Police watch over a group of Indian Christians who were demonstrating on Feb. 5, 2015 against several attacks on churches in New Delhi. In a more recent incident police jailed two Christians July 22 on conversion charges in the state of Madhya Pradesh just hours after they were allegedly abducted and beaten by Hindu hardliners. (Photo by AFP)
Church and political leaders have expressed anguish over the jailing of a Christian pastor and his co-worker in central India on charges of conversion, only hours after they were allegedly attacked by Hindu hardliners.
Pastor Ram Pal Kori of an independent Protestant church and Nand Lal, a senior church member, were arrested on July 22 just 12 hours after police rescued them.
A group of men, allegedly from hard-line Hindu groups, abducted the pastor on July 21 while he was leading a prayer service at a family home in Rewa district, in the state of Madhya Pradesh.
Speaking before being jailed, Kori said the attackers drove him to an isolated place and tied him to a tree and assaulted him. They forced him at knife point "to recite slogans" hailing Hindu gods and goddess, he said.
An hour later, the group also brought Nand Lal, a 49-year-old church leader, who they also attacked and tied to a tree.
Police rescued them on the morning of July 22 following a complaint from the family who were hosting the pastor’s prayer meeting.
The two injured Christians were kept both in custody until evening "for security" reasons but ended up filing charges of conversion against them.
"It is a matter of serious concern for the church that two innocent believers were abducted, assaulted and sent to jail instead hospital," said Public Relations Officer of the Council of Bishops of Madhya Pradesh, a regional Catholic bishops group.
Pastor Ram Yesh said police kept the victims in the police station "under the pretext of protecting them. We did not suspect anything" until police arrested them and put them in jail.
The charges include allegedly hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus, destroying their religious books and idols and indulging in conversion activities, Yesh told ucanews.com.
A state law prohibits changing religion without first informing the government. Any church minister must seek permission before converting anyone. Violations are punishable with a fine and jail terms.
Mauganj Sub Divisional Officer of Police Kamlesh Sharma told ucanews.com that the police were "not able to arrest anyone involved in the [original] assault."
The arrest is a "conspiracy between Hindu activists and police," said Govind Yadav, from the Janta Dal United, an opposition party in a state where the pro-Hindu, Bharatiya Janata Party has been in power since 2003.
"The police gave ample time to the abductors to make up a case against the victimized Christians," Yadav told ucanews.com. "This kind of mischievous act can only be done when the police and the administration work together."
Leader of the Gond tribal people, Gulzar Singh Markam said Christians "always become the target of extremists because of the good work they do."
Markam said the educational and health services that Christians provide in the villages attract people towards them, which angers hardliners.
"We have not come across any instance of forceful conversion," he added.
Christians make up 0.3 percent of some 73 million people in Madhya Pradesh.