Mar 2024


Haryana state came into being in 1966 when it was separated from Punjab based on linguistic and cultural differences. Haryana shares its border with Delhi, the capital of India; cities on the border like Gurgaon and Faridabad have seen major development and are the hubs for multi-national companies especially in the IT sector. But the story of the state beyond these cities is quite different since Haryana is predominantly agriculture-based and industrially backward. As per the World Christian Database 2022 (WCD), Haryana has a population of nearly 29.5 million people.  Jats[1] are the single largest caste group in the state; with nearly nine million people they form 30% of the state’s population. Most of the Chief Ministers from the state have also come from the Jat caste. There were massive and violent protests by the Jats for reservation under OBCs (other backward castes) in 2016. Till then Jats were included under the OBC reservation in a few other states but not in Haryana. This changed in 2016, the state assembly unanimously passed the bill to provide reservation to Jats in government jobs and educational institutions.[2] The OBCs collectively are approximately 13 million or 44% of the state’s population. Dalits (Scheduled Castes) are also a large population in the state with nearly six million people or 20% of the population. As per the WCD, 87% of the population is Hindu, 7% is Muslim while 0.30% of the population is Christian. As with many other states in India, the relatively low population of Christians is not indicative of the true extent to which Christianity is being followed in practice if not on paper. This is primarily because of two interconnected reasons. The first is that most new converts to Christianity are Dalits and the second is that Dalits can claim affirmative action benefits and seek protections against caste-based atrocities only if their religion is Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. Dalits who convert to Islam or Christianity are not eligible for these benefits and protections. Therefore, most Dalit Christians practice Christianity in daily life but keep their religion as Hindu on paper in order to continue their access to benefits and protections.

Haryana was a stronghold of the Congress party until 2013 but in 2014 BJP came into power with a sweeping victory. The BJP had 4 seats in 2009 assembly elections, it came to power in 2014 with 90 seats and Congress was reduced to 15 seats in the state. Since 2014, the BJP has been in power and the state has seen some considerable shifts. Haryana Prevention of Unlawful Conversion of Religious Bill was passed in 2022. The bill is against religious conversion by “allurement”, “coercion” or “fraudulent” means. In passing the bill, the Chief Minister stated that, “the purpose of this bill is to control forced religious conversion. The bill is aimed at instilling fear among those who commit crimes, action would be taken against such people if they convert religion by deceit or giving into any kind of greed.” To back up this claim he pointed out that the Bill provides for greater punishment for such conversions in respect of minors, women, Scheduled Castes, and the Scheduled Tribes.

Pastor Deepak Panipat District, Haryana

Since 2014, there has been a rise in attacks against Christians in the state. There is more scrutiny and vigilantism in everyday life of Christians in the state. The attacks are consistent to instil a sense of fear in everyday life. Deepak (name changed) is a pastor in Panipat district of Haryana. He feels the situation has particularly gotten worse since 2014, they are under the radar. Deepak said that an environment of fear has been consistently built, people are stopped and threatened in their everyday life as a believer of Christianity. He has faced multiple challenges in the last 7-8 years. In 2015, a rumour was spread about him that he is performing religious conversion in the area. He said, “there was a gurukul[3] about 3 km away from our Church. There is an influential factory owner in the area who was working in coalition with the gurukul who was constantly targeting me. On the day of the Holi[4] festival that year, I was riding my bike when about 7-8 people came and tried to throw colours at me. I told them that I don’t celebrate this festival, please do not put colour on me. They stopped my bike and started beating me up. They were also drunk. A friend was also with me, they beat him up as well. The next day, my father and my friend’s father went to the gurukul to ask why were our sons beaten up? They just said, we will call up the Acharya ji, the head of the gurukul’”

Deepak said his is aware of the power of Acharya ji and what it meant to take up the matter with him. It would mean more harm to him and his community, so they remained silent. But in the same month, windows of their church were broken, and neighbours told him that the people who came to break it were shouting that Christians should stop worshipping here. Instead, they will put an idol of their own god here. Members of the mob came from the Bajrang Dal and Gowraksha Dal[5]. Deepak said, everybody in the area knows that gurukul is associated with these groups.

Two weeks later, about 100-150 people gathered for a hawan, a Hindu fire ritual, close to the Church, at the same time the Church was also conducting its Sunday prayer. A group of people came to the Church asking to stop the Sunday service as it is disturbing the hawan. Soon police and local press also landed up at the Church. Police questioned Deepak and other members of the Church, they said they came as they got the information that violence may break out in the area. But this did not stop here. Deepak said, “two weeks after this (the incident involving the hawan), section 144 was imposed in the area, banning any gathering of people [Hindus and Christians]. Although they said the section 144 has been imposed to avoid violence between the two groups this section was imposed to stop our prayer meetings.  As a result, 4-6 police personnel were constantly stationed at the Church. Even the leaders of the Church could not go inside the building. We were denied access to our own private property.” Land for the Church was given by a well-wisher in 2011, the building was constructed later. The architecture of the building is like that of a house and doesn’t have any markers of Christianity outside. The prayer meetings are conducted inside the building. It was registered as a charitable trust in 2015 and the deed mentions that they will do charity work and will also pray. Section 144 was remained imposed in the area for 4-5 months; in that time no one could enter the Church. Then a group of lawyers from the community filed a case in the Chandigarh High Court and in a month’s time the Church opened again. But even then, one or two policemen continued to be stationed at the Church for “security” reasons.

Deepak says there have been many such sporadic incidents in the last few years. In 2017, four of them were distributing copies of the New Testament in the area and they happened to enter the police residential colony. Two of them went to the residential quarters in the Police colony and two of them went to the nearby parade ground. They started giving out copies of the New Testament. One of the policemen came out of the parade ground and took off his cap and said, “Do you know that I am a Sangh’s man?” [referring to his membership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or the RSS]. Deepak said, “He asked me, ‘where have you come from’? I said I am from church. He asked me ‘why did you keep taking panga (deliberately interfering) with the gurukul people? Who let you inside this premises, go back’. We quietly came out and were waiting for the other two friends who had gone to the residential quarters. They called us on the phone and said, we have run out of the New Testament, can you come inside and give us more copies. We were confused if we should go inside again or not. We decided to go again, we stepped inside, and the same man saw us again. I had copies of New Testament in both my hands. He came straight towards me and started beating me up.

Deepak was born in a religious Hindu family from Julaha[6] community (Scheduled Caste). His family had a shrine inside their home. Describing his earlier days, Deepak says “I wanted to worship the biggest god in Hinduism. I worshiped Shiva for five years, I used to fast, I went for kaanwar yatra[7]. I just wanted to be one with the God, wanted to understand him, know him.” In 1999, he watched a serial on Doordarshan (public broadcaster) called Daya Sagar (it is 50-episode series about Jesus Christ). Deepak really liked the TV series; he would take off from school every Saturday to watch the show. That was his first introduction to Christianity. There was a time when a neighbour was doing black magic on his family and his mother especially suffered a lot and fell sick. They knew there were some abnormal activities happening in the house and everyone was scared to be at home. It was at this time that Deepak started getting disillusioned with his faith in Hindu gods. He asked, “Either the gods I believe in are weak compared to the other forces or I have been living in an illusion.” It was at this time, one of their uncles invited a Christian priest to their home and asked him to pray and cleanse the energy in the house. After this his mother’s health became much better and there were no other incidents in the house. In 2005, Deepak told his mother, Jesus is the true God who I have been looking for. The whole family became a believer of Jesus Christ. Deepak says, “To preach and spread awareness about a religion is our constitutional right, every religion does it. If I meet my friends, I will tell them about what Jesus has done for me in my life.

In May 2022, Deepak had gone to a village to pray. Before the service began, a man came asking who the priest for the service was and demanded the priest meet him outside. Deepak went out to meet him where the man confronted him asking him why he was here. Deepak replied, “I am here to pray for everyone’s benefit.” The man was not satisfied continuing to question Deepak, “What are you praying? What are you saying? How is it helping everyone?” He asked Deepak to accompany him to the ground and explain it all to him there. Deepak refused pointing out that there were people waiting for him to conduct the service. Deepak suggested they meet after the service. As soon as the service ended Deepak received a call from the man telling him to come to the ground to meet him.  One of the believers at the service informed Deepak that the man and his people were spread in all the streets of nearby villages waiting for him. The man on the phone threatened him, “You will come out of the house at some point, how long will you stay here.” He was very aggressive on the phone. Deepak called the police and waited for them to arrive. When the police came, they took Deepak to the police station thus the men spread across nearby villages couldn’t do anything to him. Though on the way to the police station, the police officers interrogated Deepak, “How much money do you give to your believers? “How is it correct that you leave your own parents and accept someone else’s parents (referring to Deepak converting to Christianity)?” Deepak was made to stay at the police station for about 2-3 hours before he was let go. Deepak feels such incidents are very common now.

On December 21st, 2022, a carol singing programme was organised by one of the believers in his house. Deepak said, “He is an old believer, he had invited many people to the programme including people of the other faith.” Suddenly about 8-10 people came out of the crowd and started shouting, telling them to stop this programme immediately. They were from Bajrang Dal, a vigilante group associated with the RSS. The believer stood in front of all of them and said in my defence, “Do not do anything to him, kill me if you want to”. He pushed them all to one side of the hall. People from Bajrang Dal kept shouting, “This pastor is brainwashing everyone here!” In half an hour, another 15-20 people from Bajrang Dal landed at the event, and started sloganeering- Jai Shree Ram [Hail Lord Ram]. We called the police helplines but could not get through. There were about 80 believers present at the event; although the believer was from the Gujjar community (a numerically strong OBC caste), that day all the believers stood in my defence. After some time, the SHO (Station House Officer) and DSP (Deputy Superintendent of Police) also landed up at the event. Next day the press report had a quote from the DSP which said that they were informed that the Church was distributing rations (i.e., food and other essentials) at the event and that Pastor Deepak and his followers were trying to convert people. DSP said, “If somebody files a written complaint then they can take action against it”. No written complaint was filed in the matter from either of the parties.

Next day, the believer who organized the function was called to the police station. A fake witness was called in who gave the statement saying that the believer bribed him to convert his religion. That witnesses’ son works in the factory of the believer. At that time members of Bajrang Dal were also sitting in the police station. The believer separately spoke to the son and the wife of the fake witness, and he agreed to withdraw his statement. Deepak thought the matter was settled. But on January 12th, 2023, SHO came to the believers’ house and told him to apply for a bail as a case has been filed against him under the anti-conversion law in the state. The believer contacted Deepak and his lawyer, they met the SP and told him that witness is ready to give a statement in their favour. They hope this will help in cancelling the FIR. At the time of writing, Deepak and the believer were still waiting for the order from the police to re-record the statement of the witness.

Deepak says, “We know we are fighting a battle to defend ourselves; we are not attacking. If the witness had not agreed to change his statement in our favour, then the believer would have to go to jail. The anti-conversion law is very strong now in the state.” Such incidents also affect the family. Deepak’s children and wife have suffered emotionally because of these repeated attacks and constant fear of risk. As Deepak puts it “I have told my wife, if I ever go to jail then you should have the courage to go through difficult times. We should be prepared for it. Such is life”. He says there was a recent case where people were distributing Bibles and they were accused of giving people 500 rupees [six USD] with every Bible. Deepak says, “This will continue now, daily threats, it’s like a street fight, some days we win and on some days they win. The situation was not so bad during the Congress time; since 2014, all the battle lines have become very clear. It’s clearly us versus them.” Clearly the presence of the BJP has completely polarised relations between Hindus and other religious minorities, including Christians in Haryana.


Pastor Bhavani, Karnal, Haryana

Haryana also has many women pastors who go to various villages for prayer meetings. They also face similar challenges with their prayer meeting being disrupted with allegations of conversion. Pastor Bhavani is a pastor based in Karnal city in Haryana, she shares that many times members of Bajrang Dal have interrupted her prayer meetings with slogans of “Jai Shree Ram [Hail Lord Ram – a popular slogan for radical Hindu vigilantes]”. Videos of her prayer meetings have been made viral on Facebook saying she is performing conversion in her prayer meetings. Bhavani believes that people will always try to stop you from doing your work. But one shouldn’t get scared of it. “If someone shoots me for Jesus, I am ready to die”, says Pastor Bhavani. She feels there is certainly an increased risk in preaching nowadays, especially for women pastors. She feels one has to be careful all the time. For example, once a prabhu bhoj (the last supper) was being performed in the veranda of a house and RSS members landed up to disrupt it. She feels the ceremony could have been done inside the house also, there is no point in inviting a problem unnecessarily. She feels one has to be smart and confident to face the situation these days. She has faced a lot of opposition to her work, but she feels she has not changed her way of working. She still goes from house-to-house to talk about Christ and continues to distribute pamphlets to everyone about Christianity. Bhavani said it takes time for a woman pastor to gain acceptability with believers. Sometimes people look at them in the wrong way. “As a pastor, one has to engage with everyone – alcoholics, young men, with unholy spirits – a female pastor has to be prepared for all of this,” Bhavani says. Once a believer approached her asking how many years she had been separated from her husband and how she lives without a man? Bhavani says one has to deal with such comments. She feels it’s difficult for men to look beyond the identity of a woman, beyond her body and accept her as a pastor.  Her daughter is also a pastor now. The daughter used to wear jeans earlier but when she preaches on stage, she only wears a salwar-suit (conservative women’s attire). “You never know how young men will look at you, will they look at you as a woman or as a pastor,” she says. Earlier Bhavani herself never covered her head with duppatta (thin cloth draped across a woman’s shoulder or over her head) but now she says, duppatta never leaves her head, it is always covered. She feels it is a long journey for a believer to accept a woman as a pastor. “It is more difficult for a woman pastor in today’s time where questions are raised about our character on Facebook. Viral videos threaten our mobility. I have not heard of any case of sexual abuse of a woman pastor, so far, in relation to allegations of conversion but the threat always exists. Her character is always up for dissection and question. It is very difficult to explain that I am not just a woman, I am also a servant of God.”

Haryana is a key state in the Hindi speaking belt dominated by Hindutva politics for over a decade. Due the dominance of this ideology, caste discrimination and hate towards religious minority communities are deep rooted amongst Hindus. Facing anti-incumbency after a long reign, the BJP is attempting to emulate the politics and vigilantism imposed by Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. While the state curbs law and order, it has two simultaneous consequences – failing to protect religious minorities and protecting perpetrators from radical Hindu organisations such as VHP, Bajrang Dal and so on. In fact, the BJP has actively gone after religious minorities through the introduction of the so-called anti-conversion legislation. This legislation will only make it easier for vigilantes, police and administration to work together against Christians and Muslims in Haryana, something that has also been observed in many other BJP-ruled states such as Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and of course Uttar Pradesh. Two features stand out in this case study. The first is the use of media to target leadership of small, independent and non-denominational Christians – done through effective circulation of rumours, disinformation and propaganda on mainstream television (local and national). Further, vigilante groups film their violence (vandalism of churches, beating of pastors etc.) and upload these videos on social media apps – reinterpreting the visuals as evidence that the vigilantes have stopped illegal forced conversion. Such posts create a domino effect by emboldening other vigilantes hoping to gain popularity and climb the political ladder themselves. The second feature of persecution is the targeting of women pastors. As with caste discrimination, gender discrimination too is perpetrated not just by Hindus but also by chauvinists within Christianity. It is a double struggle for women pastors to not just uphold their right to practice and propagate their religion but also to do so specifically as women. As we can see from the experiences of Pastor Bhavani, women experience persecution not just as Christians but as women Christians who are in positions of leadership. They face a special kind of Hindutva masculinity, the worst of which is reserved for women from religious minority communities. Haryana is suffering from a mass unemployment problem and extreme levels of inequality. It is therefore likely that levels of persecution against Christians (and Muslims) will remain high in the near future even if the BJP loses elections. The real problem is to address the rise of powerful vigilante groups who operationalise the hateful ideas of the RSS at the ground level. This kind of vigilantism can only be stamped out through a unity and mobilisation of oppressed castes and classes across religions.

[1] The Jat community is a traditionally agricultural community found in North India and Pakistan.

[2] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/jats-five-other-castes-granted-reservation-in-haryana/articleshow/51599198.cms

[3] A type of school connected with the ancient Gurukul system which has links to Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Religious and scriptural knowledge is imparted in these institutions, and the teachers are known as Gurus who also serve as guides or mentors to their disciples.

[4] A popular Hindu festival present across India.

[5] A Hindu nationalist and right-wing federation of cattle protection movements in India affiliated with the RSS and a member of the Sangh Parivar.

[6] The Julaha community are a Sikh, Hindu and Muslim caste found in Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. They are classified under the Scheduled Caste category. The most common occupation for the Julaha community is weaving.

[7] An annual pilgrimage by Hindu devotees (of Shiva) to fetch the holy waters of the River Ganges.

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