On 9 January, the government of Madhya Pradesh, a state located in Central India, enacted the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020.
Later confirmed by the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 2021, this ordinance is considered the most stringent anti-conversion law in India.
Since the law was promulgated, Christians in Madhya Pradesh have suffered. Radical Hindu nationalists use the anti-conversion law as legal cover to persecute. False accusations of forced religious conversion are utilised to harass pastors and justify violence.
Source: International Christian Concern
Pastor Dileep Vasuniya is among the pastors victimised by this new wave of persecution. On 7 February, Pastor Vasuniya and his congregation were attacked by a gang of radical Hindu nationalists as they gathered for worship. Congregants were beaten, Bibles were burned, and Pastor Vasuniya was falsely accused of violating the anti-conversion law.
According to Pastor Vasuniya, members of the gang falsely claimed he promised them a house and money if they converted to Christianity.
“I was charged under the anti-conversion law and was sent to jail,” Pastor Vasuniya said in a recent interview. “I spent a brief time in jail before I got bail. This was a disheartening experience.”
Since being released, Pastor Vasuniya has been forced to fund his legal defence against the radicals’ false allegation. Travelling 65km to the courthouse three or four times a month, the defence has financially crushed Pastor Vasuniya and his family.
“I have spent more than 78,000 rupees on the legal case filed against me,” explained Pastor Vasuniya. “This is more than my entire earnings for one year!” Pastor Vasuniya said.
“Some of my church members have recanted their faith due to threats from local radicals,” Pastor Vasuniya continued. “Others are praying in secret. The building we were using for the church has been locked since the attack in February. I do not know if we will be able to resume worship in that building.”
“The radicals have also continued to threaten me,” said Pastor Vasuniya. “They say that the worst is yet to come. I am concerned for my children and their futures.”
Despite the desperate situation, Pastor Vasuniya remains steadfast in his faith. When asked if he would recant his faith to end the challenges faced by his family, he rejected the idea immediately.
“Though this is a tough situation, Jesus gave us peace,” said Pastor Vasuniya. “I have hope that he will make a way for us. I am patiently waiting with hope that justice will be served in my case and that we will freely worship again.”
Unfortunately, Pastor Vasuniya’s story is not unique in Madhya Pradesh. False accusations of forced conversion have become a favourite tool of persecution used by radical Hindu nationalists operating in the state. While no pastor has been convicted, the economic and social consequences of the mere accusation are enough to serve the purposes of the radicals.
Let us pray.
- Ask the Lord to hear the calls for justice on behalf of Pastor Vasuniya. Pray the Lord will protect him, his family and the other church members.
- Pray too for those who have renounced their faith in fear. Ask the Lord to assure them of His love and kindness. Pray they will have a longing to return to Him.
- Pray the steadfast faith of Pastor Vasuniya and other local Christians may be used by the Lord as a strong witness of faith to his accusers and the authorities.