India

3 pastors, 2 others arrested on 'conversion' charge in India

Police raid their prayer service on the nation’s Independence Day at a village in northern Uttar Pradesh state

Bijay Kumar Minj

Updated: August 18, 2023 11:59 AM GMT

Christians participate in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Five people including three pastors were arrested and released on bail in a northern Indian state for allegedly luring people to convert to Christianity.

Police in Uttar Pradesh on Aug. 15 filed a complaint of alleged conversion activities against 37 people including 19 women in Rajjupur village in Jaunpur district.

The arrested five were produced before a sub-divisional magistrate who granted them bail the same evening.

The Christian community was holding a prayer service on the occasion of Independence Day in the Dalit colony of Rajjupur when a police force came and arrested five people, Pastor Dinesh Kumar told UCA News on Aug. 18.

The pastor said organizing Christian prayer services on Sundays and special days was nothing new in the village.

We do not disturb anybody in the locality and there were no objections from villagers so far. The sudden police raid has shocked our people, he said.

Pastor Kumar said the community was aware of who filed the false complaint with the police but we have nothing against anyone and want to live here peacefully.

He recalled that the police along with some hardline Hindu activists had barged into his house and detained 16 persons, including three women, on Feb. 12.

Though he was released after four days, the police registered a case under the state's anti-conversion law, accusing five among them of converting people to Christianity.

I am still fighting the case in court, Pastor Kumar said.

Media reports said Christian missionaries were allegedly converting people in the neighborhood of socially poor Dalit people by organizing the prayer meeting on Independence Day.

The police have recovered Christian books and are interrogating the arrested people.

Police said they were alerted by Rajjupur village head Saurabh Saroj about poor people being converted to Christianity by offering various kinds of inducements, the media reports added.

A local Christian leader who spoke to UCA News on condition of anonymity said the Indian constitution allows religious freedom to organize or take part in a prayer service.

It is shocking that police are restricting people from exercising their fundamental right on a day the country is celebrating its Independence Day, he said.

Minakshi Singh, a Christian rights activist told UCA News that Uttar Pradesh's anti-conversion law was being misused to persecute Christians.

The law -- The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021 -- criminalizes any attempt to convert by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or by any fraudulent means.

It also deems religious conversion for the purpose of marriage as unlawful with a punishment of a minimum of three years that can extend up to ten years along with hefty fines.

Christians make up 0.18 percent of the state's 200 million people, mostly Hindus.

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