(International Christian Concern) – On Sunday morning, October 10, Vijendra Prasad was playing the Dolluck, an Indian leather instrument, as he joined 70 other Christians in singing worship songs in India’s Uttar Pradesh state. The worship music suddenly stopped when a mob of enraged Hindu nationalists burst into the hall and began yelling.
The mob accused the Christians, including Prasad, of engaging in illegal religious conversions and began a physical assault. Following the attack, seven Christians from the congregation were arrested and sent to jail for violating Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law.
International Christian Concern (ICC) recently interviewed Prasad, age 46, to follow up on the attack and the false forced conversion accusation that was leveled against him. Because of this false accusation, Prasad, along with his wife and son, spent two weeks in the Central Jail in Mau.
“Neither have I heard of nor attended a dharmantharan (conversion) ceremony,” Prasad told ICC. “Seven years ago, in 2014, I was on my death bed and was taken to several hospitals. At last, the doctors in Lucknow told me that they were going to amputate my leg, but they said this would not guarantee I would survive.”
“I was brought home and lost all hope,” Prasad continued. “At that point, a friend of mine, who is not a Christian, told me that if I prayed to Jesus I might get well. I did, and now I run a business and am taking care of my family.”
“No one forced me or even encouraged me to convert to Christianity,” Prasad explained. “I feel that I am a better person after meeting those who worship Jesus. However, now I am forcibly put in jail after being accused of being involved in religious conversions.”
On October 10, a mob of 100 Hindu Yuva Vahini activists attacked a worship service Prasad and his family were attending in Mau. The service was taking place in a private home, and no one was there against their will. The mob, however, accused the Christians of engaging in illegal conversions, which resulted in the arrest of seven Christians attending the service.
“They snatched the Bible that I purchased and like to carry with me,” Prasad said. “The police filed it as evidence of conversion activities. I am not sure if it is a crime to own a religious text. As far as I know, as a citizen of this country, I have the freedom to own and read any religious text and even practice what it says.”
“I was surprised looking at the scene,” Prasad said, describing the October 10 attack. “The angry mob with sticks and the police with their lathis tried to attack Pastor Abraham and the entire congregation, including me, formed a human fence around him. No one from the congregation has a grievance against Pastor Abraham, but the mob came to the church saying they were protecting us from the so-called conversions.”
To Prasad, it appeared the police were working “hand in glove” with the radical Hindu nationalists attacking his church on October 10. For many Christian survivors of persecution in India, this is a familiar story.
Radical Hindu nationalists frequently use the specter of fraudulent mass conversions to Christianity to marginalize Christians, justify attacks, and pass legislation limiting religious freedom, like anti-conversion laws. According to these nationalists, Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means.
Due to growing religious intolerance and the normalization of religiously motivated violence, many radical Hindu nationalists view all religious conversions to non-Hindu faiths as fraudulent. In an increasing number of cases, radical Hindu nationalists equate all non-Hindu religious activity with forced or fraudulent conversions.
Across India, there has been a sharp rise in attacks on Christians and their places of worship. ICC has documented at least 56 incidents of persecution taking place in Uttar Pradesh in just the past three months. Using the state’s anti-conversion law as a means of legal cover, radicals have victimized hundreds of Christians. Many others remain sitting in jails across the state, accused of violating the anti-conversion law.
The attack witnessed by Prasad and his congregation paints the perfect picture of how the anti-conversion law are misused to harass and attack Christians in India. More must be done to fairly assess the effects of the anti-conversion laws in India and their misuse by radical Hindu nationalists. Without this assessment, it is likely they will continue to fuel escalating persecution.
This story first appeared on persecution.org