An Indian man who claimed a group of carol singers illegally converted him has now said he is a member of the militant Hindu group Bajrang Dal and is unwilling to confirm his allegation.
The complaint made last Thursday (14 December) to the police by Dharmendra Dohar led to the arrest of 30 Christians, who insisted they were only singing songs.
When Dohar was asked by New Delhi TV if he had changed his religion, he said: “I can’t speak on this… If I do, I will get embroiled in the issue… It will be said that I’m changing my statement”. The “group”, [assumedly Bajrang Dal] he said, doesn’t want “such people (Christians) to come in here”, reported the broadcaster.
NDTV asked Dohar if it was Bajrang Dal or the police he was afraid of. He said: “I’m concerned about my family. It is because of me they got into trouble… We were told not to allow these people (Christians) to come into our homes and mingle with us.”
Dohar also alleged that the carol singers paid him 5,000 rupees (US$80) and told him to “worship Jesus Christ”.
The incident took place in a village near Satna in Madhya Pradesh. The central Indian state has some of the strictest “anti-conversion laws” in the country.
Following their arrest, the group of Christians said they were beaten up by a group of Bajrang Dal members who went to the police station where the group had been detained. The attack was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, which expressed “shock, pain and hurt at the unprovoked violence” against the group, which, it added, had been singing Christmas carols in the area for the last 30 years. The car of eight priests who went to help those detained was set on fire near the police station.
In an interview with NDTV, the Bishop of Satna, Father Mar Joseph Kodakallil, denied the alleged conversions.
Meanwhile a right-wing Hindu nationalist group in Uttar Pradesh has warned Christian schools in one of the state’s largest cities not to celebrate Christmas.
Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM), which was set up in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, now Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, issued the warning to schools in Aligarh where Hindu students are in the majority, reports the Times of India.
Students being asked to bring toys and gifts into school to celebrate Christmas, the Hindu group claims, is a step towards forced conversions. “This is the easy way to lure them into Christianity,” Sonu Savita, City President of HGM, told the newspaper, adding that “we are talking to parents’ organisations too and appeal to them to oppose these activities”.
On Monday (18 December) HGM issued letters to all Christian schools in Aligarh, calling on them to refrain from Christmas celebrations.
“If the schools fail to follow our directives, we will stage protests outside the institutions,” said Sanju Bajaj, HJM State Secretary.
SN Singh, a director of the Ingraham Institute, a Methodist education organisation, told the Times of India: “No school forces any student to celebrate any particular festival.” He added that the HJM’s demands were “unprecedented” and “strange”, and said if they receive any directives from it, the schools will seek protection from the police.
Yogi Adityanath was appointed Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh by Prime Minister Modi’s BJP in March this year. The choice of Adityanath – a controversial Hindu monk who has been repeatedly accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiments – was a shocking rebuke to religious minorities, wrote the New York Times at the time.
Mr Adityanath has previously led many anti-Muslim riots in the state. He has been facing criminal charges. He has also led the purification movement aimed at Christian converts called “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) since 2005.