NEW DELHI – A pastor and seven others putting relief packets together for the poor were assaulted by police who arrested them on a baseless allegation of gathering too many for worship amid the coronavirus lockdown in India, sources said.
Pastor Ramesh Kumar, 32, along with Christians Shri Chand, Rakesh Kumar and Mohit Kumar, were preparing aid packets on April 25 for distribution to the poor in Kakrahia village, near Kotiya, Kaushambi District, Uttar Pradesh state, when police stormed in and detained them and four others helping them, the pastor said.
The Christians had obtained permission from Kakrahia village head Hemkaran Singh to undertake the distribution to the village’s “nomadic” destitute who rely on alms they collect by going door-to-door to survive, the pastor told Morning Star News.
Police accused the men of violating the lockdown with a worship meeting, and officers ignored the pastor’s plea to speak with the village head, who could explain that it was not a worship service, he said. India’s prime minister recently called on people to help feed poor families during the coronavirus lockdown, and the pastor told officers they were trying to answer that call.
Officers booked the eight men under the Indian Penal Code Section 269 for “negligent acts likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life” and “disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant,” Section 188.
A local newspaper published false information about the case, the pastor said, alleging church members were continuing to hold large worship services despite the lockdown.
While regular worship services had taken place in Lal’s house for three years, the last time they gathered for worship was on March 21, prior to the lockdown, Kumar said. He added that the media report was false and designed to frame the Christians.
The harassment is typical of mistreatment of Christians in Uttar Pradesh state, which has been the most hostile state against Christians for three years, he said. Persecution Relief documented more than 45 cases of hostilities against Christians in the first three months of the year, on track to far surpass the 109 cases recorded in all of 2019, he said.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom on April 28 urged the U.S. State Department to add India as a “Country of Particular Concern” to its list of nations with poor records of protecting religious freedom.
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was No. 31 in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014. (MS)