Tuesday, August 8, 2023

RLPB 705. India: High Cost of Faith in Uttar Pradesh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 705 | Wed 09 Aug 2023
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By Elizabeth Kendal

Pastor Harendra Singh and his wife Priya. 
Facebook/Harendra Singh.
Christian Post 4 August 2023

On Sunday 30 July, 15 Christians – including three pastors – were arrested and imprisoned in four separate incidents across four districts of Uttar Pradesh in response to complaints by Hindu nationalist activists of illegal ‘forced conversion’. In Barabanki district, Protestant Pastor Harendra Singh and his wife, Priya, were arrested during a prayer and worship service held in their home. The couple faced court the following day, charged with violating the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Law, 2020. Bail was denied, and the couple’s three-year-old son has been incarcerated with his mother. In Ghazipur district, Pastor Amarjeet Ram and five other believers were arrested during a Sunday prayer meeting in Balapur village. Bail was denied and the believers were jailed. A further five Christians were arrested and jailed in Azamgarh district; two other believers were arrested and jailed in Jhansi district. A Christian leader who did not want to be named told Catholic media (UCA, 2 Aug) that persecution of Christians has become a routine affair in Uttar Pradesh. ‘The situation has reached such a stage that holding a prayer service or reading the Bible at home can land you in jail,’ he said.

Earlier in July, police arrested and imprisoned nine believers (eight women and one man) in Azamgarh district after Hindu nationalists stormed their prayer gathering, smashing church property, hurling abuse, issuing threats and accusing the couple of luring villagers to convert to Christianity. Subsequently, a group of five Christian women gathered at a home to pray for the imprisoned believers; they too were likewise accused, arrested and jailed. An eyewitness told International Christian Concern (ICC, 26 July) that most of the women are young mothers with small children at home, and that ‘their families are going through enormous trauma and stress due to this’. On Sunday 9 July police arrested Pastor Baburam and nine other believers in Siddhanpurwa village, in Bahraich district, after a case was registered against 19 believers – all of whom police are determined to arrest. A local pastor visited the jailed believers, all of whom had been denied bail. Speaking to ICC (26 July), Pastor Baburam’s wife laments: ‘The situation is very dangerous for Christians in the entire area where we are living now, since there is absolutely no freedom to gather and worship. If we want to worship, we need to be ready to go to jail; that is what happened to my husband and his congregation.’

Located in North India, Uttar Pradesh is ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party; hard-line Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath is the Chief Minister. It is one of 12 Indian states to have enacted harsh anti-conversion laws which are used to persecute religious minorities, including Christians, who account for a mere 0.18 of the state’s 200 million population. The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum (UCF) has recorded 400 incidents of persecution against Christians across India in the past six months; 155 occurred in Uttar Pradesh. According to Catholic media, in May 2023 at least 33 pastors and believers were languishing in different jails in 12 districts in Uttar Pradesh (UP). And as investigative journalists from The Quint have discovered, virtually all of those arrests are illegal – in breach the law they are based on – because the complaints are being registered not by the ‘aggrieved person’ or their family (as the law intimates), but by Hindutva activists who have never been subjected to an illegal ‘forced conversion’ [The Quint, 10 April 2023; includes a 16 minute video report]. As Morning Star News reports (6 June 2023): ‘From December 2020 [after the anti-conversion law was passed] through May, 234 people have been arrested and jailed under the statute, none convicted …’ (emphasis mine). It seems the aim is not to criminalise Christians, as that could have geo-political implications. Rather, the aim is to intimidate, persecute and paralyse Christians, to make church life unviable and Christian witness costly.

Pastor R. Kirubendran with his
wife Manju Tiruvendram and
18-month-old daughter.
(Morning Star News, 6 June 2023)

Pastor Santosh John and his wife, Jiji, were arrested on Sunday 26 February while leading a prayer service in Ghaziabad district. The police questioned the couple and then released them, after which a mob of some 50 Hindu nationalists besieged the station and protested until the couple were re-arrested. The couple faced court the next day; bail was denied and they were jailed. They spent a month behind bars before being released on 29 March when the allegations could not be proved. Pastor R. Kirubendran (33) and his wife Manju Tiruvendram (32) were arrested and jailed in Kasimabad, a town in Ghazipur district, on Sunday 23 April. The couple’s 18-month-old daughter was incarcerated with her mother. After 13 days in jail, Manu and her daughter were released on bail. Pastor Kirubendran was released on bail on 24 May having spent a month in prison. ‘When I could not get bail, my heart became very sad,’ Pastor Kirubendran told Morning Star News (MSN, 6 June). ‘Initially I always prayed that the Lord would grant the bail, but my bail plea was repeatedly rejected. I changed my prayer to, “Lord, whether I get the bail or not, let my faith stay steadfast.”’ Pastor Kirubendran told MSN that they had never experienced any opposition before and, whilst the church had around 90 members, resuming worship is not feasible. ‘My life can get in danger,’ he said. ‘I must stay safe and keep a low profile.’


* comfort, encourage and sustain India’s many incarcerated pastors and believers, along with their traumatised congregations and families who are left to struggle without a pastor, a spouse, or a parent. We pray especially today for those who were recently arrested during Sunday worship and jailed in Uttar Pradesh, including many young mothers and several ministry couples including Pastor Harendra Singh and his wife, Priya, whose three-year-old son is incarcerated with his mother. Lord have mercy.

* intervene in power in Hindu India to ‘bind the strong man’ [Satan] who is holding the nation captive to lies that lead to death, while keeping the people ignorant of the truth that leads to life.

How can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house
(Jesus, in Matthew 12:29 ESV).

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

* raise up powerful, influential voices in India – from the Centre to the village – who will expose the dangers and immorality of divisive, intolerant Hindu nationalism.

* protect and sustain Indian Christians who risk much to pray with the sick, witness for Christ, help the needy and even just gather together for prayer and worship. Lord have mercy.


Uttar Pradesh is one of 12 Indian states to have enacted repressive anti-conversion laws. Despite comprising a mere 0.18 of Uttar Pradesh’s 200 million population, Christians are routinely targeted for persecution as Hindu nationalists use the anti-conversion law to intimidate, persecute and paralyse Christians, making church life unviable and Christian witness costly. Catholic media reported in May that at least 33 pastors and believers were languishing in different jails in 12 districts across Uttar Pradesh. On Sunday 30 July 15 Christians – including three pastors – were arrested during worship and imprisoned in four ‘anti-conversion’ incidents across four districts of Uttar Pradesh. One Christian leader laments: ‘The situation has reached such a stage that holding a prayer service or reading the Bible at home can land you in jail.’ Please pray.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate for the persecuted Church. The Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) is a donor funded ministry. To support this ministry visit www.ElizabethKendal.com

Elizabeth 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). She is also an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

For more information see www.ElizabethKendal.com