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India: Arrested for Baptisms

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“I enquired about the possession of the Christian spirit,
and the reply came … that it was the Holy Spirit. Well, at any cost I didn’t
want to be robbed of this new life and hence started learning Christianity.”

Thus began the journey of Reverend Chander Mani Khanna from
high-caste Hindu devotee to dedicated Christian pastor arrested for baptizing former
Muslims.

Pastor Khanna converted to Christianity in 1969 at the age
of 22. He later became a minister in the Church of North India, an Anglican
denomination, and was called to serve at All Saints Church in India’s Kashmir
region. While India is Hindu majority, most people in Kashmir are Muslim. India
has the world’s third-largest Muslim community, and the Kashmir region is unofficially
governed by Islamic courts.

The few hundred Christians in Kashmir are increasingly
harassed by Muslims. Churches are often surrounded by Muslims during worship
services, and young believers are constantly watched and threatened. Islamists
also circulate hate literature with a racial undertone against Christians. The
media participates in this bias, portraying Christians as people who use women,
alcohol and swine blood (deeply offensive to Muslims) in their religious
practices.

As the leader of a mainline church, Khanna was well known in
the community. He was involved in community-wide reconciliation events between
Muslims and Christians. In 2011, several young Muslim men began attending the
church and asked Khanna to baptize them. He emphasized that there would be no
financial incentive or other benefit for conversion, but they insisted. Khanna
baptized the seven men in a public event that someone recorded and later posted
on YouTube. Word began to spread that the pastor was converting Muslims through
allurement.

Khanna was summoned to appear before the Grand Mufti, an
Islamic religious leader with great influence in the region. Khanna was
arrested on Nov. 19, and police searched his home for further evidence of
conversion by allurement. The men who were baptized continued to assert that
they were not enticed to convert, but local newspaper reports cited anonymous
police sources who claimed the men were financially rewarded. “You would hang
your head in shame at what was written about [the pastor’s] family,” said a VOM
partner.

Khanna spent 40 days in prison. “I had the strange
experience of boldness and believed the Lord had given me a job, and I did it
with grace,” Khanna said. He was released on bail on Dec. 1 and expelled from
Kashmir. The case against Khanna was dropped on Feb. 16 because of a lack of
evidence against him.

Though he was not convicted, the ordeal took a toll on Khanna’s
church position and his family. His wife became ill and was deeply
disillusioned at the lack of support from the church. Denominational leadership
subtly communicated that Khanna should not have baptized the converts from
Islam.

When he retired on Jan. 16, Khanna was let go without a pension.
VOM’s partner in India, who had been assisting Khanna with legal representation
because lawyers in Kashmir refused to represent him, offered Khanna a job at
their office in Bangalore. These days, Khanna spends his time speaking on
behalf of persecuted Christians in churches around India. The new job is a
great encouragement to him. He has regained confidence, and his wife’s health
is improving. “I am not bothered by what happened to me, but I glorify the Lord,”
he said.



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