Tuesday, September 14, 2021

RLPB 615. India: Joy and Pain in Bihar's Gaya District.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 615 | Wed 15 Sep 2021
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INDIA: JOY AND PAIN IN BIHAR'S GAYA DISTRICT
by Elizabeth Kendal

click on map to enlarge

In July this year, Gaya District in the north Indian state of Bihar, found itself at the centre of a religious conversion 'scandal' after it was reported that, in Belwadih Village, hundreds of 'Mahadalits' had left Hinduism and converted to Christianity. [The category 'Mahadalit' refers to a conglomerate of over 20 Scheduled Castes. It was established in 2010 by the then Chief Minister of Bihar State to divide the Dalits for political gain. The Mahadalits are Dalits (formerly known as Untouchables) and, as such, exist beneath all Hindu castes.] Indian mainstream media reported the story as a case of exploitation of superstitious villagers. As reported in OpIndia.com (17 July): 'Even as states across the country are formulating and implementing laws to curb the menace of religious conversions, a raft of people belonging to the Mahadalit community have abandoned their faith and converted to Christianity in Gaya District's Belwadih Village ... Reports claim the rampant conversions are being carried out under the pretext of curing maladies.' But, reading further, one can only conclude that the Spirit of God is moving in that place.

The story begins with Kewla Devi, a Mahadalit village woman whose chronically ill son was not responding to medical treatment. When someone urged Kewla to seek the help of Christians in adjoining Wajidpur village, Kewla - with nothing to lose - did! The Christians prayed and her son recovered. So remarkable was this miraculous healing that, not only did Kewla and her whole family become followers of Jesus, but so too did around 135 Mahadalit families in Belwadih village. OpIndia reports: 'Some women say that before conversion, children used to disappear or fall off rooftops. But such incidents have stopped since they converted to Christianity.' The new Christians - who no longer use vermilion to mark their foreheads, nor pray to Hindu gods or goddesses - all insist they converted freely of their own will, without any inducement. The investigative reporter from India Ahead expects 'this matter is bound to reverberate in the entire political arena'. Indeed it might! For while the Hindu nationalist BJP made great gains in the October-November 2020 elections, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance only holds power over the pro-secular, left-leaning Grand Alliance by a mere 0.03 percent. If the BJP decides to stoke sectarian tensions for political gain, then the persecution could well explode.

Gaya: Mahadalit families Convert to Christianity.
India Ahead, 16 July 2021 [4 minutes; first 1:45 in English]

According to local Christians, persecution in Gaya District has been escalating for some time. The media attention on conversions will doubtless make things worse. On 27 July two men confronted Pastor Dhiraj and his wife, Ravita, at their church in Fatehpur township, Gaya District, Bihar State. According to International Christian Concern (3 August), 'The men demanded Pastor Dhiraj and his wife leave the area or they would kill him and demolish his church.' The men returned on 28 July and again on 29 July. Then, on the evening of 29 July, a mob of up to 30 Hindu nationalists descended on the pastor's home and attempted to break in. They climbed onto the church roof and threatened Ravita with weapons. Fortunately, local villagers heard their cries, came to the rescue, and dispelled the mob. Pastor Dhiraj and other church leaders have since met with village leaders and filed a complaint with the police.

On 11 August Nitish Kumar (14) of Kamta village, Gaya District, was walking home when three unidentified men on a motorbike threw flammable liquid on him and set him on fire. Morning Star News (MSN) reports (13 September) that Nitish's family has faced opposition from Hindu extremists since they left Hinduism for Christianity two years ago. According to Nitish's brother, Sanjeet (17), everyone in their church has faced Hindu extremist hostilities. In July rumours spread that Christians would be expelled from the village. Sanjeet told MSN that his four brothers, two sisters, mother and father were Hindus until two years ago, when they put their faith in Christ after his mother was delivered from tormenting spirits following healing prayer by Christians. Family members who were frequently ill also began to enjoy good health after the Christians prayed for them. 'Since we started to believe in Christ two years ago, the evil spirits left my mother, and health was restored in our family,' Sanjeet said. 'We are still poor, but there is happiness in our lives after we started following Jesus ... We continued to go to church despite threats. Even today, after what my brother has gone through, we will not forsake Christ. We will continue to remain faithful until we die.' Suffering burns to 65 percent of his body, with 15 percent deep burns, Nitish is currently fighting for his life. Dr KN Tiwari of the burns unit of Appolo Burn Hospital in Patna, Bihar State, described Nitish's condition as 'very, very critical. His survival chances are low'. After expressing wonder that Nitish was still alive, the doctor touched on the source of our hope saying, 'It is only God's grace that Nitish has pulled through thus far with this extent of burns.' Please pray!

Nitish Kumar (14); burned for following Jesus. Morning Star News. 


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL:

* sustain and bless the Kumar family and all the believers in Kamta village; may the Lord of all mercy provide the Kumar family, as well as Dr Tiwari and all the staff in the burns unit of the Appolo Burn Hospital, with all they need to bring healing to our brother Nitish (14), who was burned for his faith in Jesus. May the hand of the Lord be upon them all, and especially upon the body of Nitish; may those who perpetrated this heinous crime be brought to justice.

* comfort, encourage, protect, and guide Pastor Dhiraj and Ravita and the churches in Fatehpur township; may all threats come to nought; may those who harass, intimidate, and threaten the believers be brought to justice.

* protect and bless the new Christian community in Belwadih village; may the Holy Spirit continue his work in the believers so they might confound their enemies by continuing to grow in grace, truth, love and unity; may all efforts to destroy this community be thwarted -

'And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ' (Philippians 1:6 ESV).

- and may media reports intended to demean and vilify Christians and Christianity achieve the exact opposite. 

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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JOY AND PAIN IN BIHAR'S GAYA DISTRICT, INDIA

Persecution is escalating in Bihar's Gaya District. The situation might soon worsen if the Hindu nationalist BJP - which rules in coalition with the slimmest of margins - decides to stoke sectarian tensions for political gain. In mid-July, Indian media reported unfavourably that some 135 Dalit families had left Hinduism to follow Jesus in Belwadih village. From 27 to 29 July Hindu nationalists threatened Pastor Dhiraj and his wife Ravita, who lead a church in Fatehpur township. The threats culminated in a mob attack, from which locals rescued them. On 11 August Nitish Kumar (14) of Katma village was walking home when unidentified men threw flammable liquid over him and set him on fire. The family has been persecuted since becoming Christians two years ago. Nitish is currently fighting for life. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com