A Pastor's Tale Illustrates the Difficulties Christian Leaders Face in India

A Pastor’s Tale Illustrates the Difficulties Christian Leaders Face in India

New Delhi, India: Pastor Josemon Pathrose spent most of February in jail and finally reclaimed his confiscated vehicle after four months. The harassment and criminal charges he has faced at the hands of Hindu extremists are sadly common in India.

Pastor Pathrose and another Christian were driving back to their base in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh state, from Uttar Pradesh state on February 3 when they stopped in Khudatpura village, Jalaun District, to visit a family who had attended his online meeting.

As they were having tea, members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad barged in, alleging the 55-year-old pastor was visiting to convert people fraudulently.

Police soon arrived and arrested Pastor Pathrose and his companion, seized his vehicle, Bibles, and literature, and took them and three other Christians to the Madhogarh police station, he said.

“They slapped us as they questioned us,” Pastor Pathrose told Morning Star News. “They called me the leader of the ‘conversion racket’ and beat me more than my friend.”

The pastor said officers asked them, among other things, how much money they offered for each conversion to Christianity, how many people they had converted, where Christians got foreign funds for conversions, how many places they had evangelized, and “Who else is in your gang?”

Also arrested were the adult son of the host family and his friend, the pastor said.

A Hindu named Abhishek Singh filed a complaint alleging that Pastor Pathrose and his team offered him 200,000 rupees (US$2,400) “and further benefits” to convert to Christianity—an accusation the pastor roundly denies—but police filed charges unrelated to fraudulent conversion: “deliberately outraging religious feelings by insulting its religion or religious beliefs” (Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code), “promoting disharmony” (153A), and “statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will” (505-2).

They seized his vehicle. Under the Motor Vehicle Act Section 207, authorities can detain and take action against cars driven without the necessary permits and registration. Using the vehicle for illegal purposes can even result in its seizure.

Pastor Pathrose ran a Christian literature shop in Gwalior and was carrying the Bibles and literature to display at a 50-day trade fair where he had rented a stall.

“I have been renting a stall in this trade fair for many years; I run the stall every year under the name ‘Bible Shop,’” Pastor Pathrose informed the questioning officer. “I have all the required permissions and documentation, and I pay a rent of 25,000 rupees per month.”

He said the pastor had 13 complete Bibles, 50 New Testaments, and a pack of Christian booklets to display at the stall.

“When the police came to arrest me, I was not preaching nor carrying a Bible,” Pastor Pathrose told Morning Star News. “My Bibles and literature were in my truck. Is it a crime to carry your religious texts in your vehicle?”

They took away his vehicle, phone, cash, and all Christian literature, including Bibles. In addition, his friend had his phone and money confiscated.

Pastor Pathrose refuted the complainant’s allegation of fraudulent conversion, saying he had never seen, known, or met him before as it was his first visit to Khudatpura village.

For the next two days, local media channels and newspapers branded Pastor Pathrose the leader of a “conversion racket” and portrayed all the arrested Christians as “gang members,” he said.

Officers kept the two Christians at the police station for about 30 hours before presenting them before a judge, who sent them to Orai jail in Jalaun District without questioning them, Pastor Pathrose said.

“It was evident they had orders from authorities not to spare any Christian,” he said. “They had no reason to arrest us, so reasons were being formulated during our interrogation. We were assaulted and interrogated, almost forcing us to say something that would give them a reason to file a case against us.”

Pastor Pathrose said police kept the three others arrested separately and also assaulted them. They were presented before a different judge and released the next day; the pastor was unsure if they were required to post bail.

Police held the pastor’s son and his friend in separate locations. According to the pastor, the police released the young men without pressing any charges.

Jail and Legal Battle

Pastor Pathrose described conditions in the jail as “pathetic,” including “bullying, extortion and mental torture.”

The Jalaun Junior Court rejected their bail plea, so their lawyer applied for bail in the Orai District Court, which on February 22 ordered their release on a bail bond of 50,000 rupees (US$600) each. Finding sureties in an unknown area was challenging, so they faced a long wait before release, as “the documents had to pass four stringent tests for validation,” the pastor said.

Following his friend’s release on March 1, Pastor Pathrose asked for the return of the confiscated items.

The officials told his friend that in addition to cash payments of 3,500 rupees and 25,000 rupees (US$300) for his phone, books, and Bibles, he also needed to furnish a bond surety of 50,000 rupees (US$600) for his cell phone.

“It was so hard for us to find two more guarantors,” Pastor Pathrose said. “After much persistence, we finally somehow managed.”

When he went to retrieve his vehicle, officials required another surety bond of about 275,000 rupees (US$3,300).

“I felt utterly distressed,” he said.

After hearing his pleas, officials accepted a bond of 125,000 rupees (US$1,500). Arranging this large amount was difficult, but he finally persuaded a Christian to submit papers, making his tractor available as a surety.

When Pastor Pathrose went to collect his vehicle, officials told him he couldn’t take it due to a ticket issued for missing papers, though he said his papers were up to date. They forced him to go to the Orai court to pay a 7,000 rupee fine (US$85), but “no receipt was issued,” he said.

When he insisted, “they wrote on plain paper and gave it,” he said. “Everything seemed fishy.”

After making all payments, when Pastor Pathrose finally went to get his vehicle, the police told him to return the next day. He continued to try to get his truck back for three months, riding 95 miles on a motorbike in scorching summer heat every time they had to arrange for bonds and documents.

“From March 1 until May 30, we were called for our stuff several times,” the pastor said.

He finally received his vehicle back on May 30, but it was in bad shape.

He continued, saying, “I felt so sad and miserable that after running from pillar to post with all my paperwork, I finally got my truck in that condition.” Along with the broken central locking system, he also mentioned vandalism on the side mirrors.

Kindly take note of the following information:

His repairs will require additional funding.

Pastor Pathrose said, “After we get arrested, the jail, the lawyer, and the police cause us Christians more suffering than the RSS does outside the jail.” “For us, we suffer both outside and inside.”

While police investigate, the two Christians can appeal to the High Court to dismiss their case. A police officer informed the pastor that a homeowner named Har Narayan was holding them and would testify against them.

Pastor Pathrose said, “It is not quite sure how true it is.” “The host family has threatened them and cut off all communication with us.” They are making comments against us because they are under pressure.

India ranked 11th on the Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the countries where it is most challenging to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position worsened after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.

Since Modi took office in May 2014, religious rights advocates claim that the National Democratic Alliance government’s hostile rhetoric toward non-Hindus has given Hindu extremists the confidence to attack Christians in various parts of the nation.

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