Six Christians facing false charges, two of them beaten by police, were jailed for a month for praying for a sick woman in eastern India, they said.
After tribal Gondi villagers in Simdega District, Jharkhand state, attacked the Christians on Sept. 16, officers at the local police station refused to listen to the victims and hit two young men among them, 25-year-old Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi, 20, they said.
"The police hit Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi repeatedly," said one of those arrested, 35-year-old Dasrath Karketta. "They didn't give us a chance to speak. If they inquired of us, we could have explained what happened exactly, but they didn't; instead, they scarred the face of Kalender Majhi. He bled also."
The police beating followed the thrashing the Christians received from Hindu extremists in Ghosra village, who attacked them while they were praying for healing for the wife of Bikhru Majhi, sources said. Officers jailed the Christians and charged them with "promoting enmity between classes" and insulting religion. They spent a month in jail before being released on bail.
"We spent one month in jail joyously - we sang hymns, read the Bible, prayed and worshipped together in jail," Karketta said. "We shared the gospel with other inmates in the district jail. There also, people came to Christ. We strongly felt the Lord was using us for His work and were happy about it."
Karketta, the two young men and James Ba, 30, Balmuni Kumari, 19, and Jagdish Majhi, 50, went to the home of Bikhru Majhi after he asked them to pray for his wife, Nitu Devi, sources said.
"Bikhru Majhi heard our testimonies," Karketta said. "He was amazed at how I got healed, and he wanted prayers for his wife."
Before winning a battle against cancer, Karketta had visited several hospitals for treatment, exhausting his family's financial resources, he said.
"We spent lot of money to a point that there was nothing left in our house, even no food for our children to eat," Karketta said. "When I came to Christ, I got rid of all ailments, and now I am working, providing for my family and leading my life in Christ: 'It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."'
Bikhru Majhi is Hindu but believes Christ can heal, and he routinely invites Christians to pray for his wife, who has long been ill, said Singhray Kullu, former pastor of the church in Ghosra village that the arrested Christians attend.
"Bikhru believes the prayers can heal her," he said.
At around 8 p.m. on Sept. 16, a throng of Hindu villagers surrounded Bikhru Majhi's house as the Christians prayed for his wife, said the only woman among the six arrested, Balmuni Kumari.
"They surrounded us and started beating the Christian brothers and me," she told Morning Star News. "We told them it's not conversion, we only came to pray for a sick woman."
The villagers were furious, Karketta said.
"We tried telling them, 'We did not come to murder, or get drunk, or steal, we came to pray at the request of Bikhru, and if this act of us offends you, we ask for forgiveness, please forgive us,'" Karketta said. "We tried our best to make peace, but they did not listen. They beat us, screaming, "Where is your God? Where is your Jesus? What can He do? Call him right now. We also want to see what He can do.'"
At around 11 p.m., police arrived and arrested the Christians, he said. They were taken to T. Tangar Police Station.
"We all are daily laborers, we depend on our earnings each day for our bread," Karketta said. "From where arises the question of paying people and converting them?"
James Ba and Kalender Majhi of Banspahar village, Jagdish Majhi of Latapani village and Balmuni Kumari of Tukupani Baanstoli village were released on bail on Oct. 16. Dasrath Karketta of Khijri village and Sajan Majhi of Farsapani village were released on bail on Oct. 17.
The 19-year-old Kumari was arrested along with the others at 11 p.m., though arrests of women are not permitted in India after sunset, a legal expert told Morning Star News. He added that if special circumstances require the arrest of a woman after sunset, police are required to assign female police officer.
"No female police constable came for me," Kumari said. "I was the only woman, and it was frightening. I trusted the Lord."
Her family came under severe pressure from the Hindus extremists while she was in jail, she said.
"The assailants threatened my mother and father," she said. "They were asked to leave the village."
Her brother told Singhray Kullu about the threats in Kumari's home village.
"The family faced severe opposition because of their faith," Kullu told Morning Star News. "The Gondis plotted to expel them from the village. Balmuni's mother went into depression. Things turned normal after her release."
The time in the women's jail interrupted her university studies, Kumari said.
"Even in the prison, I prayed and worshipped with other Christians," she said. "Every Sunday believing sisters from outside visited us and led us in prayer and worship."
Some of the assailants later apologized to her, she added.
"The people who beat me that day came and asked for forgiveness after my release," Kumari said. "But there is still bitterness in the hearts of some."
The Christians were charged with promoting enmity between classes (Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; maliciously insulting the religion or religious beliefs of any class (Section 295-A), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention (Section 34).
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.
India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.