17 Christians held under India’s anti-conversion law

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The northern state of Uttar Pradesh is known for rampant misuse of the sweeping law to target Christians

17 Christians held under India’s anti-conversion law

Activists and supporters of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party take part in a demonstration in Haryana state on Aug. 2.  Eleven Indian states, most of them ruled by the pro-Hindu party, have enacted a sweeping anti-conversion law. (Photo: AFP)

 September 18, 2023

Seventeen people, including seven women, have been arrested in a northern Indian state under the draconian anti-conversion law.

Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested them during the Sunday prayer service on Sept. 17 following a complaint from a local villager.

“The allegations leveled at them are totally baseless,” said Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Compassion, a charity based in the national capital New Delhi.

In his complaint, Subhash Chandra Jatav accused another villager, Dinesh Chandrashekhar, of inviting him to a prayer service.

The complainant, along with his wife and a couple of friends, attended the Sunday prayer service at Chandrashekhar’s house.

According to him, the organizers spoke about the importance of becoming Christians and accused Chandrashekhar and others of offering financial support to change religion.

He claimed to have withstood the allurement and instead lodged a complaint with the police who filed the case invoking the provisions of the draconian anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh, run by the pro-Hindu party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi since 2017.

“Neither anybody was converted nor any such attempt was made,” Singh said while questioning the move to register the case under the draconian law.

It is suspected that the complainant and others joined the Sunday prayer service with a pre-planned script to target those holding the prayer service, Singh observed.

Hindu groups and the BJP have often accused Christian missionaries of converting Hindus through allurement and fraudulent means across the country.

The most populous Uttar Pradesh is among the 11 Indian states where a sweeping anti-conversion law is in force, often used against Christians.

The law stipulates candidates for conversion to inform district authorities of the plan to change religion 30 days before the planned conversion ceremony. The candidate also has to prove that he or she was not been forced or “allured” to change faith. Violators of the law will have to face a jail term of up to five years and a fine.

India’s Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging anti-religious conversion laws in the country.

Christian leaders say the anti-conversion law has become a tool in the hands of right-wing Hindu activists to target Christians, who make up a mere 0.18 percent of Uttar Pradesh’s more than 200 million people, who are mostly Hindus.

The Uttar Pradesh state reported 211 incidents, the highest among 28 states, in the past eight months of this year, said United Christian Forum, an ecumenical body that traces attacks on Christians in India.