4 July 2016

'I thought I was going to die': family beaten for their Christian faith in India

An Indian family have been forced into hiding after they faced harassment and beatings from their community for leaving Hinduism to become Christians.

Jitendra (21) told Open Doors partners of how his family came to faith in Christ after he was healed of an illness. "I had done many Hindu rituals but I stayed sick. I joined a Christian at a prayer event. This God instantly healed me. I started to go to church and later my family followed."

It quickly became clear to their community that Jitendra's family were no longer Hindus, as they stopped giving offerings to Hindu idols or giving money for Hindu festivals. This angered their community. "When my mother went to the market, she was often harassed by other women. My siblings and I were bullied at school. I even lost my best friend. I cried a lot."

Later, the community built a drain outside their house and filled it with rubbish. "People threw in their garbage, even cow dung." Jitendra had to jump over the waste, rotting in the sun, just to get into his front door. The smell was disgusting. "Sometimes I couldn't even eat."

Jetindra's mother complained to the police about the drain, but this angered their neighbours even more. When she was alone in their house, a group broke in and beat her.

Just a few days later, Jitendra and his father, Krishna, were also beaten. First the group caught Krishna when he was outside in a field. Jitendra says: "We could hear my father screaming so I ran outside to help him. Suddenly three men grabbed me from the back, lifted me in the air and threw me on the ground. I thought I was going to die. They dragged me through the mud to the drain and pushed my head in the garbage. I couldn't breathe and was sure I couldn't survive. I tried to free myself and somehow I succeeded. They kept beating me with sticks. In the distance I could hear my mother screaming."

When their attackers finally left, Jitendra and Krishna went to the police station, where Jitendra collapsed. He woke up in the hospital. "The doctor told me my leg was broken. The CT scan also showed a vein had raptured."

Jitendra says, "When I was in the hospital bed, I kept thinking: ‘How can I protect my family?' Then I remembered that the night before the beating I had asked myself the same question and I was comforted by the thought that only God could protect us. He would take care of us in any circumstances."

The family are living in safe houses, although they are not all in the same house. Open Doors partners were able to pay for their medical bills. Jitendra and Krishna have also been to a Standing Strong Through the Storm seminar run by Open Doors partners, which trains Christians to prepare for persecution.

Jitendra told us: "I am so thankful and praise God for your supporters. I want to thank all the people who pray for our family. Pray that one day we can go back to our village and that the villagers will come to know the Lord too."

When asked if he struggles with the question of why God allows suffering to happen to them, he says, "Remembering that Jesus has suffered too is a sufficient answer. I know that God will never leave, nor forsake me."

Open Doors works through local partners in India to provide persecuted Christians with Bibles and Christian literature, holistic training, livelihood and community development, adult literacy programmes, vocational education, advocacy support, legal seminars, and urgent aid and relief.

Open Doors is also running an advocacy campaign encouraging supporters in the UK and Ireland to write to the Indian High Commission about the persecution faced by Christians in India.

Zoe Smith, Head of Advocacy at Open Doors UK & Ireland, says: "The Indian constitution assures all citizens of the right to ‘profess, practice and propagate any religion', but Christians in India are frequently denied this right - hundreds of Christians have been violently attacked this year alone for their faith. This is why we are asking people to write to the Indian High Commission to urge them to raise our concerns with the Indian government. It is vital that we speak out on behalf of Christians in many parts of India who are facing discrimination, violence and even death simply for choosing to follow Jesus."

India is number 17 on the Open Doors World Watch List, which ranks the severity of persecution faced by Christians in 50 countries. India has increased from number 28 in 2014 and number 21 in 2015.

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Note to editors:

For more information contact Open Doors Press Office on 01993 777377

Photos of Jitendra and Krishan available on request.

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for 60 years. Last year supporters in the UK and Ireland raised over £11.7 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources, in over 60 countries.