A pastor in India was hospitalized after Hindu extremists tied him to a tree and brutally assaulted him for over three hours, accusing him of “blasphemy.”
International Christian Concern reports that on March 1, Pastor Manju Keralli was leading a worship service in Bennakoop village, located in the Gadag district of Karnataka, when a group of 150 radical Hindu nationalists broke into the service.
The radicals reportedly hurled abusive language at the Christians, physically assaulted those present, and destroyed the church’s instruments and furniture before attacking the pastor.
“I fell to the ground after receiving several punches and kicks,” Pastor Keralli said. “Then, they dragged me out of the meeting hall, tied me to a tree outside, and further released blows and punches. They took me to two other places in the same village and tied me to an electrical pole and a pillar in the marketplace. All the time they continued their physical harassment for more than three hours.”
“Later, police arrived and took me to the police station. Even the police threatened me with foul language, saying that I don’t have right to live in this country as I am practicing foreign faith.”
At the station, the police then filed a criminal case against Keralli under India’s blasphemy law, yet failed to file a criminal case against the radicals that broke into the church and assailed the Christians.
“I am unable to sit, as there is an injury on my back,” he told ICC. “Doctors are suspecting that there could be fracture on my spine. I have severe pain in my lower abdomen and have difficulty breathing.”
“In addition to all these things, there is a legal case filed against me that I am involved in illegal conversions,” Keralli said.
Fearing arrest, the pastor remains hidden and is currently seeking anticipatory bail for the false blasphemy charges that have been filed against him.
India’s Freedom of Religion Act 2019, which eight out of 29 states in the country have passed, bans religious conversion as a result of force or inducement. Those who violate the forced religious conversion law face anywhere from three to seven years in prison.
Critics say these laws are often abused by Hindu radicals to persecute Christians and other religious minorities.
Local sources told the outlet that such stories in the region are not uncommon, as attacks on pastors have increased in recent weeks due to police inaction.
“Recently, there have been five attacks on pastors in Gadag district alone,” a local Christian leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told ICC. “Across the entire state, the number of incidents have grown sharply because of the complicity of the police and the free hand given to Hindu radicals. This will make it even more difficult for Christians in the state.”
India is listed as 10th on persecution watchdog Open Doors 2020 Watch List of the 50 countries where Christians suffer the most severe persecution. The country rose from a 2013 ranking of 31 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi gained power in 2014 with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
According to Open Doors, at least 1,500 Indian Christians faced some kind of violence or threat do to their religious beliefs between November 2018 and October 2019, while as many as 295 Christians were detained for faith-related reasons.
After a two-day visit to India in February, President Donald Trump raised the issue of religious freedom during conversations with Modi. Following the visit, Trump said India’s PM “wants people to have religious freedom, and very strongly.”
However, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback told CP at the 2020 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland that he would not go as far as to say improvements are being made when it comes to the condition of religious freedom in India.
“The president did raise the issues with Modi privately. I think it was important that you raise those issues,” Brownback said.
“But you got a lot of communal violence that is happening in India. They have got a lot of things that they are pushing that push religious buttons. So people get really fired up. You saw the violence that took place during the president’s trip. That’s the level of angst going on in the country. There is a lot of Hindu nationalism that has been going on more aggressively and you are seeing some of the consequences.”