A pastor in Uttar Pradesh, India has lost hearing in one ear after Hindu extremists tortured him, pressured police to falsely charge him and prevented doctors from treating him, sources said.
Pastor Abhay Sagar, 37, of Biswan town in Sitapur District in the northern state, was about to begin preaching on Sept. 24 when he was attacked. A visitor who was video-recording the worship on his cell phone stopped and made a call, and soon 25 men from Hindu extremist groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad barged into the schoolroom where the congregation was meeting, according to the pastor's wife, Francisca Gill.
Unarmed, the Hindus asked if they could speak with the pastor, and he accompanied them outside as they shouted, "Jai Sri Ram, Jai Sri Ram [Hail Lord Ram]," Gill said. They took him to a nearby school, Saraswati Sishu Mandir, run by the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), where they beat him until he bled, tearing his clothes off, and struck his genitals.
"The beatings were very severe, there was blood oozing from my nose and mouth," Pastor Sagar told Morning Star News, adding that he praised God as an act of faith during the assault. "I was screaming, 'Hallelujah, hallelujah,' but my voice was gone. Nobody could hear me."
They took the pastor to a police station and registered a First Information Report (FIR) against him and his wife. Accusing the couple of forcible conversion, they pressured Biswan police into charging them with "criminal conspiracy" and insulting Hindu religious beliefs, both baseless accusations, sources said.
"I was quiet until the pain was severe in the middle of the night, and I requested the police to take me for medical exam," Pastor Sagar said.
The Station House Officer didn't allow him to go to a hospital until the police office was flooded with calls from Christian organizations and advocates in Delhi, he said.
"Even at the hospital, they [police under pressure from extremists] didn't let the doctors admit me," he said.
A Christian relief organization later provided 3,000 rupees (US$46) to enable him to receive medical treatment. He is still being treated for injured genitals, Gill said.
"I have forgiven the attackers and am praying for them every day," Pastor Sagar said. "On Oct. 4, we moved to another state. I kept asking my wife, 'Why are we running away? Where are we heading? If we live, we must live in Christ, if we die we must die in Him. She assured me that we are not running away from the Lord, He is with us. We are praying the Lord to help us know His will."
Gill said supervisors at her administrative job at a private junior high school suggested they leave Biswan for at least a year.
"Biswan is not safe for my husband and my kids at the moment," she said. "Whatever savings I have made, I spent on his treatment. He lost hearing in his left ear. We need to start life from scratch."
Her husband left his monthly salary of 3,000 rupees (US$46) behind, she said.
"Our kids are 7 and 3, they need admission in a new school now, and honestly, I have nothing to provide them - all our hope is in the Lord," Gill told Morning Star News. "Only He can pave a way and lead us by His hand."
Specifically, Pastor Sagar and his wife are charged with "maliciously insulting religion or religious beliefs," punishable by imprisonment for three years and/or a fine (Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code); and "criminal conspiracy to commit an offense punishable by death, life imprisonment or rigorous imprisonment for a term of two years or upwards," with courts to determine sentencing based on the object of the alleged conspiracy (Section 120B of the IPC).
The assailants alleged that the pastor and his wife were distributing cross pendants and pamphlets to those gathered for worship and engaging in forced conversions, according to the FIR.
"Senior member of Bajrang Dal Mohit Singh was informed via telephone that the pastor and wife are forcibly converting the Hindus, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists reached the venue and presented the accused pastor before the Biswan town police station," Avinash Verma, one of the assailants, said in a translation of his complaint. "Many elderly and women especially gather in large numbers here, and they are promised jobs on the pretext of conversions."
The pastor and his wife denied the allegations.
"We distribute calendars and motto cards with Bible verses during Christmas and New Year celebrations only," Gill said. "We never sold any pendants or any material."
A Christian volunteer who met Pastor Sagar at the police station, Deenanath Jaiswar, told Morning Star News the allegations are false.
"The cases of assault of pastors have been on the rise," he said. "That night Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists were thronging to the police station to check if the pastor was in custody."
School Urges Family to Leave
The pastor's wife was employed at the school for 16 years. Based on her integrity and commitment, the founder of the school, Amarnath Mehrotra, a Hindu, made a room available on the top floor for her church's Sunday worship for 10 years, he told Morning Star News.
"We were happy to offer a room for the worship of Lord Jesus Christ although I belong to a Hindu family," Mehrotra said. "Francisca is the most dedicated and diligent employee I ever saw. She is a very humble lady with those very good Christian qualities. If a child's nose is dripping, she would even go clean it."
Soon after Mehrotra learned that Gill was marrying a trained pastor, he offered the room at the school for worship services, he said.
"Pastor Abhay Sagar is a fine gentleman," he said. "Our school also takes part in their charity events during Christmas, like distributing clothes and offering food to the poor in Biswan."
After discussion of the attack, the school management urged Gill and her family to leave for a season, he said.
"We requested her to leave Biswan for at least a year and come back when things turn normal," he said. "We will inform her when it is safe for them to return."
Gill requested prayer in her search for employment.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.