Christian leaders accuse authorities of staging organized intimidation
Indian police arrested three Protestant pastors after they were attacked by a mob for allegedly attempting to convert Hindus.
Christian leaders called the Oct. 3 attack and subsequent arrests an organized move to stifle religious freedom.
The pastors, who belong to the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society, were attacked and arrested after they tried to show a short film on Jesus Christ, in Majhgawan town of Madhya Pradesh state.
Pastors Stephan Rajkumar from Tamil Nadu, Hari Lal from Madhya Pradesh and Anil Kumar from Uttar Pradesh were later released on bail.
According to police, the pastors were arrested following complaints of illegal conversion. They were also charged with hurting religious sentiments and criminal intimidation.
Madhya Pradesh state, governed by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian peoples party) outlaws attempts to convert a person through inducements or without permission from state authorities.
Police say the person who made the complaint alleged the three men offered him 5,000 rupees ($77) to become a Christian.
Pastor Ritesh James, a colleague of the three men, denied the claim.
"Their arrest was illegal and motivated to target Christians," he said.
It is a matter of "serious concern that we are being persecuted for nothing," James added.
He said the mob barged in on what was supposed to be a film show and accused the pastors of insulting Hindu gods and goddess.
They even tried to "influence the police to oppose bail for the pastors."
"This is part of a well orchestrated conspiracy" to intimidate and wipe out Christians from the area, James said.
Christian leaders, including Catholic bishops, say attacks on Christians have increased after the BJP came to power in Madhya Pradesh.
There have been at least 100 attacks on Christians since the party came to power in 2003, with more than 20 occurring in the last six months, they say.
They claim police have not made an arrest in any of these cases, saying this is proof state authorities support moves against Christians.
"It is high time Christians of all denominations come together to fight against such atrocities against us," Christy Abraham, head of India's National Christian Forum, told ucanews.com after hearing of the arrests.
He said the denominational divisions within "our community, despite us being a minuscule minority, allow troublemakers to attack us and go scot-free."
Rajiv Singh, a local Christian, told ucanews.com that the Indian constitution as well as the Supreme Court, "has given every citizen the freedom to believe in whichever religion one wants" but it is an irony that police are unable to safeguard this right.
Christians make up 0.3 percent of some 73 million people in Madhya Pradesh.
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