26 July 2016

Christian from Hindu background forced to 'reconvert' in India

Neeraj*, a Christian from a Hindu background, has spoken to persecution charity Open Doors about being forced to reconvert to Hinduism through intimidation by Hindu radicals last year.

He had endured months of persecution from his community and family after deciding to follow Jesus; he was beaten by the religious leaders of his village, and his own father hit him with a brick. "They put me under pressure to renounce my faith in Christ, but I refused," Neeraj says.

Then, in December 2015, just after Neeraj and two Christian friends had been making plans for their Christmas celebrations, they were ambushed by radical Hindus. Their attackers beat Neeraj and his friends for four hours before taking them to a local community hall and locking them up.

Some of the attackers guarded them. They showed the Christians their knives and told them, "If you deny your faith in Jesus, you can go home." Neeraj refused, saying, "No, He is my Lord. I will never leave Him."

The next morning, the radical Hindus took the Christians to the police station, accusing them of forcing Hindus to become Christians - anti-conversion laws are in force in the state where Neeraj lives. Outside, a mob of 200 villagers gathered, shouting for the deaths of the three young men. The police officers began to threaten them: "We will strip you naked and treat you with electroshocks."

After an entire night of beatings and threats, the Christians agreed to give up their faith in Christ; first one of Neeraj's friends, then the other, and finally, Neeraj. "I was so afraid that I decided to obey them," Neeraj says, trembling at the memory.

Neeraj found himself back in the local community hall in front of the Hindu idols. His attackers forced him to recite Hindu scriptures, and smeared him with water mixed with cow dung and urine. The extremists took photographs of the men as proof of their reconversion. Then Neeraj was allowed to go home to his wife, Ritu*.

That night, Neeraj's heart was broken, and he wept bitterly. But he remembered the words of Proverbs 24:16 that say, 'A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again'. Neeraj repented, recommitted his life to Christ, and promised the Lord he would never betray Him again.

Then he remembered another verse, Matthew 10:23 - 'When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another'. He took Ritu and left the village that same evening.

When the Hindu extremists heard that Neeraj had returned to his Christian faith, they threatened to kill him. Neeraj and Ritu now live with Neeraj's Christian uncle in another town. "I asked him if we could stay because I did not want to betray Jesus again and I cannot go back to my village," Neeraj says.

Open Doors partners have been supporting Neeraj and Ritu with vital supplies - they fled with nothing but the clothes they stood in. Neeraj says, "You told us you will stand by us whenever we are in need. Your support has really encouraged us. Thanks to Open Doors and its supporters we even received legal assistance."

Information on anti-conversion laws and forced reconversions

Rajeshwar Singh, one of the leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist group, has stated on national media that the RSS will make India free of Christians and Muslims by 31 December 2021. One of the ways they intend to do this is through forced conversions. Hundreds of Christians like Neeraj were forced to reconvert to Hinduism last year through intimidation and pressure.

Despite being the world's largest democracy, with a constitution that guarantees freedom of religion and belief, such extremism is thriving in India. The Indian government is now led by the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wing of RSS, and frequently turns a blind eye to attacks on minorities.

The Indian government is proposing a national anti-conversion law. Such laws are already in force in five of India's states, and are used disproportionately against minorities. Christians can be falsely accused of forcing Hindus to become Christians as an excuse to harass and arrest them, as Neeraj experienced.

Hindu nationalists see Hinduism as the true religion of India, so when an Indian person converts or returns to Hinduism, it is not seen as a conversion but a 'ghar wapsi' or 'homecoming': they are exempt from the anti-conversion laws.

Information on Open Doors work and the World Watch List

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 that continues to be faced by Christians in India.

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 to number 17 this year.

*names changed for security reasons

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Photo of Neeraj and Ritu:

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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.