Police arrested nine Christians in central India based on complaints of forced conversions from a Hindu nationalist group, AsiaNews reported Friday.
A mob from the Bajrang Da, the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad organization (VHP), stormed a Pentecostal prayer meeting held at a center run by a Catholic non-profit group called the Sat Prakashan Sanchar Kendra on January 26.
Present at the prayer meeting was a 25-year-old Hindu woman who claimed her parents had brought her to the service in an effort to convert her to Christianity.
The following day, police arrested her parents as well as seven other Christians based on Madhya Pradesh state’s new anti-conversion law, which forbids proselytism of any sort. The report said the woman’s parents had taken her to the Christian community center for a prayer meeting under the pretext of taking her to visit her grandmother.
The nine Christians are being held without bail, after presiding Judge Yatindra Kumar Guru declared that “it does not seem appropriate to grant bail to the accused, looking into the facts and circumstances.”
The arrests have provoked an outcry from Christian rights activists in the area.
“The new draconian anti-conversion legislation is a tool for majority vigilante groups to make false complaints and harass the small Christian community,” said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). The 2020 Freedom of Religion Ordinance “is deliberately misused by right-wing groups and vested interests to exploit existing communal tensions in which Christians are a minority.”
The director of the Sat Prakashan Sanchar Kendra worship center where the alleged violations took place, Father Babu Joseph, expressed outrage over what he called a “travesty of justice.”
“Arresting a group of people who were peacefully participating in a public prayer meeting based on an unsubstantiated complaint by certain hardcore organisations is nothing short of travesty of justice,” Father Joseph said.
“As a matter of justice and fairness those who trespassed the property and created a ruckus should have been booked but then they are protected because of their political patronage,” he said, and instead, “innocent people are incarcerated for no crime they have committed.”
“Is participating in a public prayer a crime in this country?” the priest asked. “In a democratic country, citizens should have right to exercise their freedom of worship,” but sadly, this “seems to be on the decline in India.”