With nearly 100 persons, including pastors, booked for alleged religious conversion attempts across Uttar Pradesh, leaders of the Christian community in the state plan to petition Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to seek an “end to the action against pastors and believers on flimsy grounds”.
Claiming that Christians were being threatened with false cases of conversion, Jitendra Singh, general secretary of the Pastors’ Association of Uttar Pradesh, said, “Many pastors in the state have been booked for conversions in six months. Ten churches in Kanpur, Fatehpur, Bareilly and other districts have been locked up because of cases against them. This has affected church activities, including group prayers.”
The Christian community leaders point to an incident from February 12 in Jaunpur district, where 16 people were arrested in Muradpur Kotila village for allegedly luring others to convert to Christianity.
The FIR, filed under sections 3 (convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise) and 5 (1) (contravention of provisions of Section 3) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, names nine people, including the managing director (MD) of a leading missionary school in the district and a priest.
Badlapur Station House Officer (SHO) Santosh Pandey said since arrests cannot be made under certain sections of the Act if the imprisonment period is less than seven years, the persons arrested on February 12 have been charged with “breach of peace” under Section 151 (arrest to prevent the commission of cognisable offences) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Pandey added, “Thomas Joseph, the MD of St Xavier’s School in Badlapur, was not among those arrested. Several pamphlets and other documents on religion were recovered from the spot.”
Pramod Sharma, who claims to be the national president of the Hindu Gaurav Mahasabha, had on February 12 complained to the police about a large gathering at the home of Father Dinesh Kumar Maurya in Muradpur Kotila village. When the police reached the village, the people gathered at the priest’s house tried to flee. However, some of them were taken to the police station.
Reacting to the arrests, Joseph said, “I wasn’t present at Maurya’s house on February 12. I went to the police station after learning about the arrests. I told the police that those arrested were only attending a prayer meeting at his house. I too have attended prayer meetings at his residence in the past.”
Clarifying that action under the anti-conversion law is only taken on the basis of evidence and as per law, UP Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar said the police take action “only where the victim is lured or threatened for conversion”.
However, Christian leaders allege police do not investigate before filing cases under the anti-conversion law.
“Lodging of cases for luring and forcing people to convert to Christianity has become a regular affair. The police do not bother to verify a complainant’s statement or collect evidence before taking action. They simply arrest people, creating an atmosphere of terror,” lamented Samual Singh, president of Bhartiya Masih Mahasabha.
In December 2022, two cases were lodged in Sitapur district. In the first instance, six persons, including Brazilian nationals and a pastor, were booked for conversion attempts in Shahbazpur village. In the second case, eight persons were arrested from different places.
A pastor from Kanpur’s Ghatampur was arrested in February on charges of conversion. The Rampur police arrested a pastor in December 2022 for allegedly inciting scheduled caste persons to adopt Christianity.