India: Crime Branch to probe Indian pastor, wife for forced conversion

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Pro-Hindu BJP government in the Catholic stronghold of Goa also mulls anti-conversion law

The Basilica of Bom Jesus that the Portuguese built in Goa, western India

The Basilica of Bom Jesus that the Portuguese built in Goa, western India. (Photo: UCA News)

Published: June 02

Police investigations into an alleged case of forcible religious conversion against a Protestant pastor and his wife in the western Indian state of Goa have been handed over to the Crime Branch.

The tiny state, which was once a Portuguese colony, is a hub of Christianity with some 500,000 of its 1.8 million residents identifying as Catholics.

The handing over of the investigations on June 1 to the Crime Branch, which handles serious crimes, came close on the heels of Chief Minister Pramod Sawant commending the state police for cracking down on forced conversions. “There should be no religious conversion by inducement,” he warned on May 28.

The chief minister, who belongs to the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said the state may bring in an anti-conversion bill in the monsoon session of the state assembly beginning July 11.

Pastor Dominic D’Souza and his wife Joan were booked on May 27 for allegedly luring two people to convert to Christianity by offering money and gifts. The pastor was arrested and released on bail the same day.

Police said the couple run the Five Pillars Church from Siolim village in North Goa district. They have seized the CCTV footage and record books from its premises as part of the investigations.

“As far as forcible conversion is concerned, the Catholic Church does not propagate it and we haven’t heard of or witnessed any such activity in the state”

Police further said that the “holy oil” that D’Souza had given to one of the complainants as a health cure would be sent for forensic analysis.

Father Antonio Mendes, parish priest of St. Anthony Church in Siolim, told UCA News that the couple’s church was run independently and had no connection with the Catholic Church.

“We came to know about the pastor’s arrest through local news. As far as forcible conversion is concerned, the Catholic Church does not propagate it and we haven’t heard of or witnessed any such activity in the state,” the priest said.

Michael Vincent Lobo, leader of the opposition in the state legislative assembly, said there was no need for a separate law as existing laws were potent enough to deal with cases of religious conversion, if any.

“We are not supporting illegal conversions but there are no conversions happening in the mainline Catholic churches of Goa,” said Lobo, a Catholic who belongs to the Congress party.