In Church Attack In Poll-Bound Uttarakhand, A BJP Link And No Arrests

India is witnessing a wave of attacks on Churches and Christian establishments by Hindutva outfits since September, based on unproven allegations of forcible conversions.

The police inaction has raised questions of political influence.

Dehradun:

Two months have passed since a small church in Roorkee, Uttarakhand, was allegedly attacked by a mob of around 200 right-wing Hindutva extremists but no arrests have been made so far.

This despite an FIR being lodged naming the attackers within a few hours of the attack, which took place on the morning of the 3rd October.

The FIR was lodged by Sadhana Portor, 65, who has been running the three-decade old Church, House of Prayer, with her daughters after her husband, pastor D R Lance, died of coronavirus in the first wave.

"We were just beginning our prayer meeting inside the church when a massive crowd rushed inside at 10 am. They pulled off the cross from the wall and broke it into pieces. They also took down the portrait of my late husband and stomped on it."

Many churchgoers were injured, one so badly that he had to be referred to a hospital in Dehradun.

India is witnessing a wave of attacks on Churches and Christian establishments by Hindutva outfits since September, based on unproven allegations of forcible conversions.

In the FIR, Ms Portor claimed many of the attackers were her long-time neighbours, with at least three linked to the local BJP, the ruling party of Uttarakhand.

One of those named is Seema Goel, who lives just a five-minute walk from Sadhana Portor. Ms Portor's daughter Eva says she saw Seema Goel leading the mob. Seema Goel is part of the BJP Mahila Morcha and can be seen campaigning for the upcoming elections in Uttarakhand in photographs posted by the local BJP MLA Pradip Batra on Facebook.

Seema Goel refused to speak to NDTV on camera but said that she had stumbled upon the chaos and was not involved.

Sagar Goel, also named in the FIR, is part of the BJP Yuva Morcha. He too is involved in election campaigning and met the Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on 2 November, as per a Facebook post by Goel.

Goel was unavailable at his residence for comment on the case.

Another local BJP leader named in the FIR, Dhir Singh, denies that he was involved in the violence. A local churchgoer named Ajit says Dhir Singh hit him, used casteist slurs and snatched his phone.

"I am 56. How can I be involved in violence? I have a disk problem," said Dhir Singh, adding he is being treated for his back pain at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi. "(Ajit) may have seen me walking away."

When the investigating officer Vivek Kumar was asked why there have been no arrests two months on, he said, "The investigation is ongoing and as per the facts that emerge we will take action." He refused to comment further.

The police inaction has raised questions of political influence. Uttarakhand is set to go to polls in February 2022 and so-called illegal religious conversions is one of the issues raised by the ruling BJP, which passed an anti-forcible conversion Bill in 2018.

More than 24 hours after the attack on the church, an FIR was lodged against Sadhana Portor and various churchgoers by a woman called Sonam, alleging that she and four others Rahul, Kavita Valmiki, Mohit, and Sarita Tyagi were being forcibly converted to Christianity.

Sonam and the others claim they were offered lakhs of rupees to convert. When they refused conversion, Sonam alleged that the churchgoers hit them and used casteist slurs.

Sadhana Portor denies these charges.

"I am a pensioner and one of my daughters is a software engineer. That's how we meet our own expenses. We don't make enough money to offer lakhs for religious conversion... None of us have ever met anyone called Sonam," said Sadhana Portor.

Moreover, there are multiple contradictions in the versions of those claiming illegal conversion, especially about the time Sonam and the others were present at the church.

In the FIR filed by Sonam, she says that she arrived with four others at 8 am. They tried to leave at 8:30-9 am but were attacked by the churchgoers, as per the FIR.

But two other complainants that NDTV contacted over the phone - Sonam's husband Rahul and his friend Mohit - offered different timelines. Rahul says he arrived at the church at 11:30 am and upon arrival he was verbally abused by the churchgoers. Mohit says he arrived between 10:30 and 11 am.

Moreover, while some of them claim that they arrived at the church only around 11 am, according to Sadhana Portor and local police, the attack began at 10am and was over by 10:30 am, by which time the police had arrived. She and the other churchgoers left for the police station to file an FIR around 11:15.

Given that many of the accused are her neighbors, Sadhana Portor has been given police protection, but she says what she wants is justice. "I am scared because it's just me and my two daughters. But we can't leave. My home is here, our church is here. Our life is here."

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