Police and local officials in central Madhya Pradesh state have been harassing Christians at the behest of hardline Hindu groups, according to Christian leaders. In one case, a Christian group was denied permission by the local administration in Alirajpur district to host an annual gathering October 6-9. As justification, the authorities said the event would have created social tensions in the area. Kapil Sharma, president of the Moksha Foundation and an organizer of the event, told ucanews.com that the local administration is "playing at the hands of right-wing Hindu groups to target minority Christians". Sharma said he also was asked to provide details about the event's funding sources and questioned about whether he was involved in any criminal or illegal activities. The administration wants to "terrorize Christians," said Sharma, who converted to Christianity from the Hindu religion in 2006. He said the recent series of incidents represented a basic denial of Christians’ constitutional right to freedom of religion. It was also in Alirajpur district that police declared invalid the marriage of 22-year old Christian Joseph Pawar and his 19-year old Hindu wife Ayushi Wani after the couple eloped. Wani's family and radical Hindu groups objected to the marriage, alleging it was a ploy to convert a Hindu woman to Christianity. Police invalidated the marriage on October 3, claiming it violated Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion laws. Nirmal Singh, Pawar's relative, told ucanews.com that the couple had sent a digital copy of their marriage registration certificate to the Alirajpur district superintendent of police. "But the officer seemed to have deleted the copy, joined [in support of] the Hindu group and declared their marriage void in violation of the law," Singh said. Pawar and his mother have gone into hiding at an undisclosed location for reasons of safety, while the bride was sent to a “rehabilitation” facility, according to Singh. Such facilities are often used to hold women who have been caught engaging in prostitution, drug use or other such socially stigmatized activities. Deepak Vijayvargiya, state spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the annulment was a legal issue and that the ceremony did not follow the state's anti-conversion laws. "It is a pure legal issue between the families of the boy and the girl and the administration," he told ucanews.com. Richard James, Bhopal district president of the National Christian Forum, told ucanews.com that Hindu groups have been "more active and targeting minorities" since the BJP won recent national elections. Christian leader and rights activist AC Michael of New Delhi said events in Madhya Pradesh reflect what is happening throughout India since the party assumed power.
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"BJP cadres and their allied groups seem to believe that the victory in the election is a mandate for them to act upon their ideology of making India a Hindu nation. But they are sadly mistaken," Michael said. Michael told ucanews.com that human rights groups have recorded more than 600 attacks on religious minorities in the country since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office. "[Modi] has not said anything against the anti-Christian activities of these groups," Michael said.