ucanews.com reporter, KolkataUpdated: April 12, 2017 01:49 AM GMT
Church service in progress inside the Dadhauli St Andrews Church on April 7, minutes before the Hindu Yuva Vahini activists and police came in to investigate accusations of forced conversions. (Photo supplied by Pastor Yuhanna Adam)
Police in India's Uttar Pradesh state stopped a prayer meeting in a village church following allegations from a Hindu group that Christians there were converting Hindus.
Some 150 people, including seven tourists from the U.S. and two from Ukraine, were present at the church service at St Andrews Church in Dadhauli in Maharajganj district, when police arrived on April 7, police officer Anand Gupta told ucanews.com.
"We checked the passports and visas of the foreigners and found everything in order. We helped the foreigners leave the place safely," he told ucanews.com.
"We also spoke to the pastor of the church and other participants in the service and found that they were just praying there and found that the allegation of conversion was untrue," Gupta said.
Pastor Yuhanna Adam from the independent protestant church said Hindu groups had been shouting slogans, hailing Hindu gods and threatening to "close down the church and kill me. They accused me of forcibly converting people," he told ucanews.com.
The Hindu activists accused Adam of using force or bribes to make Hindus participate in church programs, said Abhinab Singh, a police officer in Gupta's team. He said the police spoke to several participants but they did not find the pastor using any coercion.
"We spoke to several men and women and some were Hindus. They all said that they had been participating in prayer in the church for several months and years. They found peace in the church and so routinely visited it," Singh told ucanews.com.
However, the police still charged the pastor for not informing them in advance he would be "hosting foreigners" but did not file charges of forced conversion as their "preliminary investigations could not find any [evidence]," he said.
Usha Devi, a villager who attended the program, wanted police to provide protection. She said she has been coming to the church for four years and "have found peace and God. But now I feel extremely scared," she said.
The Hindu Yuva Vahini has a history of opposing Christian activities and people like Devi believe they have become emboldened after their founder Yogi Adityanath become chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in March.
Adam said the Hindu men had been intimidating his congregation.
One of them asked a 70-year-old old woman her reason for coming to church despite being a born Hindu, Adam said. He asked her if she came for money and handed her a 100-rupee note and told her not to return. He also forced her to chant "Jai Shree Ram"," Adam said.
In December, the group barged into Full Gospel Church, also in Gorakhpur area, during a prayer service alleging that Hindus were being converted there. The men vandalized the church and fled the spot before police arrived.
A Hindu activist who spoke ucanews.com said that the church workers are indeed converting Hindus in the region.
"We have been receiving complaints of conversions across eastern Uttar Pradesh. Our men are active. Our volunteers are working on the ground and we are raising consciousness among people and are thwarting the conversion of our Hindu brothers and sisters," Rajesh Singh, a group leader in Gorakhpur told ucanews.com