Rise of Hindu ‘extremist’ spooks Muslim minority in India’s heartland

Source: The Guardian

By  in Gorakhpur

In Gorakhpur, the power base of a firebrand monk, religious tension grows with Uttar Pradesh’s 40 million Muslims

Supporters of the BJP celebrate a stunning election victory in Uttar Pradesh.
Supporters of the BJP celebrate a stunning election victory in Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images

Pastor Ritesh Joshua had just called a tea break when he saw the men in the saffron scarves. More than a hundred, some wielding sticks, had massed outside his white stucco church on the outskirts of Gorakhpur, a temple town in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was three days after Christmas.

“They started shouting, ‘You are converting people. We will not allow any conversions here’,” he says. “They shoved people, turned over furniture, and told me, ‘You are the main culprit’.”

The men, allegedly part of a religious activist group called the Hindu Yuva Vahini, cornered one of the parishioners. Smartphone footage shows the woman pulling her blue shawl tightly around herself as she answers questions about her involvement with the church. “No one is forcing me to convert,” she insists.

“If the police hadn’t arrived, we don’t know what would have happened next,” Joshua says. “After the men left, everyone in the church was silent, so frightened. This is a time of testing for us.”

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