Even in a state with no "anti-conversion" law, Hindu extremists in India leveled the accusation of forceful conversion at pastors as they belted the Christian leaders with iron bars.
At their monthly prayer gathering in Hyderabad on June 4, about 20 pastors from various denominations were stunned when a mob of Hindu extremists approached with clubs and iron rods and accused the ethnic Telegu clergy of forceful conversion. Vaguely worded laws in other states banning forceful, fraudulent, or coercive conversions provide a ready pretense for false accusations against Christians helping to provide for the needs of the poor, leading to numerous false arrests—but Andhra Pradesh has no such law.
Moses Vattipalli, the All India Christian Council representative in Hyderabad, told Morning Star News that accusations that the pastors were forcing people to convert to Christianity were baseless.
"There was no case of forceful conversion," he said. "The pastors were having their monthly prayer meeting as usual."
Andhra Pradesh has the fourth-highest rate of attacks against Christians, according to the 2012 Yearly Report of the Evangelical Fellowship of India. It is one of the more populated states in India, with a population of about 90 million people, of which about 2.3 percent are Christians, according to the 2011 census.
Lack of any forced-conversion law in Andhra Pradesh, located on India's southeastern coast, did not stop Hindu nationalists from shouting the accusation as they attacked. The assault was notable for its scope and intensity. Members of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh struck with fury, uttering obscenities as they denigrated the pastors' faith and low-caste status. Hindu nationalists assert that people in India are Hindu by birth, and that conversion to another faith amounts to national betrayal.
"They suddenly intruded into the meeting at about 1 p.m. while we were having our lunch and started to beat up pastors who were standing outside the room," said the Rev. B. Robert of the Bethel Saron Assembly of God Church.
Seven Christians received hospital treatment, including a 73-year-old pastor.
"Some pastors even wore their [motorcycle] helmets in order to protect their heads," Robert said. "However, the angry extremists beat them with iron rods and broke their helmets."
CT previously has reported that increased violence and repression in India isn't stopping church growth in some states.
Violence against Indian Christians reached its worst point in 2008 in Orissa, another coastal southeastern state, following the assassination of Hindu leader Laxmanananda. However, Christians were encouraged when the BJP lost control of Orissa in elections the following year. Meanwhile, seven Christians in Orissa remain in prison after a judge postponed their trials—again. They are accused of assassinating Laxmanananda in 2008, even though Maoists already claimed responsibility for the attack.