Seven pastors in India were arrested this week, charged with alleged ‘forced conversions’ in the district of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh in Northern India.
Following their arrest the pastors were refused bail on Wednesday and now remain in custody, according to the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA).
Villagers in the district of Irauli Gurjar called local police to protest the pastors’ sharing of ‘evil Bibles’ and using blasphemous language about the Hindu religion, according to The Times of India. They alleged the pastors used violence to force ‘Scheduled Caste’ or Dalit locals to convert to Christianity.
The pastors were charged under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, which outlaws ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings’.
Relatives of one of the arrested, Pastor Stanley Jacob, denied the accusations made against the men. A couple who had recently converted to Christianity invited the missionary pastors to their house for a prayer meeting on Monday, Jacob’s relatives said. The pastors had shared the gospel at the gathering and gave out Bibles to some locals who had been invited there.
The meeting was then interrupted by villagers who allegedly began to direct abuse at the pastors. The call to police was made by Lal Singh, the uncle of the converted couple – Pradeep Singh and his wife Mamta. Lal Singh was not at the meeting, but said he was told of the ‘forced conversions’ by others there.
The lead officer of the British Asian Christian Association, Pastor Naresh, expressed his ‘frustration’ and ‘anger’ regarding the pastors’ arrest, ‘based on the lies of local people’ and ‘extremists’.
He added: ‘Being a pastor in India is becoming a nightmare role, persecution here is reaching the levels that were present at the time of Paul.
‘We will do what we can for these pastors. Already I have counselled a few of the families and I am going to visit them and see what other support we can offer including support for legal fees. However, there are wives and children who await news daily, fearful of what will happen to the patriarch of their family. Its is simply a devastating situation.’
BPCA chairman Wilson Chowdhry said: ‘These arrests so close to Christmas are going to hurt the affected families badly. A time of joy for so many, Christmas this year for the pastors arrested and their families will be a time of anxiety and fear.
‘India continues its trajectory towards despair, the caste system is gaining renewed impetus destroying the lives of disenfranchised citizens simply for the families they were born into. Worse still every minority living in the midst of the Hindu majority are living through a time of increased suspicion and animosity.’
The first court hearing for the pastors is set to take place on December 12.