A Christian pastor in India and members of his ministry team were reportedly attacked with poles and sticks by members of a fundamentalist Hindu organization during a Gospel outreach event in the state of Rajasthan last Wednesday, according to a London-based charity.
The British Asian Christian Association, a group that aids persecuted Christians throughout Asia and was formerly known as the British Pakistani Christian Association, has reported that Pastor Harjot Sethi of the Christ Power Ministry Society was attacked by members of the Hindu fundamentalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The attackers, who were allegedly armed with metal poles and wooden sticks, assaulted the group of Christians when they were holding a Christian outreach event in Dabli Rathan, which is the largest village in the Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan.
Sethi told BACA's lead officer in India, Pastor Naresh Pau, that the attackers waited until he began speaking at the event before they began their assault against members of the outreach's organizing team and the pastor.
Sethi's wife, Arvinderjot, was also reportedly slapped during the attack but was able to escape. She ran to the local police station to report the assault.
According to BACA, the pastor was the extremists' main focus during the attack but members of the church eventually shielded the wounded Sethi from the extremists. Sethi sustained multiple injuries, including a severe injury to his head and a fractured leg.
BACA reports that at least four of the attackers have been arrested and identified as RSS members. BACA believes Sethi's wife helped save his life by alerting police.
"I thought I would die. These men came rushing at me as soon as I started speaking and I was hit on the head. I passed out temporarily which only excited the RSS goons more I am told," Sethi told BACA. "The attackers started beating me more intensely whilst I was on the floor."
Sethi's mother told BACA that her son was struck on the head with metal poles and that God gave him mercy and protection.
"My Son was simply sharing God's message of hope through accepting Christ our Lord and Saviour. The hooligans waited for him to start speaking and rushed to kill him," Sethi's mother told BACA in a phone call. "They were armed with weapons and were beating him hard and any others that tried to stop the violence. I was terrified and had to watch from afar unable to do anything."
Sethi told BACA that police officers were initially hesitant to take action against the attackers and were only looking to restore peace.
"So my colleagues asked me to produce videos about the attack and we shared them on social media to galvanise support for justice," Sethi said. "Christians in India are suffering an increasing amount of animosity since the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) regime secured victory in the national elections of 2014. Life is becoming increasingly untenable and we pray for change to come."
Eventually, the authorities were forced to take action after pressure was applied by Christian advocates and public demonstrators.
According to Open Doors USA, India ranks as the 15th worst nation in the world when it comes to Christian persecution. Open Doors also attributes the BJP party and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's victory in 2014 to an increase in Hindu extremism, adding that the "level of impunity has gone up markedly." Christians make up just about 2 percent of India's total population.
"This unprovoked attack on a Christian Pastor before many visitors is an attack on religious freedom. It resonates with the hatred Christians face on a daily basis in a nation that is becoming increasingly polarized under Modi's government," BACA Chairman Wilson Chowdhry said in a statement. "Pastor Harjot has bravely spoken out and helped shed light on the growing intolerance in India despite the personal risk to himself. Christians across the globe must pray for justice and safety for Pastor Harjot."
BACA, which accepts donations, is helping to pay off Sethi's medical costs and provide a lawyer to help assure that justice is served to Sethi's attackers. BACA is now accepting.
BACA has also launched an online petition calling for an end to attacks on non-Hindus in India. The petition was launched after another Christian pastor in India was shot dead by extremists on motorcycles in July.
"India's position as the third largest economy in the world and a nuclear power has created a global reluctance to intervene with the growing Hindu nationalism that is destroying the lives of minorities living there," Chowdhry added in his statement. "The complicit acceptance by western nations of India's human rights abuses has meant that anti-conversion laws that are in breach of the UN Human Rights Convention have gone unnoticed. These laws threaten to create the same levels of persecution of minorities in India as exists in neighbouring Pakistan."