World Watch Monitor
A young Indian man who rejected Hinduism to follow Christianity was forced into a humiliating ritual because of his conversion. The forced ‘reconversion’ ceremony to Hinduism was photographed. When he reported the attack to police they beat him too.
Neeraj had met with a group of other Christians to discuss how they would celebrate Christmas, but, less than a day later, he’d been kidnapped and taken to a Hindu temple where he was ‘cleansed’ with water mixed with cow’s dung and urine and forced to pray to Hindu idols.
The harassment started about a year after he converted when village religious leaders visited and tried to intimidate him into renouncing his new faith by hitting him with their fists and sandals.
His new faith also brought him into conflict with his family.
“My father argued with me. He tried to stop me meeting my Christian friends. Once he hit me with a brick. He also broke the door of my house. Later he beat me so badly that I sought police protection. I went to the police station to file a First Information Report, but the police told me to go away. I had no choice but to go back home,” Neeraj said.
Then, on 23 December 2015, Neeraj was ambushed on his way home.
“I’d visited friends to pray and talk about the Christmas celebrations of our church. After we were done, the three of us got on a motorbike to go home.”
Neeraj and his two friends were pulled from the bike by a group of men.
“What are you doing here? Where do you come from?” the men shouted. They were beaten and kicked for four hours. Their attackers kept accusing them of forcing Hindus to convert to Christianity.
The attackers took Neeraj and his two friends to the local community hall and locked them up for the night. Some of the attackers stood guard. They showed the believers their knives and shouted, “If you deny your faith, and worship Rama [an incarnation of Hindu god Vishnu and role model to many Hindus] you will go home.”
The three didn’t renounce their faith and the next morning were taken to the police station where officers interrogated them, asking if they were using force to convert Hindus. The police threatened to strip and torture them with electric shocks.
Meanwhile a mob of about 200 villagers gathered outside the police station calling for the deaths of the three men. Neeraj and his friends were so afraid they eventually renounced their Christianity.
It was 24 December, and Neeraj found himself back in the local community hall in front of the Hindu idols he so despised. Behind him were the men who forced him to praise Rama, to recite Hindu scriptures, and who smeared him with water mixed with cow’s dung and urine. Photographs were taken of the men as proof of their ‘re-conversion’ (in Hindi ‘ghar whapsi’ or ‘homecoming’ to Hinduism).
Neeraj was released and returned to his wife, Ritu. He felt both humiliated and upset that he’d been forced to reject his faith. They left the village and visited Neeraj’s uncle (also a Christian) in Odisha for two days.
When they returned they were warned that they would be killed if they still believed in Christianity.
So Neeraj took Ritu into the forest near their home. As they fled they saw an angry mob of villagers approach their home, shouting: “Where is he? Has he returned to Christianity? This time we will kill him! Bury him in his house!”
Neeraj and Ritu fled without water, food, money and with no spare clothes. They walked the 15 kilometres back to Neeraj’s uncle where they were safe.
At the time Neeraj knew of 10 Christian families in his village. Six had reconverted to Hinduism.
“Sometimes I talked to them,” he said, “and they warned me not to come back as a Christian or I would be killed. I tried to convince them to leave the village too but they refused.”
Neeraj eventually filed a complaint against the people who attacked him and his friends. The police response this time was to speak with the attackers and the villagers, and this mediation led to Neeraj and Ritu returning to their damaged home, whose roof and floor they were able to repair with some help.
Read more: India’s anti-conversion law in five states, but proposed to go ‘national’