HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – After three policemen in southern India interrupted a pastor as he preached this month, his 58-year-old mother accompanied him to the police station. Officers told them to sit on the floor.
Pastor Paul Joshua’s mother, Florence Jacintha, would face worse treatment at Peelamedu police station in Coimbatore District, Tamil Nadu state, on May 13.
“I was only trying to find out what the complaint was and who complained, but the inspector got stirred up and began talking to me in foul language in Tamil,” Pastor Joshua told Morning Star News. “Very disrespectfully, he told my mother and me to sit on the floor. He was treating us like criminals.”
The 30-year-old pastor said that, at the church service, the officers told him only that a complaint had been filed against him.
“They told me that I need only go to the police station, and that it was only an enquiry,” he told Morning Star News. “They were very polite and assured me that it was not an arrest, and that the inspector would talk to me in detail. [Later] Inspector Selvaraj told us to shut up and sit on the floor, and that he has nothing to say to us.”
He calmly asked why the inspector had sent the policemen for him and why he was speaking to him so disrespectfully. The inspector yelled back at him and his mother in abusive language, a video circulating on social media shows.
“He lost his cool and was saying that I have no rights to question why I was called,” Pastor Joshua told Morning Star News.
A congregation member identified only as 20-year-old Muthuvel also accompanied them to the police station and was recording the exchange on his mobile phone. Officers slapped him and snatched his phone away, but they were not able to delete the video, Muthuvel told Morning Star News.
“We just have a part of it recorded, but a lot happened there,” Pastor Joshua said. “The policemen caught my mother’s hand with a tight grip so that she was wailing in pain, while one dragged her recklessly. She was tensed, her blood pressure levels fell. She was sweating heavily. Suddenly she had a seizure attack.”
He pleaded with officers to at least provide her a glass of water, he said.
But the inspector warned, he said, “Nobody will give them water. She is just acting. They get lot of money for this. They preach and cheat the people.”
He continued mocking the pastor and threatened to file unrelated, serious charges against him, the pastor said.
“After a while, he left warning the police personnel not to give us water,” Pastor Joshua said. “Some kind soul in the police station called 108, and an ambulance arrived. But they were telling me that I can’t go with my mother to the hospital, and that I should remain in custody till the inspector permits me to move.”
Crying bitterly, Pastor Joshua pleaded with police to allow him to accompany his mother to the hospital, he said.
“I felt so helpless. After about an hour, someone dared to give some water, and by God’s grace she slowly came back to normal condition.”
Church members sent messages to other area pastors, who arrived at the police station. Officers demanded that Pastor Joshua submit a letter that he would not conduct church services, he told Morning Star News.
He declined until one of the senior pastors advised him to write the letter, saying that he could obtain permission later to resume services, Pastor Joshua said.
A female officer observing the incident advised the pastor’s mother not to tell anyone about the inspector’s conduct at the police station.
“She came to me and was saying, ‘If you share with anyone, you will face many problems,’” Jacintha told Morning Star News.
Asked why the pastor was summoned to the police station and about the video, the inspector identified only as Selvaraj told Morning Star News said it does not tell the whole story.
“You have only seen a part of what happened,” he said. “It is their version, and there are other videos. He is creating a problem by exposing this video.”
Asked to send the other videos he mentioned, Inspector Selvaraj went on leave and remained unavailable. At this writing, more than two weeks after his comments, he remained absent.
“Such level of gross negligence, deliberately putting the life of a person in custody in danger, will attract severe consequences against the police inspector,” a legal expert told Morning Star News on condition of anonymity. “He can even be suspended from services.”
The previous month, Jacintha had gone to Ratnapuri, also in Coimbatore District, to help her niece and niece’s husband, a pastor, when they were summoned to a police station after a run-in with Hindu extremists, she said.
After intercepting children on the way to the church, the Hindu extremists later accused the couple of forcible conversion. While interrogating the Christians, officers also questioned the registration and legality of their church, Jacintha said.
“The police there were not this cruel,” Jacintha told Morning Star News. “I told the inspector in my niece’s town, ‘Sir, there is a Hindu temple on every corner, in every by-lane – are you telling them to register and worship? Then why are you targeting churches?”
Her niece, Josephine Dyna, and Dyna’s husband, pastor John Arputharaj, were questioned on April 24 after at least 50 Hindu extremists intercepted 35 children walking to a Vacation Bible School at the couple’s Pentecostal church in Ratnapuri, Dyna told Morning Star News. The extremists held the children, ages 5 to 15, on the roadside.
“These people are complete strangers,” Dyna said. “The children were terrified and phoned us.”
Pastor Arputharaj asked the Hindu extremists to let the children go. They refused.
“They started shouting at us that we forcibly convert children,” said Dyna, 26. “Their rage was exceeding the limits, and they called the police alleging forcible conversion and kidnapping. The police asked the traffic to disperse and told us that we shall talk in the police station only. We were ordered to get on the police Jeep.”
The Hindu extremists, identified by police as members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu Munnani and other extremist groups, chased the Jeep in their three-wheeled vehicles, she said.
“While on our way, the police told us that the mob’s plan was to stone us, and that was the reason why we had to be taken to the police station immediately in their Jeep,” she said.
After informing the inspector and all senior police officials that they were operating their church in their own building and never forced anyone to convert, police released them and told them they could continue church activities, Dyna said.
“But what happened with my cousin Joshua and aunt Jacintha shocked us,” Dyna said. “They rented an empty warehouse to conduct church services, and since then there has been opposition.”
Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches in Tamil Nadu, told Morning Star News that clamoring Hindu extremists cause landlords to refuse to rent to Christians.
“The fanatics go to the local house churches and make a scene, spewing abuses at pastors, throwing stones and creating a lot of noise,” Christie said. “When a scenario like this is purposely created in a particular area, if a landlord is living nearby, the fanatics go directly to them and give them false information that they are using your property to run church without permission, or they make false allegations of forced conversions.”
Hindu extremists go as far as threatening to take action against landlords for renting to Christians for places of worship, he said.
“It results in landlords demanding the Christians vacate their house,” Christie said. “It is sad that no Hindu is ready to rent a house to a Christians.”
In the past year in Tamil Nadu, at least 10 churches were shut down permanently, and more than half of them rent space, he added.
“It is very hard for a Christian to find a residential house, and for prayers, no chance at all,” Christie said.
According to the Tamil Nadu Building and Panchayat Act, private places of worship such as house churches need not obtain permission from district authorities to function, whether they are rented or owned.
Religious freedom advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom-India has found 24 cases of hostilities against Christians in Tamil Nadu state this year, including the mysterious death of a pastor.
The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.Take Action