Hindu activists pressured police in Uttar Pradesh state to register a complaint of religious conversion against them
Christian devotees participating in a prayer meeting in the city of Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh.(Photo: Facebook)
Police have arrested seven Christians including a Catholic priest and five Protestant pastors for allegedly trying to convert poor Hindus in northern Indian Uttar Pradesh state.
Catholic Father Dominic Pinto of Lucknow diocese was arrested with six others on Feb. 5 after a group of hard-line Hindu activists complained to police in Barabanki district.
The Hindu activists alleged that a mass religious conversion gathering was held at Navintha, the diocesan pastoral center.
“There is not an iota of truth” in the allegation, said Father Donald D’Souza, chancellor and spokesperson of Lucknow diocese.
Pinto “did not even attend the prayer gathering. He only provided space for it to be held at the pastoral center, which is a normal practice,” D’Souza told UCA News on Feb. 6.
D’Souza said people who call themselves “Khrist Bhakts” (followers of Christ), who are not converted to Christianity but follow the teachings of Christ, organize their prayer gatherings. Often they hold such gatherings at the diocesan center.
“Nobody is converted or asked to become Christian. But still, police arrested our people,” D’Souza lamented.
The police complaint filed at the Deva police station named 15 persons including five women. They were accused of violating the state’s sweeping anti-conversion law.
The complainant Brijesh Kumar Vaishya accused them of luring poor Hindus including women and children from socially poor Dalit communities to Christianity.
A group of Hindus tried to assault women at the prayer gathering and protested in front of the police station demanding to include the Catholic priest’s name in the police complaint, said a Christian leader, who did not want to be named.
The Christians spent the night in a police lockup and were likely to be produced before a magistrate to seek their custody for carrying out further investigations.
Some 26 Christians have been arrested and sent to jail so far this year under the draconian anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh.
The law stipulates that people should inform district authorities of their plan to change religion 30 days before the planned conversion ceremony. They also have to prove that he or she are not been forced or “lured” to change faith. Violators of the law will have to face a jail term of up to 10 years along with a fine.
India’s Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging anti-religious conversion laws in the country.
Persecution against Christians has witnessed a sharp rise in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in the country, in recent years.
From January to November last year, the state accounted for 287 of the 687 recorded incidents targeting Christians across the country, according to data collected by United Christian Forum, a New Delhi-based ecumenical group.
Christians make up about 0.18 percent of the Hindu-majority state’s more than 200 million people.
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