Indian Christians charged with 'hurting religious sentiments' for handing out tracts during Easter procession

Four Indian Christians have been charged with 'hurting religious sentiments' for handing out Christian tracts during an Easter procession.

Rayapuri Jyothi, 38, Meena Kumari, 52, Mahima Kumari, 35 and Bagadam Sudhakar, 45, were arrested in Hyderabad, the state capital of the southern Telangana state, on Easter Sunday, according to World Watch Monitor (WWM). They were released on bail on Tuesday.

The Christians were released on bail late in the evening on 3 April, two days after their arrest on Easter Sunday.World Watch Monitor

The arrest follow a complaint by a group affiliated with the nationalist RSS movement. The leader of the Hindu Jana Shakti group, Jakkula Vinay Kumar, said the 20 to 25-strong procession had entered a slum and attempted to convert its residents.

However, the lawyer for the Christians, Sudheer Kumar, told WWM the Christians had already reported being harassed by Hindu Jana Shakti. 

In a video circulated on social media one church member who was present said: 'With permission from the police, we [the church] took out a peaceful procession, singing hymns, distributing tracts around our area.

'When we were about to wind up and return back to the church premises, in the last moment, they [Hindu Jana Shakti members] attacked four Christians, and we went running back to their rescue.

'[The men] physically attacked the Christian youth and misbehaved with the women, and even tried to apply vermillion [a powder worn by married Hindu women applied by their husbands] to the pastor's wife.'

She added that when she told the men they had obtained permission from the police, they grabbed her hand and ripped the bangles from it, shouting at her: 'Do you know the law?' She said they then tore up the letter of permission she showed them, and started beating up some of the young Christian men in the group.

'When we [Christians] resisted, they [Hindu Jana Shakti] paid no heed,' the church members told WWM. 'They called the women prostitutes and the Christians "children born out of prostitution", and many such extremely foul worlds in the Telugu language spoken in the area.'

Three Hindu Jana Shakti members have also been arrested.

The leader of the church, Pastor Andrew, told WWM he and his church members were being spied on by members of the Hindu group and that he had received death threats. He said he is "very scared", that he fears his phone is tapped and that he was told he would be killed "soon".

'The Hindutva [hardline Hindu] elements are targeting small churches because we are weak, with less members, and also we don't usually get the high level support from Christian leaders from all frontiers,' he said.

Pressure on Christians in India has increased since the rise to power of the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, which promotes a right-wing Hindu Nationalist ideology.