India: Wedding Day in Jail

Jan 25, 2021 | VoM

Christian couple, Rabish and Summandi set a wedding date with village officials and eagerly anticipated their big day. They planned to marry on 30 May 2018, but it soon became apparent that the village was not willing to host a Christian wedding.

Not long after setting the date, a member of the village planning committee asked Rabish about the religious tradition in which he and Summandi would be getting married. Rabish was a new Christian and many in the village practised a mix of Hinduism and animism. Rabish replied that they would be married as Christians.

Three days later, when the couple asked Summandi’s father for permission to marry, he grew angry. Although his wife and children were Christians, he remained Hindu. He threatened Rabish and let them know that he strongly disapproved of their Christian marriage.

Soon the couple started hearing rumours of a planned attack on them. “I got the news from a villager and other outside people that they were planning to kill us on our marriage day,” Rabish said. On 28 May, he and Summandi went to the police station to inform them of the plot and request protection. But upon arrival at the police station, they were both arrested.

The next day, their pastor Subarshan and an elder from their church, a woman named Neelam, went to the police station to try to secure their release. They too, however, were arrested.

Summandi’s relatives had falsely accused the four believers of beating Summandi’s 60-year-old father with a bamboo stick for refusing to convert to Christianity, so authorities charged them under Jharkhand state’s anti-conversion laws. States throughout India are adopting anti-conversion laws meant to protect the country’s Hindu identity.

“The police officer said it is only happening because I had decided to marry according to Christian rules,” Rabish said. “If we didn’t marry according to Christian tradition, then nothing would have happened.”

After two weeks behind bars in individual cells, the men were moved into a larger cell with other men, and the women were moved to an all-female cell. “I spent my time in prayer only,” Summandi recalled of her time there. More than 80 other prisoners were in their cell, so she and Neelam had an ever-present audience with whom to share the Gospel. “Some of them had a positive attitude and some had a negative attitude,” Summandi said.

Six weeks later, the four Christians were anonymously bailed and released on the same day. A group of pastors and Christian lawyers has since handled their court case.

Following their release, Rabish and Summandi revised their wedding plans. They were quietly married in court on 4 October and had a church ceremony on 9 November with 40 people from their church.

While they didn’t fear retaliation for their decision to marry as Christians, the couple had no desire to invite additional trouble. They told their mothers about their wedding but not their fathers, and few villagers were aware of their marriage. Summandi said. “In our village, it is a rule that when you have a wedding you have to conduct a party or reception [with the village], and we have not done that.”

Christians in the village have faced ongoing persecution since 2010. Villagers will not sell groceries or land to Christians, nor allow them to draw water from their well. Angry villagers have also attacked church gatherings and destroyed a home where Christians meet.

Today, Pastor Subarshan continues to actively serve the community and share the Gospel, despite persecution. Neelam and other women in the village have started a sewing centre near her home.

Rabish and Summandi have moved to a new city, where Rabish has started a house church. When they visit their home village, they still face opposition from those who remain angry at them.

The legal case against them was almost concluded just before the COVID-19 outbreak, and they’re hoping to soon be declared not guilty by the courts.

Whatever the outcome, they know they have each other and that God will always be with them.