Dehradun: The rupture in communal harmony in Roorkee over a Hindu mob attack last week on a prayer house, owned by a Pentecostal evangelist, has sowed the seeds of fears within the local community of similar assaults in the future.
On 3 October, a mob of nearly 250 people gathered in front of the prayer house, before allegedly vandalising it and assaulting a few people after accusing Pentecostal evangelist Prio Sadhna Potter and those present of illegal conversions.
A week on, with no arrests made yet, local residents fear an attack like this, which was “never seen” in Roorkee before, will set precedent for similar assaults, and vitiate the atmosphere in the city.
The family of Potter, whose late husband pastor Dickens Rockwell Lance used to run the prayer house, is also scared for its safety as it battles a social boycott. They say that the attack illustrates the widening communal divide and is bound to become a trend unless strict action is taken against the culprits.
This fear could only get stoked further by the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leadership in the region, which has threatened to expand its ‘anti-conversion’ drive against the Christian community in rural parts of Uttarakhand. VHP leaders told ThePrint that the state police must take action against missionaries involved in alleged religious conversion of the Hindus, or else they would deal with it themselves.
Speaking to ThePrint, Uttarakhand Director General of Police (DGP) Ashok Kumar, however, reaffirmed his commitment to the safety of Potter and her family, saying all the guilty will be arrested soon. “Victims have been provided the needed security and cops will remain there till their threat perception is mitigated completely,” said Kumar.
Parmendra Dobhal, Haridwar Superintendent of Police (Rural), said the probe results will be seen soon and the accused will be arrested.
The attack, in which one victim, Rajat, sustained serious injuries on the head, face, back and ear, resulted in two FIRs being filed. The first FIR was filed against eight persons by name — including VHP, Bajrang Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders — and 242 unnamed on a complaint from Potter.
A cross FIR was, however, filed against Potter and 10 other members of the Christian community, including Rajat, following a complaint lodged by a woman named Sonam, resident of Adarsh Nagar, Roorkee.
Sonam alleged that she, her husband Rahul and others were called for a community function at the prayer hall but Potter and 10 others present there tried to persuade them to embrace Christianity as they will be paid Rs 2 lakh each and given free education and medical aid.
‘Bound to widen communal divide’
Local Surjit Singh Chandok of the Bhartiya Sadbhavana Mission, an organisation that works for communal amity in Roorkee, said the “massive” attack is “something new to the city”.
“We never saw a mob attack of this scale. This is a blot on the face of the citizenry of Roorkee, famous for its IIT (Indian Institute of Technology). This is bound to widen communal divide and is an unhealthy sign for future generations, if the administration fails to take action against the perpetrators of violence,” said Chandok.
“Roorkee always had a tradition of strong communal bonding and tolerance but such attacks against any community, let alone Christians, will vitiate the atmosphere and will be dangerous for keeping communal harmony,” he said.
Another member of the mission and an astrologer, Pandit Ramesh Semwal shared similar views.
“There were a few attacks against the Christian community in the past but those were small in nature. This time it may have a long term impact… The administration’s failure to act in time will bolster the confidence of bad elements in the society leading to repeat of such attacks in future,” he added.
On 3 October, Uttarakhand saw a spate of similar attacks — at Bahadrabad in Haridwar, Sahaspur in Dehradun and Ramnagar in Pauri district, with the Christian community members alleging that police remained indifferent to their complaints and that the modus operandi was almost the same in all the four attacks on a single day.
Want neighbours to talk to us, Lance family says
The world has changed for Prio Sadhna Potter and her two daughters, Eva and Pearl, after the mob attack. The trio says they are being looked at with disdain by the neighbours, who are unwilling to even talk to them.
“We never thought this would happen to us in the area we have been living in for nearly 35 years. My daughters were born and brought up here. They have played with other kids of the colony but today they cannot talk to them,” Sadhna said.
“No one attacked us when my late husband pastor Dickens Rockwell Lance who died of Covid-19 in September 2020 was alive. Prayer house was never objected by anyone from Solanipuram but it became an eyesore for some people once it reopened after the second wave of Covid in July,” she told ThePrint.
Sadhna’s younger daughter Pearl alleged that she was beaten up during the attack by a woman whose mother-in-law taught her in childhood. “Later an elderly person caught my shoulder from behind and a tall hefty man under 30 hit me on my breasts and snatched away my cell phone while another woman yelled, ‘We are Hindus and will kill you for Hindutva’,” Pearl alleged.
“Rajat, who was here only to help us, was hit by a rod on his head. He has been battling for his life for the past six days,” she added.
“We are traumatised and cannot understand where to go and how to move ahead in the case. While the police have been deployed both at our home and prayer house, the attackers have not been arrested yet. We are unable to move on the roads now. We want to talk to our neighbours but they don’t want to,” said Sadhna’s elder daughter Eva Lance, a post-graduate in chemistry from Delhi University.
“Those from the colony willing to visit us are being stopped by others… It appears like everyone here wants us to leave the colony,” Eva added.
While Sadhna and her daughters have expressed confidence in the police over their safety, they are also anguished by the lack of arrests. “We trust the police and know well that they are doing their work, but no arrest has been made so far. What will happen if tomorrow our security is taken back and mob returns as they have already threatened to kill us?” asked Eva.
VHP alleges harassment by police
Leaders of the Hindu organisations allegedly involved in the attack have claimed that police are harassing the families of those named in the FIR. They said that the police should take action against them if found guilty, but they have no right to harass the family members and children of the workers.
“Police teams are raiding the homes of our workers named in the FIRs and terrorising the kids, women and elders in the families. We don’t object to investigations and punishment to the guilty but cannot tolerate police action against the innocent family members,” said Sandeep Khatana, Haridwar-Roorkee chapter head of the VHP.
“Their houses are being raided randomly at wee hours or late night. We have given one week’s time to the police to stop unwanted harassment of the families. If it’s not stopped then we will hit the streets,” Khatana added.
He said Sunday’s “incident” was not a mob attack but a fight between the family of a girl (Sonam), who was taken at the prayer house for forced conversion, and those who took her there.
“VHP, BJP and Bajrang Dal members went there in support of a Hindu girl whose family members were trying to bring her back. Later the girl herself lodged an FIR against Christian missionary members who were trying to convert her. Now police are harassing her family as well,” Khatana said.
The VHP leader also said that his organisation will now launch a drive against religious conversions in rural areas of Uttarakhand.
“We know that they have targeted rural belts of Uttarakhand and are going all out with their conversion mission but we will take them to the task at every point. VHP and Bajrang Dal have done it in the past and we will do it now as well,” he added.