A faith healing Center in U.P. turns focal point for communal tensions
JAUNPUR , OCTOBER 06, 2018 21:13 IST
UPDATED: OCTOBER 06, 2018 21:13 IST
No gatherings: There are no crowds at the church in Jaunpur, where prayers have been stopped.
In Uttar Pradesh, a stand-off has resulted after an upper caste outfit complained against gatherings at a church claiming to cure ailments.
A lone policeman stands guard at the Jeevan Jyoti Satsang Prathna Kendra in Bulandih village in Jaunpur, eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Christian prayer centre is deserted and the mood in the village is tense.
Till a few weeks ago, especially on Tuesdays and Sundays, the sprawling compound of the Kendra bustled with visitors and devotees who came from nearby villages as well as from Azamgarh, Ghazipur, Mau and Varanasi districts of Purvanchal to listen to sermons and receive what they believed was ‘divine healing.’
At the centre of it all was Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav, who ran the prayer centre on his family property, and claimed to cure all manner of illnesses, including cancer, epilepsy and TB, through prayers and touch.
However, following a complaint last month from Sarvesh Singh, secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Kshatriya Mahasabha Yuva, police booked Mr. Yadav and over 270 others, including many of his associate pastors. They were charged with luring poor people to Christianity and spreading misinformation about Hindu religion, among other things.
While the Allahabad High Court on Wednesday issued an injunction on Mr. Yadav’s arrest, prayers at the Kendra stand prohibited.
Mr. Yadav’s nephew, Brijesh Yadav, dismissed allegations of conversion. He said people came on their own and attended its sessions because they had “developed faith.” “It had nothing to do with conversion. We only preached teachings of Jesus,” he insisted.
Photographs of Jesus Christ and the Holy Cross are visible on the Yadav property. Brijesh said though the family believes in the Ten Commandments and teachings of Jesus Christ, the members have not formally converted to Christianity. “We are still Hindus. We still celebrate all Hindu festivals and the Dussehra organised by my uncle was well-attended. So there is no question of converting people,” he reiterated.
He then showed a bunch of identification cards and pointed out that the family still maintains its Hindu OBC name. The family also have a Bael tree (Aegle marmelos or Bengal quince) and a Tulsi plant in the compound, both considered auspicious among Hindus.
‘Drugs were given’
The charges against Mr. Yadav and others include administering drugs and other banned substances to people under the garb of medicine, cheating, defiling a place of worship, criminal conspiracy, inducing people to believe they will attract divine displeasure and causing hurt by poison.
As per the complaint by Mr. Singh mentioned in the FIR, the pastor used to give prohibited medicine and drugs to the visitors and try to convert them under its influence, and indulged in false declarations and dangerous treatment methods.
Mr. Singh, who is leading the campaign against the prayer centre, said Mr. Yadav was instigating people, mostly OBCs and Dalits, against Hinduism.
“He asked them to remove idols of Hindu gods and goddesses, and referred to Hindu gods as the devil. The poor were told to reject prasad given by Hindus. It was a pure act of superstition as he even claimed to exorcise people,” said Mr. Singh.
The Kshatriya activist also claims that Mr. Yadav had propagated the use of “magical oil” and “magical water” to heal diseases. Kailash Yadav, Mr. Yadav’s cousin, rejected the charge. “Magical oil and magical water are coined by the RSS and its affiliates. What happened is that people came to the sessions with their own oil and water, which would be blessed during the prayers. They would take back home the same as they believed in its healing powers,” said Mr. Kailash.
The family’s association with Christianity is fairly recent and follows Mr. Yadav’s experience in Mumbai where he was allegedly cured of a skin condition by a self-proclaimed healer, Sebastian Martin. Mr. Yadav was born in a Hindu household. More than a decade ago, while working as an operator in a printing press in Bhopal, he contracted a skin disease, which family members claim was leprosy. He tried various treatments and travelled as far as Varanasi and Kolkata and lived for a year in an ashram surviving on boiled extract of the bael, but got no relief.
He then moved to Mumbai to work as a security guard at a hotel. “He earned barely ₹3,000 but spent more than that on treatment,” said Mr. Kailash.
During this period, when Mr Yadav was advised bed rest for hydrocele, his neighbour’s mother convinced him to watch the healing sessions of the self-proclaimed, divine healer Sebastian Martin, who claimed to cure all diseases.
“Initially, he rejected it…But by just watching the shows, half of his skin disease cured,” claimed Mr. Kailash.
Mr. Yadav then went on to attend the healing sessions and according to his family, was miraculously completely cured in three weeks.He started his own prayer services and held his first service or changai prathna in Bulandih in 2010. There are mixed reactions to the Kendra and Mr. Yadav’s alleged cures among local people. While many claimed, without any proof, that they had been cured of illnesses through the sessions, others were sceptical and accused the Yadavs of trying to acquire property through the spread of superstition.
On the shutting down of the prayer centre, Manoj Jacob, U.P. president of Rashtriya Isai Mahasangh, charged that RSS-linked outfits were spreading false propaganda of conversion. “This was not dharm parivartan (conversion) but mann parivartan (change of heart) though teachings of Jesus, After attending the sessions, the people stopped abusing, lying, stealing, drinking aclohol and other such acts,” he claimed.
He said Mr. Yadav was not linked to any church but was influenced by Jesus Christ and spreading his message on his own accord.
A.C. Micheal, Development Director, Alliance Defending Freedom, India, an NGO that fights legal battles for religious freedom, said in September alone, Jaunpur had witnessed 12 incidents of violence against Christians.
“The pastors are woken up in the middle of the night and being arrested on false allegation of fraudulent conversions. The roads leading to churches are blocked. The believers are stopped from going to church and forced to return to home by the police. The other pastors those who have not been arrested are threatened. And they are not being allowed to conduct service in the Church,” said Mr. Micheal.
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