He did not speak a lot. And he smiled even less. Most of the time he sat quietly on his mother’s lap, while she told the story of their family. Aged only six, little Ruben has already seen quite a bit. He is also the only member of his family who is able to see: his mother lost her sight when she was a child and his father, a Christian pastor, has been blind from birth. They live in a little village in the plains of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
Life in the rural areas is hard. The hot, arid climate makes it difficult to grow crops or keep livestock. Ruben’s family is used to hardship. But nothing had prepared them for what happened a couple of months ago.
Ruben’s father was holding a worship meeting at their church. Ten to 15 people had gathered to pray when an angry mob stormed the building. They yelled and started to assault worshippers. Eventually, the pastor and his family were taken into custody and taken to the closest police station. “They separated us from my husband, then stripped me and my boy naked,” Ruben’s mother recalled. “And then they beat us again and again.”
The family was kept in jail for three days and nights until they were released on bail.
This was not an isolated incident – and Evangelical Christians are not the only victims. Attacks on minorities are increasing across India. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, says the attacks follow a pattern. First, aggressors physically assault Christian believers. Then they drag their victims to the police and accuse them of having tried to forcefully convert someone. The police, especially in more remote areas, tend to believe the perpetrators, not the victims. Sometimes local authorities even openly side with the assailants.
Bishop Mascarenhas has a good working relationship with some government institutions, such as the ministry of home affairs. Recently officials there granted police protection to a large Catholic school in Madhya Pradesh, after Hindu fundamentalists tried to force the school’s headmaster to allow a consecration ceremony to a goddess on the school’s premises. After he had turned the group down, it arranged for several hundred people to march threateningly toward the school. The government dispatched 300 police officers to protect it.
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