Working through a professional Christian news network, Gospel for Asia has learned that the threat against 60 believers in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has been thwarted.
A reporter from Compass Direct news service said that members of a church there met peacefully Sunday, November 20, despite death and arson threats from Hindu extremists.
“We were able to meet without incident,” said Ramish Masih, the son of Pastor Feroz Masih.
The church meets in Masih’s house in the town of Baijnath.
On November 4, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, assaulted the elder Masih. After beating him, they told Masih that if he and his 60 church members failed to take part in a “re-conversion” ceremony on November 20, they would burn them to death.
However, a senior VHP member said the VHP would not “re-convert” the Christians against their will. The planned re-conversion ceremony was apparently dropped due to police intervention.
Police had warned VHP members that they would be held responsible for any harm done to Masih or his church members, senior police official Ravinder Singh Jamwal said.
Jamwal also said all citizens had a constitutional right to practice and preach their respective religions, and Masih had the right to preach and distribute Christian tracts.
Police Inspector Sureshta Thakur of the Baijnath police station said she had warned the VHP and its supporters against taking the law into their own hands.
“There are many illiterate people in Baijnath who can easily be misled to believe that Christians are forcibly converting Hindus,” she said. “These misconceptions are the root of the problem.”
When the church asked Thakur for police protection for the worship service on November 20, however, she refused, saying, “Only the district collector has the authority to sanction police protection.”
Thakur sent two police constables to visit Masih’s house on November 19. She also tried to arrange a meeting between Masih and the six attackers named in this police complaint. All six of the attackers, however, had gone into hiding and could not be contacted.
Masih’s son said he did not want the attackers punished, but that he hoped local officials would protect the Christian minority.
He also rejected the claims of “forced” or fraudulent” conversion made against his father, saying such false accusations are a mere pretext for attacking and harassing Christians.
“Recently, I arranged a press conference in which many of our church members said they had accepted Christianity out of their own free will, because they had been healed of their diseases,” he added.
A recent police inquiry found that Masih had not converted anyone by force or by fraudulent means.