Seven Christians in India have been booked on charges of hurting religious feelings after Hindu extremists savagely beat them when they gathered to pray for a sick man at his home, sources said.
Police in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh state on Dec. 4 charged the six Christian men and one woman with "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings" after a mob of about 20 Hindus led by members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) entered the house porch and attacked those present.
The six Christian men were taken into custody, while the woman was not immediately arrested due to the absence of female police required to detain her, sources said.
Anita Masih, a former Hindu who converted to Christianity nearly 30 years ago, was on her way to New Delhi with other Christians for a prayer fellowship and stopped at her sister Mamta Valmiki's house in Eroli Gurjar village to pray for her ill husband. Valmiki's son had been healed after Masih prayed for him, and Valmiki asked her sister and the Christians to pray for her husband.
Accompanying Masih were Christians including a pastor with Harvest Mission based in Kosi Kalan, Mathura District.
Valmiki, a 35-year-old Hindu of the below-caste Dalit people, told Morning Star News that she had implored her sister to visit her house along with the pastor and other Christians in order to pray for her husband, who was "extremely unwell," and for her 16-year-old daughter, whose marriage she had recently arranged.
"I requested her to halt on her way to Delhi and pray for my household, that we might be blessed," Valmiki said.
After seating the guests in a porch area on the premises of the house with about 12 other female members of her family, Valmiki asked if they would start a worship song while she went to get them water.
The mob then attacked, led by her father-in-law's older brother, Lal Singh, his son and members of RSS, the parent organization of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Valmiki said.
"They shouted, 'Attack, attack,' and pounced on the guests," Valmiki said, crying bitterly. "They hit them so brutally with hands, legs and foot, using abusive language for the men and women alike, and they blamed them for alluring us to convert."
Singh told his accomplices, "Kill Anita, her daughter and all these Christians who have come to our village to convert innocent Hindus," she said. Valmiki said she heard one man shout, "Don't hit them with hands, get wooden sticks," and soon some of them brought sticks that they used to beat them.
"Lal Singh caught hold of my [14-year-old] daughter from her hair and banged her head into the wall in full force, and immediately blood oozed out of her ear," Valmiki said. "Another man shouted, 'Let's teach them a lesson; come, let us burn them alive.' Immediately they started to search for kerosene [paraffin] oil."
Valmiki later asked Singh why he attacked her daughter, and he said she had gotten in the way of their beating the Christians, and that if she dares to do it again, he would hit her again, she said.
Valmiki begged them to stop as fellow villagers stood by as mere spectators, she said.
"The beatings were so brutal that I could not stand there and see them being beaten to death," she said. "I left home and ran to fetch some help, but to no avail."
The assailants damaged pastor Stanley Jacob's car, took the Christians' cell phones and Bibles and broke the sound system they were carrying to Delhi, sources said.
Someone called police, and the violence subsided as they arrived and the assailants threw away their wooden sticks, Valmiki said.
"They would have killed the Christians," she said. "I argued with the police, insisting on being arrested along with the six Christians. I told the policeman, 'If it is a crime to invite guests at home, then the host should be arrested and not the guests.'"
At the Surir police station, the Christians were charged under Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code for "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings."
While the attack turned into an anti-Christian melee, Singh originally planned it as revenge for Valmiki refusing to give her 16-year-old daughter in marriage to his choice for a groom in four years, Valmiki said.
"I have never objected to the Satsang [a spiritual discourse or sacred gathering] that Lal Singh and his family does," she said. "Why should they object to the prayer meeting that I have arranged in my house? Do I not have the right to pray and believe whomever I want to?"
Local newspapers were flooded with reports the next day claiming that the Christians were distributing Bibles and preaching to the villagers, and that when no one responded, they began trying to fraudulently lure and forcibly convert Valmiki and her family.
Valmiki said she was shocked at the reports, calling them an "absolutely cooked-up story." She told Morning Star News that she was troubled in spirit and spending sleepless nights to think that six Christians are in jail because of her request.
"I was going to the police station to give my statement in favor of the Christians and against the attackers, but the attackers threatened to kill me if I went and also said that they would boycott my complete family and would force us to leave the village if I witnessed against them," she said.
"I am guilty of being frightened and selfish," she added. "To protect my family I held back, but not any longer; I will do whatever possible to ensure the seven are free of the charges and are out of jail."
She has left her home after receiving threats on her life and was in hiding at this writing.
On Dec. 5 the six Christian men - Pastor Jacob, Vijay Kumar, Amit Kumar, David Jacob, Sumit Varghese and one identified only as Dinesh - were produced in court and remanded to judicial custody for 14 days.
When the six appeared before the Additional District Judge in Mathura, the judge asked the police in-charge why they were being presented in court, and the officer said, "Sir, these poor people have been beaten and are arrested, and those who beat them are outside [the jail]," an eyewitness who wished to remain unnamed told Morning Star News.
"Lal Singh has a strong beckoning of some very influential RSS people, and it is evident from the statement of the policeman that they realize that the victims are arrested while the assaulters are roaming free," said the source who has witnessed the court proceedings.
A bail application for the Christians was rejected by a lower court on Dec. 7, and they were moved to the Sessions Court to secure bail. At a hearing on Tuesday (Dec. 12), they were informed that the case had been transferred to the District Court. Approaching the District Court, they were told that the appointed judge was not present and that the hearing was postponed until Saturday (Dec. 16).
Her husband chronically ill, Valmiki is the sole earning member in her home, responsible for her in-laws who live with her and five children ranging in age from 6 to 16. She said cleans cow excrement from homes in return for bread.
Her absence from home while she is in hiding is resulting in the starvation of her family, she said.
Her 14-year-old daughter recently phoned her, crying and complaining of severe pain, she said. She pleaded that Morning Star News readers pray for the Christians to be released without charges and that her spirit would find rest.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist 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.