In attack on church in Uttarakhand, BJP link, no arrests

Police inaction 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 the filing of an FIR designating the attackers a few hours after the attack, which took place on the morning of October 3.

The FIR was hosted by Sadhana Portor, 65, who heads the three-decade-old Church, House of Prayer, with her daughters after her husband, Pastor DR Lance, died of coronavirus during the first wave.

“We were just starting our prayer meeting inside the church when a massive crowd rushed inside at 10 am They pulled the cross from the wall and shattered it into pieces. . They also took away my late husband’s portrait and stomped on it. “

Many worshipers were injured, including one so badly that he had to be transferred to a hospital in Dehradun.

India has witnessed a wave of attacks on churches and Christian establishments by Hindutva groups since September, based on unproven allegations of forced conversions.

In the FIR, Ms Portor claimed that many of the attackers were her longtime neighbors, at least three of whom were linked to the local BJP, Uttarakhand’s ruling party.

One of them 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 crowd. Seema Goel is part of BJP Mahila Morcha and can be seen campaigning for the upcoming elections in Uttarakhand in photographs posted by local BJP MP Pradip Batra on Facebook.

Seema Goel declined to speak to NDTV on camera, but said she ran into chaos and was not involved.

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

Goel was not available at his residence to comment on the matter.

Another local BJP leader appointed to FIR, Dhir Singh, denies being involved in the violence. A local practitioner named Ajit says that Dhir Singh beat him, used caste slurs, and ripped off his phone.

“I am 56 years old. How can I be involved in violence? I have a problem with my disc,” said Dhir Singh, adding that he was being treated for his back pain at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi. “(Ajit) maybe saw me walk away.”

When investigating officer Vivek Kumar was asked why there had been no arrests two months later, he said: “The investigation is ongoing and based on the facts that emerge, we will take action. . He declined to comment further.

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

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

Sonam and the others claim that they were offered rupee lakhs to convert. When they refused the conversion, Sonam alleged that the worshipers beat them and used caste insults.

Sadhana Portor denies these accusations.

“I am retired and one of my daughters is a software engineer. This is how we cover our own expenses. We do not earn enough money to donate lakhs for religious conversion … None of us do. ‘never met someone called Sonam, ”says Sadhana Portor.

In addition, there are multiple contradictions in the versions of those claiming an illegal conversion, especially about the time when Sonam and the others were in church.

In the FIR filed by Sonam, she says she arrived with four others at 8 a.m. They tried to leave at 8:30 am-9am but were attacked by worshipers, according to the FIR.

But two other plaintiffs NDTV contacted by phone – Sonam Rahul’s husband and friend Mohit – have offered different time frames. Rahul says he arrived at the church at 11:30 a.m. and upon arrival was verbally assaulted by worshipers. Mohit says he arrived between 10:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Moreover, while some of them claim that they did not arrive at the church until around 11 a.m., according to Sadhana Portor and local police, the attack started at 10 a.m. and ended at 10 a.m. 30, when the police arrived. She and the other worshipers left for the police station to file an FIR around 11:15 a.m.

Since many of the accused are her neighbors, Sadhana Portor has received police protection, but she says what she wants is justice. “I’m afraid 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.”

Harry D. Gonzalez