Christian families in India who were forced to stop attending church after Hindu radicals threatened to beat and kill them have vowed to continue worshiping Christ in secret.
Pastor Singh, who leads a congregation in India's Madhya Pradesh State, told International Christian Concern that 15 families have stopped going to his church in recent months after facing persecution at the hands of Hindu radicals.
"The reason for this drop in the attendance is the threats from Hindu radicals," Pastor Singh told the nonprofit persecution watchdog. "The radicals say they will beat and kill my church members if they continue to attend the services."
"Prior to May this year, around 200 people used to worship regularly in my church," he continued. "But now only 50 to 60 people attend my church on Sunday. They are under tremendous pressure from Hindu radicals."
Shankar Damor, a 37-year-old from Kardubadi village near Jhabua, told ICC his family stopped attending church because they were under serious threat of physical attack.
"In a meeting last May in the village of Kardubadi, the Christians were told that we should not attend any church and should not even pray in our homes," Shankar explained. "When we complained to the village diktat, the entire village stopped associating with us. No one attended our weddings and we were totally cut off from the people of the village."
"In that same month, when my family was praying in our house, someone from the village called the police and I was taken to the police station on false charges of forced conversions," Shankar said. "The police beat me brutally and harassed me while in custody."
Despite such persecution, Shankar said his family will continue to worship Christ — in secret.
"We are on shaky ground as a family," he said. "However, we might stop attending the church, but we will not leave Jesus."
Babu Singh Damor, another Christian from Kardubadi village, told ICC that after completing his Bachelor of Theology, he wanted to serve as a pastor. However, he's forced to practice his faith in private.
"We Christians are closely monitored as to where we are going and whom are we meeting," Babu explained. "It's quite a pathetic life we are living. However, we are not going to leave Jesus, no one is going snatch Jesus from our hearts."
Pansingh Bhuriah, a 23-year-old Christian by birth and former member of Pastor Singh's church, decided to distance himself from the church and Christian activities after his sister was sent to jail on false charges of forced conversion.
"We are attacked from all corners," he said. "It affects our livelihood as we are denied work in the village. It affects our social life as nobody from the entire region attends any of our social gatherings. We have been forced to not identify with Christians and churches and live like Hindus in the village."
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. While religious freedom is supposed to be a constitutional right in the country, several Indian states have implemented anti-conversion laws, making it illegal for anyone to use force or allurement to convert others to another religion. Such laws are often abused by Hindu radicals to file false complaints against pastors and pressure Christians not to share their faith.
In February, 13 Christians, including a visually-challenged couple and five women, were sentenced to six months' rigorous imprisonment for trying to "convert" aboriginal people to Christianity by offering them "inducements."
"As Christians, we would say, absolutely, we don't want you to bribe someone to change their religion either," Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton said. "But then you come into how you interpret that law. If I tell someone that the only path to salvation is Jesus Christ, is that undue inducement? Is that pressuring them to convert?"
"Christians in particular who are ministering are pressured, and attacked, and jailed, and sometimes beaten," he continued. "Doors are often closed to the Gospel, but God has a way of working through, and around, and over closed doors, and so, we pray that that's what will happen in India."