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Indian pastor, wife held for alleged religious conversion

Activists say police in Uttar Pradesh arrested the couple after being pressured to do so by a Hindu mob
Christians pray during a Good Friday service in Delhi on March 30, 2018

Christians pray during a Good Friday service in Delhi on March 30, 2018. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj)

Published: March 01, 2023 05:29 AM GMT
Updated: March 01, 2023 12:41 PM GMT

Indian police have arrested a Protestant pastor and his wife for allegedly indulging in religious conversions, say Christian leaders.

Police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where a sweeping anti-conversion law is in force, arrested Pastor Santosh John and his wife, Jiji John, on Feb. 26 based on a complaint by Bajrang Dal, an ultra-Hindu outfit.

“Pastor John and his wife were summoned in the morning for questioning and were freed later in the evening. But they were arrested after a mob protested in front of the police station,” Minakshi Singh, a Christian activist, told UCA News on Feb. 28.

John and his wife were holding a prayer service in a rented basement in Indrapuram in Uttar Pradesh near India’s capital New Delhi when the mob created a ruckus and accused them of religious conversion. 

The couple appeared before a magistrate on Feb. 28 and were denied bail.

Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, a charity based in Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, said, “Pastor John and his wife are lodged in the Dasana jail in Uttar Pradesh.”

Police came under pressure from the administration, headed by Yogi Adityanath of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the Bajrang Dal, which is affiliated to the parent organization of the BJP, said Singh, who was seeking legal aid for the couple.

“Why should they arrest the pastor and his wife without any evidence?”

Police confiscated their laptops and cell phones from their house, Singh said. 

Several Indian states, ruled by the BJP, have enacted draconian anti-conversion laws which fringe elements use to their advantage, she said.

However, none have produced evidence to substantiate their claims about forced religious conversions so far, Singh said.

“After all, conversion is an individual choice,” she added. 

“If religious conversions take place in the country, why is the Christian population declining? The 2011 census pegs the Christian population in India at 2.6 percent of the country’s population. But in the 2021 census their number shrank to 2.3 percent, the activist said.

“So, where is the conversion taking place?”

The anti-conversion bill, promulgated on Nov. 27, 2020, by the Uttar Pradesh administration, bans religious conversions by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.

“As a matter of fact till today not a single person or the Church has been found guilty of forceful conversion in any court of law in our country, though the first anti-conversion law was enacted in 1967 in the northern state of Odisha 50 years ago,” A.C. Michael, convener of the New Delhi-based United Christian Forum, told UCA News.

“Mob violence seems to have become a sort of norm in our country. Police arrested Pastor John and his wife purely under pressure from a mob because there is no evidence to prove that they were conducting forceful conversions,” said Michael, a former member of the minorities commission in the National Capital Territory of Delhi, said.

“Last year, the Supreme Court asked for reports on forceful conversions from federal and eight state governments. However, till today no government has been able to provide documentary evidence,” Michael said.

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1 Comments on this Story
ISAAC GOMES
The current Anti-conversion laws require that individuals seeking to convert to another religion must obtain prior permission from the government authorities (In U.P. before conversion 60 days notice as per Schedule-I and after conversion, declaration within 60 days as per Schedule-III). Some states have more stringent anti-conversion laws than others, and impose both jail term and heavy fine. While all states have banned conversions by force, fraud or inducement of cash or kind or benefits in any form, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana laws place a ban on conversion through marriage. Haryana Anti-conversion Act stipulates, even if the accused dies during the trial, courts shall be empowered to secure payment of maintenance amount by making a charge on the immovable property of the deceased accused of causing the conversion (The Indian Express 20 December 2022). Anti-conversion laws passed in the above states have been challenged in courts. The last hearing on this was in the Supreme Court on 3rd February 2023. The next composite hearing of all cases on this matter lying in the different high courts is scheduled on 17th March.
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