India: The persecutor who became the persecuted

Preetha was badly beaten in one attack.(Photo: Open Doors International)

When Preetha* woke up in hospital, the first thing she felt was pain – pain all over her body. Her hand hurt most. She looked down at it – it barely looked like a hand. There were deep cuts in four of her fingers and her palm, and blood was everywhere.

Preetha could see her daughter, Mirai*, in the bed next to her, with her own deep cuts and dark bruises. The memories started flooding back. The drunken men. The iron rod.

Her son who was by her bedside told her: "The doctors are saying they won't treat you because we're Christians. Where can we go now?"

Earlier that day, Preetha, her daughter and husband, Navin*, who was a pastor, had visited a lady from their church, Vinita, to pray for her. Vinita had her baby girl with her.

After some time in prayer, they sat down together for tea when they suddenly heard a commotion outside.

As it got louder, they could hear people shouting: "Where are the Christians?"

Then suddenly, a group of men barged through the door. Within seconds they filled the small house. They stank of alcohol.

The leader of the group grabbed Navin by the shirt. "We don't want Christians here!" he shouted.

The other men started smashing everything in sight. Preetha watched in horror as one of them grabbed Vinita's baby and threw her on the ground. The baby screamed. Preetha rushed forward to pick her up, but one of the men caught her by the arm. He was holding a iron rod and he lifted it up above her head. Preetha held up her hand to try to stop the blow – and then everything went dark.

Just a few years before, it had been Preetha's husband Navin, who had been attacking Christians. She remembers watching one day as he had snatched a bunch of gospel leaflets out of a man's hand.

"We're not interested in your foreign gods here," Navin said, tearing the leaflets into pieces and throwing them in the man's face.

He had beaten Christians, hoping it would keep them away. But they kept coming – and some of their friends in the village even converted to Christianity.

Preetha had felt the same about Christians until one day she became curious about the god they were always talking about.

Their daughter, Mirai, had been suffering from a skin disease since childhood. It was causing serious psychological trauma to the girl. For a woman in the community, it was an obstacle for ever getting married.

The couple had tried everything the local Hindu priest suggested – fasting and praying to the Hindu gods, taking part in all kinds of rituals and ceremonies. Nothing helped. Christians from their village suggested that they take Mirai to church.

Preetha took the girl to a priest who prayed for her. Miraculously, Mirai's condition started improving, her mother told Open Doors. The pastor never asked for money or any favours.

The pastor changed Navin's life too – he stopped drinking, gave up his old work making Hindu idols, converted to Christianity and eventually became a pastor. Preetha also became a Christian.

Some people in their village started threatening the couple, telling them to stop gathering with their church and stop their ministry. They said that Christianity was a foreign religion and that they were 'anti-Indian'.

Finally, the threats turned into action.

In the hospital, Vinita came and sat next to Preetha's bed. Her baby was in her lap – fortunately, the little girl had survived the ordeal without any serious injuries. Vinita was not as lucky – there was blood on her head and hands, but she was not as severely wounded as Preetha.

Through Open Doors' local partners in India they were taken to a different hospital where they were properly treated. Open Doors also provided Preetha and her family with legal support: they have since filed a case against their attackers.

The attack on Preetha's family was not an isolated incident. While Open Doors' local partners hoped that the Covid-19 lockdowns would lead to fewer attacks on Christians, this was not the case: hundreds of Christians have been physically attacked because of their faith even during the Covid restrictions.

India is number 10 on the Open Doors' World Watch List, a ranking of 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

Open Doors has launched a campaign, Struck down not once but twice, speaking up for Indian Christians like Navin and Preetha, who are facing a crisis caused by both Covid-19 and extreme persecution.

*names changed for security reasons

Open Doors UK & Ireland is part of Open Doors International, a global NGO network which has supported and strengthened persecuted Christians for over 60 years and works in over 60 countries. In 2020, it raised £42 million to provide practical support to persecuted Christians such as food, medicines, trauma care, legal assistance, safe houses and schools, as well as spiritual support through Christian literature, training and resources. Open Doors UK & Ireland raised about £16 million.