Uttar Pradesh state has seen a rise in persecution against Christians after the anti-conversion law was enacted last year
Minority Indian Christians hold placards during a protest outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral following recent attacks on churches in New Delhi on February 5, 2015. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)
Christians in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have sought action against pro-Hindu groups misusing the state’s recently enacted anti-conversion law to harass and persecute minority communities.
A group of 125 people, who called themselves Khrist Bhakts (devotees of Christ) called on the chief of police and administration in Varanasi, a prominent Hindu pilgrimage center on the banks of the Hindu holy river Ganges, to ensure Christians’ freedom of faith.
A memorandum they submitted to the police commissioner and district collector highlighted false cases registered against Christians and those who follow Christ but have not yet converted to Christianity.
The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), criminalized religious conversion done through allurement, force, or coercion among other means in February 2021.Christian leaders say any Christian charity activity can be misinterpreted as allurement, force, or coercion carried out for conversion.
In the latest case of alleged misuse of the law, eight members of a socially poor Dalit community, including three women, from a slum area in Mangatpuram were arrested on Oct. 28 and sent to jail in Meerut town.
They were also accused of providing food to the people living in the shanty during the Covid-19 lockdown and converting them to Christianity.
“Our people are neither Christians nor they converted anyone but they are charged under the anti-conversion law and jailed,” said a local youth who did not want to be named fearing retribution from the powerful land developers, allegedly connected with Hindu radical organizations.
The young man told UCA News that his family lives in his shanty for over 50 years, where most people live in huts made of tarpaulin. The land developers want to evict them and demolished their hut with the help of the police.
“We have all legal documents to prove our ownership of the land, identity cards and other documents, but still the mafia with the help of police demolished our 50 huts,” he said.
He said the slum was outside the town decades ago but it has become part of the city and the land cost has skyrocketed.
“The land mafia had been threatening us to vacate it, but when refused, they demolished our huts. They also got eight persons, who opposed their illegal acts, arrested under the anti-conversion law and jailed,” the youth added.
Dinanath Jaiswal, a local social activist who was part of the delegation, told UCA News on Nov. 3 that they “want the government to scrap the anti-conversion law as it is blatantly being misused to target poor people.”
“We narrated our hardship to the officials, who listened to us and agreed to look into our grievances,” Jaiswal added.
A Catholic leader who was part of the delegation but did not want to be named told UCA News that “the allegation of religious conversion is totally false. We don’t convert anyone”.
“It is true that during the pandemic we provided food to the hungry. We do help people as true followers of our Lord Jesus Christ, but do not convert anyone,” he said. “We live, serve and protect humanity and even if we are persecuted, we will continue with our services.”
He appealed to those spreading false news to let brotherhood and peace survive for the betterment of the nation. “We [Christians] are no less Indian. We are a peace-loving people and uphold the constitution and the laws of the land,” he added.
He blamed the biased approach of the state police for the rise in persecution against Christians in the state, especially after the enactment of the anti-conversion law.
According to data collected by United Christian Forum, a Christian rights group, after the law was enacted the number of violent incidents against Christians also rose nearly 75 percent to 486 in 2021 from 279 in 2020.
Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state with 200 million people and Christians make up 0.18 percent.
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