Officers in Uttarakhand state on June 13 arrested pastor Sanjay Kumar Bharati, his wife, children and several members of his church in Shyampur, Haridwar District on a complaint of violating COVID-19 restrictions, but as police were beating him their questions and accusations concerned only conversion to Christianity, he said.
Pastor Bharti said officers began beating him as soon as he entered the Shyampur police station. Reviling him and Christianity, they interrogated him as they continued to hit him, he said.
“As soon as I was taken inside the police station, a policeman slapped me three or four times on my face and punched me in my stomach,” Pastor Bharati told Morning Star News. “He hurled curses and accused me of alluring people and converting them.”
They then took him to an inner room, where they made him lie on a bed. One of the officers removed his leather belt and began to strike him on his legs and feet, he said.
“Hell broke open on me as they mercilessly tortured me for 30 to 40 minutes,” he said. “I begged them to spare me; repeatedly I asked them, ‘What was my fault?’”
The officer assumed he paid people to change their religion, the pastor said, asking him such questions as, “How much money do you give to allure people to change their religion? Tell us, from where do you receive funds? Who funds you?”
Denying all allegations, Pastor Bharati answered that he lived in a humble rental and would not be in such dire economic condition if he received outside funds, he said.
“I have not changed anybody’s religion,” he told the officer. “People invite me to their homes to pray for them, and I do. These are all false allegations and rumors about me.”
Police treated him as if he were a dangerous criminal, he said.
“For a few days I was in much pain, with swelling on my legs and face,” Pastor Bharati told Morning Star News. “Blood oozed out of my ear after the repeated slaps, and I was unable to hear from that ear for a week.”
Calling him an outsider, officers asked how he could come and live in the village and lure people to convert. The pastor moved to the village 12 years ago.
“Haridwar is an important Hindu pilgrimage site, how could you dare to live here and propagate Christianity?” a policeman said, according to the pastor, who answered that he does not need permission from anyone to settle anywhere in India.
Before releasing him, the officer ordered him to leave the village, warning that if they received just one more complaint of conversion, they would arrest him and send him to jail, he said.
“Though the complaint against me was apparently meeting during COVID restrictions, the policeman inside the police station questioned me only regarding ‘alluring villagers to convert,’” he said.
The Rev. Babu Samuel, Pastor Bharati’s mentor, said he was deeply disappointed in the officers’ brutality.
“The police detained Sanjay’s wife and children as well,” Pastor Samuel said. “It was only after Sanjay begged them to let her go with the children, pointing out that the youngest was only 2 years old, that the police let her leave with the children.”