By UCA News
(UCA News) — A Hindu nationalist party state government in northern India has demolished a Pentecostal mission center allegedly built on government land and arrested 18 people, including a pastor.
A special squad, escorted by police in Uttar Pradesh tore down Jeevan Jyoti Church mission center and its place of worship in Bhulandih in Jaunpur district on Oct. 11.
The center had stood on the site for more than a decade.
“Police so far have arrested 18 people associated with the mission, including Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav,” said a Pentecostal Church official from Uttar Pradesh, which is governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
“They are in jail and efforts are being made to get them out on bail,” he added, requesting anonymity.
All roads leading to the mission center have been blocked off by police to avoid any untoward incident.
Neha Mishra, a senior government official, told reporters the move was “part of the state government’s resolve to raze illegal structures on government land.”
The mission center was built without permission, she said.
A Pentecostal official associated with the mission, however, denied this, saying, “A multi-storied building which was part of the center was not located on government land.”
But a portion of the campus, including the boundary wall, was, he admitted.
“The wall was built with approval from local officials, but the permission was verbal,” the mission staff told UCA News on Oct. 12.
“Some unidentified people pulled down the wall on Oct. 5,” said another church official who did not want to be named, fearing arrest.
The government has ordered the mission to pay the US$3,400 it costs to carry out the demolition, local media reports said.
Christians in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, say the situation took an ugly turn for them ever since Yogi Adityanath from the Bharatiya Janata Party became state chief minister in 2017.
The state under the leadership of Adityanath, a Hindu monk-turned-politician, enacted a sweeping anti-conversion law in 2021.
Currently, 89 Christians, including a Catholic priest, are in different jails in Uttar Pradesh for alleged violation of the draconian law.
“The government does not want Christians to organize prayer services as many people who attend them come closer to Christ and His teachings,” observed Pastor Dinesh Kumar from Uttar Pradesh.
“Many Hindus follow Christianity, but they don’t change their religion as they recover from illness and achieve peace after praying to Jesus,” he told UCA News on Oct. 12.
“We don’t convert anyone illegally but still we are targeted and our prayer services are targeted,” he said.
The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum (UCF), an ecumenical body that records Christian persecution across the country, had recorded 104 incidents of violence against Christians in Uttar Pradesh this year up until August.
During the same period, a total of 525 incidents of persecution against Christians were recorded across the country, said the UCF.
Christians make up a mere 0.18 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s more than 200 million people, who are mostly Hindus.