HYDERABAD, India (Morning Star News) – Immanuel Tirkey and about 100 villagers were watching the end of a Christian film in Bihar state, India, when a man stood up in front of the screen and began shouting, “Who is the operator here? Who is the operator here?”
Tirkey, one of five Christians who had organized the screening of “He Will Come Again” at the home of a Christian woman identified only as Anandi on Aug. 23 in the Kodaila area of Jamalpur village, Siwan District, rose and asked what was the matter. The man told him to reduce the volume, and Tirkey did so.
“He was again and again asking me to reduce the volume,” Tirkey told Morning Star News. “I told him that if I reduced it more, it will not be audible to anybody seated here, and that there are only 10 minutes left for the movie to end.”
The man left, but as the villagers were gathering their belongings to leave after the screening, at least 15 Hindu villagers arrived with swords, bamboo poles and wooden sticks, he said. Anandi’s family immediately rushed Tirkey and the other four Christian organizers of the screening into their house and locked the doors.
“The batch of Hindu villagers abused them in filthy language, scattered the congregation and besieged the house,” Tirkey said. “It was midnight, and soon a mob of 250 angry, upper-caste Hindus showed up with lathis [heavy sticks bound with iron] and steel rods.”
Pelting the house with stones and vandalizing a motorbike and a van, they banged on the doors and badgered Anandi’s family to hand the Christians over to them, Tirkey said. He and the other four Christian organizers repeatedly requested that the family let them go outside, but they refused, saying they would face whatever came rather than turn them over to the mob, he said.
“They were shouting at the family that they are supporting in converting Hindus to a foreign faith, and that we must be killed – ‘Release them to us. We will see their end,’ they kept shouting,” Tirkey said. “We did not know what to do.”
He called his native missions office and gave their Google Maps location via WhatsApp. Missions officials contacted Persecution Relief founder Shibu Thomas, who informed the police, and officers from Aandar police station arrived, Tirkey said.
The Christians urged police not to arrest anyone, emphatic that they wished to settle the matter by themselves, he said, adding that officers told them that they should have obtained permission from the village heads or police to show film.
“Then we asked the police if there is any rule that Hindus take permission for every puja [worship ritual] and rituals they perform in this village – then why is it different for Christians?”
They told police that everyone watching the film came of their own free will and were not forced, adding that they had already showed it in 17 villages and not faced any opposition. The policemen told them that the mob outside was made up of upper-caste families, and that they were waiting to kill them, he said.
“More than an hour after police tried to calm them, they insisted that at least one of us should be handed to them, and only then would they let the other four leave the village,” Tirkey said. “They demanded that at least one of us should be beaten to death to teach us a lesson, and that it would be the end of Christianity in the village.”
Tirkey, who gave up his law practice to minister full-time among tribal villagers, said police told them to file a complaint, and that they would take the mob into custody.
The Christians again requested that police not arrest anyone.
“We told them that we came here only to spend some time in prayer and fellowship and not to get anybody arrested and not to put anybody in trouble,” he said. “When the police threatened the mob that they will be taken into custody for issuing death threats and vandalizing the vehicles, they fled away.”
Their worried families in Patna were holding an all-night prayer vigil for their safe return, he said.
“Police told us to leave the vehicles there, as the Rajputs [upper-caste Hindus] had already clicked photographs and circulated them to the neighboring Hindu villagers, and we can be easily identified anywhere on our way back to Patna,” he said. “The Christian villagers rode their bicycles for nearly five miles to drop us at Aandar.”
Arjun Das, one of the five Christians who organized the screening in Bihar, a state in eastern India bordering Nepal, said that from there they returned to Patna by public transportation.
India’s constitution defines the country as secular, but growing Hindu nationalism has increased hostilities toward Christians. At the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom in July, Alliance Defending Freedom-India Director Tehmina Arora noted the problem is not limited to India.
“The problem that we see in many South Asian countries is that there is ‘freedom’ but no opportunity to exercise it, as it is made almost impossible to convert to another religion,” she said.
Das told Morning Star News that he had been attacked previously in Siwan District, in 2004.
“Several times I was slapped and pushed off for distributing gospel tracts in Siwan villages,” the 45-year-old father of three told Morning Star News. “This time, over 250 people were shouting, pelting stones and striking our vehicles. I felt very weak. We were locked inside and there was no other way to escape. I could sense that terror, and my daughters were worried and kept on ringing my phone. But at that moment I felt stronger when I remembered the Cross. Can’t I face this little thing for the Lord?”
God sent them there for a purpose, that they complete the task, he said.
“We did not go door-to-door inviting people – word passed on, and 100 gathered,” Das told Morning Star News. “They were touched watching this movie. We will go there again to meet the believers. This opposition is nothing before His power.”
Christians make up just 0.12 per cent of Bihar’s 99.9 million total population, according to the 2011 census.
India is ranked 10th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The country was 31st in 2013, but its position has been worse each year since Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in 2014.