Sunday, February 29, 2004

Police Beat Dalit Pastor in Uttar Pradesh

Hindu activists disrupt Christian meetings.
by Vijayesh Lal

DELHI, February 27 (Compass) -- Pastor Ram Prakash, from Mahmudpur village in the Sultanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, was beaten while in police custody and is still under threat from Hindu activists, according to reports from Open Doors of India.

Prakash, a lay pastor, was visiting a Christian relative in a Dalit (untouchable) colony on February 6 when he was attacked by Hindu activists. Local high caste Hindu leaders led a group of about 200 people to Harish Chandra's house, where they accused Prakash of converting the local people to Christianity.

The Hindu leaders seized Prakash and began to physically threaten him. Chandra pulled Prakash back into the house and locked the doors - but the crowd soon broke through the door and began beating Chandra and his wife. They also threatened women in the house and used abusive language against other Christians who were present.

Meanwhile Prakash managed to call the local police on his mobile phone, which was later taken from him by the mob.

However when the police arrived, they arrested Prakash instead of the attackers. He was taken to the police station and held on the pretext of further investigation.

Local Christians claimed that police inspector Anand Singh Thakur and three other constables gave Prakash a severe beating that night. The police accused him of being an American agent and forced him to repeat the words Jai Shri Ram ("Victory to the god Ram") and Jai Mata Di ("Victory to the goddess Durga").

The scars from that beating are still visible on Prakash’s body. When he was eventually released on bail, doctors performed a medical examination and confirmed that he had been severely beaten in police custody.

Hindu activists later charged Prakash under section 151 of the Indian Penal Code for spreading communal tension.

Police constables told an Open Doors staff member that if Prakash continued to proclaim Jesus, he could expect more of the same treatment, particularly as a wave of Hindu nationalism was sweeping through India.

The attack on Prakash was the second violent incident involving Christians in Sultanpur in recent months. On December 25, 2003, Hindu activists and local politicians disrupted a group of about 100 Christians meeting in a private home in Ramdaspur village. Eight members of the group were charged under section 151 with spreading communal tension.

The homeowner was arrested and the pastor threatened with further abuse if they continued to hold these meetings. In the weeks following the December incident, local media carried venomous articles against Christians.

About 200 Thakur (high caste) Hindu families live in Mahmudpur village, along with 40 Dalit families. Throughout India, these two castes are in conflict. Dalit men are often forced to work as unpaid laborers for Thakurs while their own fields are left untended.

This partly explains why Christianity has such an appeal for the Dalits. As Prakash said, "I am from a Dalit background, and when I first encountered Christians, I was surprised to learn that I could actually touch their sacred Scripture and read it too. I felt like a dignified human for the first time in my life."

Prakash became a Christian a few years ago after being healed of mental illness. Since his conversion, local Hindu leaders have constantly harassed him for holding prayer meetings in his home.

Threats against Prakash and the small community of Dalit Christians in Mahmudpur seem to be increasing. On February 7, Hindus brandishing a homemade pistol attacked another local Christian named Jai Narayan for showing the Jesus video at his home. Narayan is still recovering from bullet wounds to his face.

On February 15, Hindu activists attacked a small gathering of Christians in Prakash's home, seeking to instill fear in local Christians. High caste Thakurs react negatively to the conversion of Dalits. When Dalit Christians in Mahmudpur began attending church on Sundays, for example, it meant that no labor was available to till Thakur fields that day. When landlords in the area found out that Prakash was responsible for leading many Dalits to Christianity, their animosity toward him increased.