Hindu activists march in Jhabua on Jan. 11 to demand the closure of all Christian churches in the district of Madhya Pradesh state in central India. (Photo supplied)
Nine Christians charged under a newly enacted anti-conversion law in central India's Madhya Pradesh state plan to seek bail from the state's High Court after a trial court denied them bail.
The court in Indore city turned down the bail application on Jan. 27, a day after the Protestant Christians were arrested from a Catholic media center where they had gathered for a routine prayer service.
Judge Yatindra Kumar Guru denied them bail, saying that "it does not seem appropriate to grant bail to the accused, looking into the facts and circumstances."
Pastor Patras Savil, who is providing legal help to the detained Christians, said they are now "left with no other option than moving the High Court" for bail.
Police charged 11 Christians with violating Madhya Pradesh's stringent anti-conversion law after right-wing Hindu activists stormed into a prayer service at Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra, a Catholic media center. They accused the Christians of conducting mass religious conversion.
The media center run by the Society of the Divine Word offered the Protestant group space to conduct prayer services.
The center contacted police when the Hindu activists barged into the center. But the activists demanded police take action against the Christians for violating a new anti-conversion law enacted on Jan. 9.
Police dispersed the activists but later arrested nine Christians based on a 25-year-old woman's complaint.
The complaint said her parents tricked her into coming to the prayer service, where she was forced to change her religion, Pastor Savil told UCA News on Jan. 30.
Following her complaint, the police charged 11 persons and arrested nine, including the complainant's parents. The arrested were sent to jail. Police said the other two are missing and a search is on for them.
Pastor Savil said he has no details about the complainant. "I have no idea how she came for the service and what her real motive was," he said, alluding to suspicions that Hindu activists could have planted her.
"We will fight the case legally as much as possible and leave the rest to God to decide", Pastor Savil said, adding: "The truth will triumph."
Meanwhile, Hindu activists also demanded action against the Catholic media center, accusing it of facilitating religious conversion, a crime according to the new law.
The center's director Father Babu Joseph, however, denied the charge.
"We used to permit prayer services of other denominations and Pentecostal groups and other events. As far as I know, no such religious conversion activity was conducted, and we also don't allow our space for any activity that is against the law," he told UCA News on Jan. 30.
Several Christian leaders suspect these actions are orchestrated and part of a strategy to target Christians in the state, where the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) runs the government.
Christian leaders have criticized the new law as one-sided and in violation of fundamental rights.