By ICC’s India Correspondent
04/28/2021 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On January 9, the government of Madhya Pradesh, a state located in Central India, enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020. Later confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2021, this ordinance is considered the most stringent anti-conversion law in India.
Since the law was promulgated, Christians in Madhya Pradesh have suffered. Radical Hindu nationalists use the anti-conversion law as legal cover to persecute. False accusations of forced religious conversion are utilized to harass pastors and justify violence.
Pastor Dileep Vasuniya is among the pastors victimized by this new wave of persecution. On February 7, 2021, Pastor Vasuniya and his congregation were attacked by a gang of radical Hindu nationalists as they gathered for worship. Congregants were beaten, Bibles were burned, and Pastor Vasuniya was falsely accused of violating the anti-conversion law.
According to Pastor Vasuniya, members of the gang falsely claimed he promised them a house and money if they converted to Christianity.
“I was charged under the anti-conversion law and was sent to jail,” Pastor Vasuniya told International Christian Concern (ICC) in a recent interview. “I spent a brief time in jail before I got bail. This was a disheartening experience, but what has followed has been even more painful.”
Since being released, Pastor Vasuniya has been forced to fund his legal defense against the radcials’ false allegation. Traveling 40 miles to the courthouse three or four times a month, the defense has financially crushed Pastor Vasuniya and his family.
“I have spent more than 78,000 rupees on the legal case filed against me,” explained Pastor Vasuniya. “This is more than my entire earnings for one year!”
“The burden of paying for the lawyer, court fees, and every trip to the courthouse has been difficult,” Pastor Vasuniya continued. “I carry 4,000 to 5,000 rupees with me for my travel and food. Sometimes I have to skip eating to make sure I can pay the fees to different people.”
“As a family, we have reduced our meals from three to one meal per day due to lack of food at home,” Pastor Vasuniya said. “I have seven people to support in my family, and this is a very depressing situation.”
“Some of my church members have recanted their faith due to threats from local radicals,” Pastor Vasuniya continued. “Others are praying in secret. The building we were using for the church has been locked since the attack in February. I do not know if we will be able to resume worship in that building.”
“The radicals have also continued to threaten me,” said Pastor Vasuniya. “They say that the worst is yet to come. I am concerned for my children and their futures.”
Despite the desperate situation, Pastor Vasuniya remains steadfast in his faith. When asked if he would recant his faith to end the challenges faced by his family, he rejected the idea immediately.
“Though this is a tough situation, Jesus gave us peace,” said Pastor Vasuniya. “I have hope that he will make a way for us. I am patiently waiting with hope that justice will be served in my case and that we will freely worship again.”
Unfortunately, Pastor Vasuniya’s story is not unique in Madhya Pradesh. False accusations of forced conversion have become a favorite tool of persecution used by radical Hindu nationalists operating in the state. While no pastor has been convicted, the economic and social consequences of the mere accusation are enough to serve the purposes of the radicals.
This story first appeared on persecution.org