An Indian Christian was forced to reconvert to Hinduism as extremists continue systematically to target Christians and other religious minorities.
"Neeraj" – whose name is protected for security reasons – has spoken about months of beatings, harassment, arrest and torture after he converted from his native Hinduism to Christianity. He was forced to deny his newfound faith as part of a national crackdown on Christians in India.
Rajeshwar Singh is one of the leaders of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist group, whose political wing, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in government. He has promised to make India free of Christians and Muslims by 31 December 2021 through forced conversions and a state-wide assault on religious freedoms.
The Indian government is proposing a national anti-conversion law, which is already in place in five of India's states, according to the anti-persecution charity Open Doors. The British-based charity said the laws are used disproportionately against minorities.
Governing Hindu nationalists see Hinduism as the true religion of India, so when an Indian person converts or returns to Hinduism, it is not seen as a conversion but a 'ghar wapsi' or 'homecoming'. As a result they are exempt from the anti-conversion laws.
After Neeraj became a Christian, he was consistently beaten by religious leaders in his village and even his own father hit him with a brick. But the violence escalated further in December 2015 while preparing for Christmas.
He was ambushed by Hindu radicals and was beaten for four hours along with two friends, according to Open Doors. They locked the three Christians up and brandished knives, saying: "If you deny your faith in Jesus, you can go home." Neeraj refused and said, "No, He is my Lord. I will never leave Him."
But the next day they were taken to the local police station and accused of trying to convert local Hindus – an act which contravenes the state's anti-conversion laws.
A mob gathered outside and demanded their death as police began to threaten them: "We will strip you naked and treat you with electroshocks."
After an entire night of beatings and threats, the Christians agreed to give up their faith in Christ – first one of Neeraj's friends, then the other, and finally, Neeraj. "I was so afraid that I decided to obey them," said Neeraj.
After his forced reconversion Neeraj was allowed to return to his wife Ritu. But he said he "wept bitterly" at being made to change religion and has since fled, despite death threats, to live with his Christian uncle in another town. "I asked him if we could stay because I did not want to betray Jesus again and I cannot go back to my village," he said.
Open Doors, which ranks India as the 17th worst country to be a Christian, has supported Neeraj and Ritu with supplies and legal assistance. You can find out more here.