An Indian pastor and his family were forced to flee their village in the Shyampur area of Uttarakhand state's Haridwar district after police detained and beat him for sharing his Christian faith.
Pastor Sanjay Kumar Bharati was arrested in June for reportedly violating COVID-19 restrictions, Morning Star News reports. While in custody, police tortured and threatened him.
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"Though the complaint against me was apparently meeting during COVID restrictions, the policeman inside the police station questioned me only regarding 'alluring villagers to convert,'" Bharati said.
"As soon as I was taken inside the police station, a policeman slapped me three or four times on my face and punched me in my stomach," he added. "He hurled curses and accused me of alluring people and converting them."
Then authorities took him to another room, where they made him lie on a bed. One of the officers allegedly removed his belt and began to hit the pastor on his legs and feet.
"Hell broke open on me as they mercilessly tortured me for 30 to 40 minutes," he said. "I begged them to spare me. Repeatedly I asked them, 'What was my fault?'"
Police accused Bharati of paying people to convert to Christianity, the pastor reports. He was asked, "How much money do you give to allure people to change their religion? Tell us, from where do you receive funds? Who funds you?"
Pastor Bharati says he did not attempt to convert anyone, assuring police that he lives in modest home and would not take money from anyone.
"I have not changed anybody's religion," Bharati told the officer. "People invite me to their homes to pray for them, and I do. These are all false allegations and rumors about me."
Before his release, police warned that if a complaint over conversion was received, he would be arrested and sent to jail. Then, he was ordered to leave the village.
Pastor Bharati told Morning Star News that he was badly beaten by the authorities.
"For a few days I was in much pain, with swelling on my legs and face," he said. "Blood oozed out of my ear after the repeated slaps, and I was unable to hear from that ear for a week."
Pastor Bharati, his wife, and their three children moved more than 600 miles away.
Rev. Babu Samuel, Bharati's mentor, said he was disheartened by the attack against the pastor and his family.
"The police detained Sanjay's wife and children as well," Samuel said. "It was only after Sanjay begged them to let her go with the children, pointing out that the youngest was only two years old, that the police let her leave with the children."
Attacks against Christians and other religious minorities have risen in India as the number of believers continues to decrease.
Bharati's church once had 150 members but opposition from villagers drove the number down to 50, he said.
"The villagers called for a meeting and threatened all those who were attending the fellowship to desist, or else they would be ostracized," the pastor explained.
India is ranked 10th on Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.