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India’s most populous state tops in persecuting Christians

Police in Uttar Pradesh have arrested close to 400 Christians since enforcing an anti-conversion law three years ago
 Christians participate in a prayer meeting at Kanpur, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Christians participate in a prayer meeting at Kanpur, a city in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: December 01, 2023 10:50 AM GMT
Updated: December 01, 2023 11:35 AM GMT

Nearly 400 Christians have been arrested in a northern Indian state in the past three years since the imposition of a stringent law prohibiting religious conversions, say local Christian leaders.

Police in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of the country, have registered 181 cases against Christians under the sweeping provisions of the law that prohibits change of religion “through force, allurement, fraud, or marriage.”

Among the 398 people arrested so far, a majority are Protestant pastors and followers of neo-Christian groups. Those jailed include 318 males and 80 females, besides a Catholic priest.

“This data is from Nov. 27, 2020, to Nov. 27, 2023,” a Church leader who did not want to be identified told UCA News.

Most of them are currently out on bail and only about 50 including Father Babu Francis, director of social work at the Allahabad diocese remain in jail.

The priest was arrested along with three other Catholics on Oct. 3 after a local leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused them of attempting to convert villagers in Allahabad district.

Uttar Pradesh is ruled by BJP, the party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The state government has been headed by a Hindu monk-turned-politician Yogi Adityanath since 2017.

The draconian anti-conversion law was first enforced as an ordinance in 2020 and adopted by the state assembly the following year as the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021.

The law, Christian leaders allege, has become a tool in the hands of hardline Hindu groups “to target and trap Christians.”

“Our people are being jailed on totally false cases of religious conversion,” said Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, an organization based in national capital New Delhi that is helping Christians seek bail.

“The very basis of this draconian anti-conversion law is against the basic tenets and spirit of the Indian constitution,” she told UCA News on Dec. 1.

The secular constitution grants freedom to every citizen “to follow and propagate a religion of one’s choice,” Singh added.

A C Michael, a former member of the Delhi State Minorities Commission based in the national capital, said the anti-conversion law went against the word and spirit of the constitution.

“The law makes it mandatory for anyone who wants to change his or her religion to seek permission from a designated government official. This is an illegal act, as religion is a personal matter,” he said.

Michael said Uttar Pradesh has seen the highest number of arrests of Christians among the 11 states, most of them ruled by the BJP, to have enacted anti-conversion laws.

The constitutional validity of these laws is currently being challenged in the Supreme Court, the top court of the country.

Christians make up 2.3 percent of India's 1.4 billion people, nearly 80 percent of whom are Hindus. In Uttar Pradesh, Christians are a mere 0.18 percent of the state’s over 200 million people.

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