Suspected Hindu nationalists reportedly disrupted a prayer meeting last month and are said to have beat up a pastor as persecution against Christians and other religious minorities continues to increase in India.
Pastor Raju Prassad, who leads a small fellowship in the Kanshiram Colony in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told the persecution watchdog charity International Christian Concern about an attack on his fellowship that occurred on July 28.
Prassad claimed that Hindu nationalists belonging to Bajrang Dal, a youth militant group affiliated with the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, harassed and identified a group of women and two men who were on their way to the prayer meeting.
The perpetrators are said to have physically and verbally abused the women and two men before they arrived at the prayer meeting.
When the group of Christians arrived at the house where the meeting was taking place, the nationalists allegedly continued their attack.
Pastor Prassad said that he was dragged out of the house and beaten by the perpetrators.
When the police came, Prassad said he and members of his fellowship were arrested and brought to the police station on charges of forcible conversion.
In some states in India, including Uttar Pradesh, it is illegal to coerce or allure someone into religious conversion. Anti-conversion laws are often used by Hindu activists to press false cases against Christian leaders.
At the police station in Chakeri, Prassad said that Hindu nationalists continued to beat him.
According to the pastor, he and his fellow members spent a total of five hours at the police station before police cleared them of forcible conversion charges.
Although the police investigated the forcible conversion charges, no action was taken to hold the perpetrators accountable for their physical brutality against the pastor and his fellowship, according to ICC.
India ranks as 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2019 World Watch List.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution and aids persecuted communities in dozens of countries across the world, warned in a factsheet that attacks carried out by Hindu radicals have increased since the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.
Since then, Hindu radicals have been able to carry out attacks against Christians and other religious minorities with relative impunity in a number of cases.
"As a result, Christians have been targeted by Hindu nationalist extremists more and more each year," Open Doors states. "The view of the nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is considered non-Indian."
In June, Christian Solidarity Worldwide reported that at least seven Christian families were forced to flee from their homes in the Jharkhand state because of threats and harassment by a Hindu mob after they refused to renounce Christ.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom ranks India as a "Tier 2" country of concern when it comes to religious liberty violations as the country's history of religious freedom "has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives."
USCIRF, a congressionally-mandated entity which publishes an annual international religious freedom report, wrote in its 2019 report that the "campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities" has occurred with the "government's allowance."
"Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign," the USCIRF report states.
In 2018, according to USCIRF, about one-third of Indian state governments increasingly enforced "anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws" that are "discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike."
Additionally, USCIRF further warned that Indian government rules on the registration of foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations are "discriminatorily implemented against religious minority groups."