On February 2, leaders of the Hindu nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) held a press conference claiming they identified 30 locations in India’s Uttar Pradesh state where religious conversions were taking place. The VHP leaders went on to say they would put a stop to these conversions in a door to door Ghar Wapsi campaign.
Since this announcement, attacks on Christians and their places of worship in Uttar Pradesh have skyrocketed. Almost every weekend since the press conference, International Christian Concern (ICC) has received reports of Christians in Uttar Pradesh facing intimidation, harassment, arrest, or assault.
“Things have become far more difficult for pastors like me,” Pastor Ramesh Kumar told ICC. “Almost daily, I encounter a situation where I am asked to stop preaching the Gospel and recant my faith in Jesus.”
Pastor Kumar is a church planter who leads house churches in twelve villages outside of Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. In a recent interview with ICC, Pastor Kumar recalled several incidents of persecution he has experienced since the February 2 press conference.
“Some days, it is only a mild warning,” Pastor Kumar said. “However, other times, it turns into a frightening physical assault.”
On March 16, Pastor Kumar faced one of these more frightening situations.
“I was about to leave my house at around nine in the morning when four people showed up at my door,” Pastor Kumar explained. “I have never seen these people before this incident, and they were quite soft in the beginning. But, as the conversation progressed, they started yelling at me and cursing me after I told them that I preach Jesus to people who want to hear.”
“When the four men asked if I receive money for converting people, I immediately sensed the trouble was going beyond my control,” Pastor Kumar continued. “I immediately called my landlord, who is a Hindu, and he came to my rescue. He dispersed the four men by explaining that I am not doing any harm to anyone.”
To travel from village to village, Pastor Kumar uses an old bicycle. He shuttles between villages to conduct prayers, lead Bible studies, and share the Gospel message with people he meets along the road. As the leader of multiple Christian communities, Pastor Kumar is also responsible for leading various Sunday worship services. In his interview with ICC, Pastor Kumar described a recent incident where one of his house churches was almost shut down.
“It was around noon after I had completed Sunday worship in Puran Patti village,” Pastor Kumar recalled. “Suddenly, a four-wheel vehicle full of young men stopped in front of the church. These young men entered the church shouting anti-Christian slogans and started to hurl abuses at the Christians who had gathered.”
“After an hour of intense abuse, the Hindu radicals locked and sealed the door of the church,” Pastor Kumar said. “They told my congregation and me that we were no longer allowed to assemble in the church.”
“It was a very painful thing for my congregation and me,” Pastor Kumar continued. “However, we took the matter to the village president. He came to the church and opened the locked doors. According to the village president, the people who attacked the church were outsiders, and the village president knew we were not harming anyone by holding worship in the church.”
“God has been very faithful in every situation I have faced,” Pastor Kumar told ICC. “I am not going to stop witnessing and will continue to serve Jesus even though things are not favorable at the moment.”
“I do get worried every day when I go out,” Pastor Kumar continued. “But I do know that God will help me.”
In 2019, the Evangelical Fellowship of India documented at least 366 violent attacks on Christians and their places of worship in India. This report by EFI also documents a continued escalation of religious intolerance and anti-Christian violence in India. For Christians like Pastor Kumar, it likely indicates that they will continue to experience daily challenges to their Christian faith.