Police in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand have arrested four and are investigating 11 other Christians on charges of conversion, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
The arrest of the four in the village of Podkher, Simdega district, on 29 May is the first reported case since Jharkhand introduced anti-conversion legislation in September 2017.
A Christian couple, who were due to be married on 30 May, faced opposition from local villagers and some members of surrounding villages who took offence at the proposed Christian ceremony.
When the couple reported the matter to the police, they and their pastor and his assistant were taken into custody and “charged under section 4 of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017, which criminalises religious conversion”, according to CSW.
The four have been put in detention and if found guilty can be sentenced to three years in prison or a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$ 742).
Meanwhile Jharkhand police are investigating another case involving 11 Christians in neighbouring West Singhbum district who have also been accused of conversion in their local community in Manoharpur.
According to the religious freedom advocacy organisation International Christian Concern (ICC), they were charged with engaging in forced conversions after they had met for prayer at someone’s home in Medhasai village, in the Chaibasa district of Jharkhand.
The men have not been imprisoned, pending the police investigation, but have fled their homes for fear of arrest, says ICC.
It appears that the complainant is an organisation that is closely associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the militant wing of the governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Jharkhand is one of seven Indian states with an “anti-conversion law”; the BJP is the ruling party in six of them.
Church leaders protested against the BJP-led government in Jharkhand when the law was passed in August last year, accusing it of hurrying through the law, which was passed and signed off on the same day.
BJP: Archbishop of Goa’s pastoral letter marks ‘new dangerous trend’
Meanwhile the BJP has hit out at the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao, after he mentioned, in his annual pastoral letter about the alleviation of poverty, the danger the Indian constitution was in.
According to Ferrao, a “new trend” of mono-culturalism, which demands uniformity in what and how one eats, dresses, lives and even worships, is putting human rights at risk, as reported by the Indian Express.
“At the time of elections, the candidates confuse the minds of many people by making false promises. And the people, on their part, often sell their precious vote for selfish, petty gains. In this context, particularly as the general elections are fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” he said.
The BJP called it a “political appeal” by the church, which marked a “new dangerous trend”, according to the Times of India.
Referring to a letter written by the Archbishop of Delhi in May, BJP general secretary Bhupender Yadav called it “a political appeal by a religious head, which marks a new dangerous trend in Indian politics. India isn’t a theocratic state. It doesn’t distinguish on basis of religion. India is the world’s largest democracy. It’s governed by one of the most liberal constitutions of the world.”
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) said yesterday (6 June) that “churches in India are in collusion with the Vatican and are trying to create an atmosphere of distrust against the present government”, reported Matters India.