Christians in a tiny northern Indian district suffered at least 12 attacks in September that community leaders say were instigated by false accusations against missioners over the conversion of Hindus. Pastors were beaten up, faithful arrested and Sunday services disrupted in continuing violence allegedly carried out by Hindu groups in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh
. The rights group Alliance Defending Freedom
(ADF) cited "false propaganda" carried in some media outlets about claimed miracles and allurements being used by pastors to win converts. ADF official A.C. Michael told ucanews.com Sept. 28 that pastors were arrested like terrorists at midnight, church goers had been threatened and arbitrary restraints were imposed on Christian activities. He said this was generating "terrific fear" in the Jaunpur district, which is about 230 kilometres southeast of the state capital, Lucknow. The rights' group listed 12 incidents that occurred Sept. 5-25, including attempts to intimidate pastors into not conducting church services. The incidents in Jaunpur district had also frightened Christians in other parts of the state, said Pastor Ashok Benjamin of Bareilly district. Pastor Benjamin said such incidents had increased since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with a Hindu monk-turned-politician, Yogi Adityanath
, becoming state Chief Minister in March 2017. Nearly 80 percent of Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state with 200 million people, are Hindus. Christians constitute only 0.18 percent of the state's population while Muslims number more than 19 percent. Jaunpur district has only about 300 Christians in a predominantly Hindu population of some 180,000 people, according to government statistics. Some media reports say the district has been witnessing increased religious activity by pastors from neo-Christian groups and that thousands of ordinary villagers, mostly poor Dalit people formerly known as untouchables, have converted to Christianity. Groups who work for Hindu domination oppose Christian missionary activities. The BJP tacitly supports anti-Christian outfits, missioners say. In a Sept. 5 incident in the Jaunpur district, pastor Durga Prasad, and some 200 Christians from his church, were arrested on charges of "spreading lies about Hinduism" and drugging people in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. They were later released on bail.
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In the latest incident on Sept. 24, police asked Pastor Nanhe Lal to close his church because local villagers were opposed to its presence. "We have faced more hurdles after Yogi became chief minister," Pastor Benjamin said. He said the Yogi government was plotting to enact an anti-conversion law, modelled on those already existing in the states of Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. These laws make it an offence to convert people using purported fraud, allurement or force or without informing local government officials. Christian leaders maintain that this violates freedom of religion guaranteed under India's Constitution. They say that education and health services provided by Christian missioners can easily be misconstrued as fraud or allurement aimed at securing conversions.