Three Christians in northern India spent more than two months in jail suffering abuse from other prisoners, even though police found no evidence of wrongdoing and the complainant retracted his accusation, sources said.
In Uttar Pradesh state’s Mau District, 23-year-old pastor Ajay Kumar, fellow pastor Om Prakash, 20, and another Christian, 62-year-old Kapil Dev Ram, were released on bail in late January, but still face charges said to be fabricated.
The time the pastors spent in jail was a “nightmare,” Kumar said.
“Every night was a traumatic night for us,” Kumar told Morning Star News.
“We did not know when a mob would wake us in the middle of the night and torment us.”
Accused of forceful conversion by Hindu extremists who disrupted their Nov. 26 worship at Ram’s home in Daraura village, the two pastors were released on bail Jan. 27. Ram was released Jan. 29.
In spite of the ordeal, the pastors managed to explain the Gospel to many prisoners, one of whom professed faith in Christ.
Kumar said they faced the same kind of Hindu nationalist opposition in jail as when free.
“Prisoners inside the jail showed their religious bias,” Kumar told Morning Star. “We did not lie when our co-prisoners asked us the reason for us being in jail, and when we told them that it’s a case of [forcible] conversion, they despised us and spread the word around.”
A group of prisoners came on many nights to wake Kumar and Ram, who were in one barrack while Prakash was in another, Kumar said.
“They used vulgar language and asked us how much foreign money we have earned by carrying out conversions,” Kumar said. “They demanded money from us, asking us to share the supposed loot with them. And when we explained that there was no money involved, they beat me with fists and legs. They spared Kapil (Ram) from beatings as he is a senior citizen and said that I have to take his share of beating as well.”
They faced continuous threats, including warnings that they would not be spared after their release, Kumar said.
“‘We will deal with you outside the prison for carrying out conversions,’ said many of them, but we always spoke to them politely,” Kumar said. “There are things that happened to us that I cannot even share about.”
One day an influential prisoner summoned him and asked him to pray for a man who had been unable to sleep at night since his arrest months before. Kumar went to the man, prayed for him and began to spend time with him.
“One day he broke and began to confess his sins in prayer; he started to get sleep at nights,” Kumar said. “The troublesome prisoners began to trouble this man too, questioning him as to why he has started to pray along with the Christians, to which he answered, ‘When I was upset, nobody helped me. It was Ajay who told me about Christ and comforted me.'”
As Kumar and Ram were about to leave jail, the man told them that he believed in Christ and wanted to follow Him, Kumar said. “I was full of joy.”
In the other barrack, Prakash was suffering from chickenpox and was quarantined for nearly two weeks. He received no medicine for his illness. However, he was able to share the Gospel with about 75 prisoners in his area, he told Morning Star.
“I spent time in prayer for two hours in the morning, and two hours in the evening,” he said. “People started to come to me with their prayer requests. I shared the Good News with all the prisoners in my barrack.”
Of the nine prisoners released from his area while he was incarcerated, five said they wished to connect with him and attend his church after release, Prakash said.
“Though I went through a lot of troubles and hardships, I was happy I was inside, doing the Lord’s work,” Prakash said.
Kumar and Prakash, who help lead Sharon Fellowship Church in Mohammadabad, Gohana, were visiting Ram’s home for worship Nov. 26 when Hindu extremists intruded and interrupted worship.
When Kumar and Prakash left Ram’s house, a large crowd of Hindu extremists threatened them and called police. Although police initially reported no evidence of forceful conversion, officers decided to charge the men in response to pressure from Hindu extremists, sources told Morning Star.
They were charged under Indian Penal Code sections for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, outraging religious feelings and inducing a person to believe that he will be rendered an object of the Divine displeasure, and with promoting disharmony, enmity, hatred or ill will between different religious communities.
The men posted bail of 400,000 rupees, about $5,555 each, sources said, and according to terms of the bail, must appear in court nearly every two weeks or whenever the court demands.
A witness in the case later retracted his story, saying in a sworn affidavit that he was confused when he made the complaint and later learned that no conversion was taking place. Rather, the pastors had led a prayer meeting.
Christian rights activist Dinanath Jaiswar told Morning Star “the case is not only the longest custody case in the year 2019, where the Christians have remained in jail for more than two months, but also a case where they have been strategically booked for ‘misuse of religious institutions for political and other purposes.'”
India is ranked 10th on persecution watchdog Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has worsened since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.