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India’s top court drops case against Catholic priest

Supreme Court dismisses charge of forcible conversion against Father George Mangalapilly

UCA News Reporter, Bhopal

UCA News Reporter, Bhopal

Published: September 16, 2021 11:49 AM GMT

Updated: September 16, 2021 03:11 PM GMT

India’s top court drops case against Catholic priest

Father George Mangalapilly, a professor at St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna diocese, was charged with converting a Hindu by offering bribe of 5,000 rupees in December 2017. (Photo: UCA News)

India’s top court has discharged a Catholic priest from a religious conversion case, registered against him in central Indian Madhya Pradesh state three years ago.

Father George Mangalapilly, a professor at St. Ephrem’s Theological College in Satna diocese, was charged with converting Dharmendar Dohar, a Hindu, to Christianity by offering him a bribe of 5,000 rupees (some US$70) and other benefits back in December 2017.

“Apart from the testimony of the witness, there is nothing else on record which could potentially be relied upon against the appellant,” wrote the top court in its order while discharging the priest from the case.

The priest along with his 32 seminarians and another priest were taken into police custody on Dec. 14 as they were on their way to sing Christmas carols while visiting Christian homes, a tradition they followed for decades.

The Hindu activists, mostly members of the Bajarang Dal, also blocked officers of the police station and demanded action against the priests and all the seminarians for attempting to convert Hindus and.They also alleged ulterior motives to carol singing.

The police charged Father Mangalapilly and let off the others. The priest was given bail the following day, but the case against him continued even after Dohar himself denied the charge that he was not converted to Christianity.

The case was registered against the priest based on a statement from a witness, who claimed that the Hindu man was bribed and converted to Christianity.

But Dohar denied the allegation and told the court that he was not converted as was alleged. However, the lower court did not want to discharge the priest from the charges.

The priest subsequently moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court seeking a direction to discharge him from the case, but the top court in the state in August 2020 turned down the plea, forcing him to approach the Supreme Court seeking the same relief.

A three-judge bench of the top court headed by Justice U U Lalit, however, set aside the high court order and discharged the priest from the case.

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“In the trial, said Dharmendar Dohar in his examination-in-chief denied that he was converted by the appellant. As a matter of fact, the witness went on to state that his signatures were obtained on a piece of paper by certain persons, on the basis of which the prosecution was launched against the appellant,” the top court said in its Sept. 13 order copy of which was released on Sept. 15.

“The witness was declared hostile and was extensively cross-examined by the Public Prosecutor,” it noted.

“Thus the version of the witness was that he had not filed any report on the basis of which the prosecution was initiated against the appellant,” recorded the top court in its order quoting from the case file.

 Father Mangalapilly told UCA News on Sept. 15 "it was really a harrowing experience" for him "to fight a false case from the trial court to the top court."

“I was sure justice would be done to me as the charges were fabricated and I was falsely implicated in it,” he added.

Christians in Madhya Pradesh accuse right-wing Hindu groups opposed to their charitable work among the poor of painting a negative picture of Christianity and Christians.

They falsely accuse Christian missionaries of converting lower-caste Hindus and other gullible indigenous people and claim the Chrisitans' charitable work is a facade for religious conversion.

Sisters of Destitute Sister Bhagya, principal of Sacred Heart Convent High School in Khajuraho of Chhatarpur district, also in Satna diocese, was charged with religious conversion in February this year.

A 45-year-old Hindu woman, Ruby Singh, a former teacher in the nun's school, complained to police on Feb. 22 that the nun used force to convert to Christianity and offered better pay and other facilities.

But when she refused to succumb to such pressure, she was removed from the school, despite the fact that school was shut down following the Covid-19 lockdown.

The nun is out on bail and is facing trial.

Police filed charges against the nun under a stringent anti-conversion law enacted in January. The law makes it a criminal offense to use force, allurement or fraudulent means to convert a person from one religion to another.

The state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, in January repealed a more than five-decades-old anti-conversion law to replace it with a more stringent law that allows the arrest of those accused of conversion. If convicted, the nun faces up to 10 years in jail.

After the new law came into force several pastors were also arrested and sent to jail on alleged charges of religious conversion.

Right-wing Hindu activists forced their way into Christian prayer gatherings and disrupted them on the plea that religious conversions were taking place in them.

Police too often register cases against Christians based on false allegations and many in such cases they were sent to jail and had to obtain bail later.

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