- Bryan Nerren’s arrest and alleged persecution in India corroborate reports and studies that claim that attacks on minorities have increased since the Modi government came to power in 2014.
Bryan Nerren, a Shelbyville, Tennessee pastor who was detained in India for several months, attended a discussion with Trump along with six other Americans who were released from overseas abductions and detentions. On the first night of the Republican National Convention on Aug. 24, Nerren interacted with Trump in a pre-recorded segment and thanked him for his efforts in rescuing him from India where he said he was wrongfully detained.
Nerren is the leader of the International House of Prayer Ministries and also heads the non-profit ministry Asian Children’s Education Fellowship, which has been training Sunday School teachers in India and Nepal for 17 years.
“On behalf of my family, thank you,” Nerren told Trump in the televised meeting. “Thanks for getting us home during the darkest time for my family,” he said. “Your letter to my wife came and it gave her the hope and peace. From that time forward, as more people got involved in India, more peaceful and the hope was there.” After Nerren narrated his experience, Trump said: “India responded very well to my request. So we appreciate that.”
“It was strange for someone (Nerren) held for violating currency regulations similar to the U.S. and released after the judicial process to be shown as a ‘hostage,’” an Indo-Asian News Service report said.
Narren was featured with Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran who was arrested in July 2018 while visiting his girlfriend in Iran; Sam Goodwin, a world traveller who entered northern Syria from Iraq in May 2019; Andrew Brunson, a pastor who was arrested in Turkey in October 2016; on October 7, 2016, by Turkey; and Joshua and Tamara Holt, arrested in Venezuela shortly after their wedding and accused of stockpiling weapons.
Reports in local as well as Indian media say Nerren was traveling through India on his way to do missionary work in Nepal in October 2019. He was arrested at Bagdogra airport in West Bengal while he was on his way to Sikkim with two other missionaries and was incarcerated in Siliguri. The two pastors accompanying Nerren were reportedly released.
Foreign Exchange Violations
The Press Trust of India reported that Nerren was charged with violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act for traveling with $40,000 of undeclared currency. Nerren was carrying money to cover the expenses of two conferences with 1,000 attendees and 13 other ministers, according to a petition posted online by CeCe Heil, an attorney with the American Center for Law and Justice. In the ACLJ petition, Heil claims that Narren was arrested in Bagdogra without the proper documentation for the funds. Anyone bringing in over $5,000 in currency or over $10,000 in travelers’ cheques or similar instruments from the U.S., have to declare it under the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA rules.
Nerren was released on bail on Oct. 11, 2019. “However, the judge retained Nerren’s passport and ordered a travel ban, trapping him in Siligurii,” Heil says in the ACLJ petition. PTI reported that on Dec. 31, 2019, Indian Customs issued a show-cause order confiscating the $40,000 and imposing a penalty of approximately $4,000. According to the PTI report, “Nerren surrendered the entire amount and paid the fine in January.” He returned home on May 21. The ACLJ petition describes Narren as a “loving husband, father, and grandfather, who also has a compassionate heart for others.”
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) as well as Rep.Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Jody Hice (R-Ga.) were involved in the efforts to bring Nerren home. The lawmakers sent a letter to India urging Nerren’s release. “We write to bring your attention to the case of Bryan Kevin Nerren Sr. of Shelbyville, Tennessee,” the letter said. “We are immediately concerned with the health of the Nerren family, including Mr. Nerren’s daughter with special needs, who has been hospitalized with pneumonia as Mr. Nerren remains in India without a clear point of return,” they wrote in a letter to the Indian Foreign Secretary Harshvardhan Shringla, who had returned to New Delhi from D.C., as India’s Ambassador to the U.S.
Nerren told the Daily News Journal after his return home on May 21 that during Trump’s visit to India in February, a deal had been made for his release if he signed some papers. Nerren claimed that he was targeted in India due to his Christian faith, and persecuted for eight months.
Heil told News4 Investigates in December that when he arrived in Bagdogra, customs agents were waiting to charge him with violating the Foreign Exchange Management Act, which accused him of not having the proper paperwork and not paying a fee. Nareen added that the custom agent told him that they were ordered “to crush every American Christian coming into India, so they’ll never come back and stop bringing money to the Christians in India.”
“Today we celebrate the return of Pastor Nerren to his family in the U.S.,” the ACLJ said in a statement on Nerren’s return. “His over seven-month ordeal is finally over thanks to your continued support of our tireless efforts for his freedom,” the ACLJ said. “But let us not forget the Christians in India and all over the world who are facing persecution daily, simply because of their faith. Please continue to pray for them, as well as all who suffer persecution for their faith. Our work for the persecuted Church does not stop.”
Persecution of Christians in India
It will be interesting to see how the rightwing Hindu Americans who are supporting Trump due to his perceived friendship with Modi and India, view the inclusion of India in the same bracket as North Korea, Iran, Turkey and Venezuela in terms of persecution of Christians.
A World Watch List for Christian Persecution by Open Doors USA, has placed India on number 10 on the list. “It has been increasingly cracking down on Christians, although India’s constitution assures religious freedom and India is also a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees human rights, including the freedom of religion and belief,” Open Doors USA says. “Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences. The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian.”
Citing a “Violence Against Christians in India” report by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) – India, Matters India reported that last year, there were at least 328 incidents of targeted violence against Christians in India, including 230 mob attacks and 2 murders. “The victims of these violent attacks included 275 tribals, 55 Dalits, 164 women and 117 children,” the report said, “adding, out of these, 131 incidents involved dereliction of duty by law enforcement authorities.”
Wooing Indian Americans
With the November general elections barely two months away, the Trump campaign has been going all out to woo Indian Americans, particularly Hindu Americans. Last week, the Trump campaign released a commercial which features footage of Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi walking hand in hand and quick clips of each speaking. Trump’s senior adviser Kimberly Guilfoyle posted the commercial on Twitter on Aug. 22, and tweeted: “America enjoys a great relationship with India and our campaign enjoys great support from Indian Americans.”
The commercial came two days before the Republic National Convention began, and on the heels of the Democratic National Convention, where Joe Biden and Kamala Devi Harris accepted the Democratic party’s nomination for president and vice president respectively. Harris’s nomination and her acceptance speech at the DNC on Aug. 19 was widely appreciated by the Indian American and the South Asian American community which is energized and excited and is mobilizing to get Biden and her elected this November. Harris, a U.S. senator from California, is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants.
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.