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Indian pastors, woman denied bail, continue in jail

They will remain in custody till June 17 under the sweeping Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act
Hindu nationalists take part in a procession on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the Hindu god Hanuman, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on April 17, 2022

Hindu nationalists take part in a procession on the occasion of Hanuman Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the Hindu god Hanuman, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on April 17, 2022. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ UCA News)

Published: June 08, 2023 11:56 AM GMT
Updated: June 09, 2023 04:40 AM GMT

A court in a central Indian state has rejected the bail applications of two protestant pastors and a woman arrested on charges of alleged religious conversion.

The district court in Satna, Madhya Pradesh state, rejected the bail applications of pastors Roshan Faster, Mayaram Ningwal, and Aarti Saket on June 6.

The accused will remain in police custody till June 17, a police official said.

“It is a difficult time for us. We are working with our legal team for the next course of action,” Minakshi Singh, a Christian activist, told UCA News on June 7.

The pastors and the woman were arrested from Motwa village under the Majhgawan police station in Satna district on June 4.

The arrests came after a local man named Manoj Kori complained to the Hindu group, Bajrang Dal (Brigade of Hindu god Hanuman), about a Christian prayer meeting being held inside a house. 

Members of the Bajrang Dal, accompanied by the police, reached the house and took Faster, Ningwal, and Saket into their custody.

Ashish Jain, a sub-divisional police officer of Chitrakoot, said a case has been registered against them under various sections of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2021, which prohibits religious conversion through unlawful means.

Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, a charity organization based in neighboring Uttar Pradesh, told UCA News that allegations of conversion are not new in the northern Indian states.

Several Indian states, mainly ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have enacted anti-conversion laws.

"However, they have so far failed to provide evidence of conversion activities in a court. After all, conversion is an individual choice. Indian constitution allows us to follow or propagate our faith,” she said.

“Our first priority here is to make sure that we are able to ensure the bail of our people as soon as possible,” Singh added.

Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the BJP, is among 11 provinces across the country where religious conversion without state permission has been criminalized.

The state's anti-conversion law prohibits conversion from one religion to another by use of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, any other fraudulent means, and allurement. Violators face a prison term of up to 10 years.

Christians make up a mere 0.29 percent of Madhya Pradesh's more than 72 million population, over 80 percent of them Hindus.

The law is often used to target Christians and their prayer gatherings held in remote parts of the state.

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