph was quoted as saying.