By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
The October 10 arrests in the Mau district of India’s most populous state came amid a broader crackdown on minority devoted Christians in India, a mainly Hindu nation.
The pastors, whose names were not immediately released, were charged with “illegal assembly” after they held a prayer meeting, Worthy News learned.
Among those detained were also two Catholic nuns who were waiting at a nearby bus stop but had no connection to the gathering, Christians said.
On Thursday, the pastors reportedly remained in police custody, though their lawyer was obtaining bail.
Anti-conversion legislation has been widely abused by Hindu nationalists who frequently accuse Christians to justify harassment, according to local believers.
Police officials often don’t bother to record our complaints. This further emboldens our attackers, and we have to bear the brunt,” said a pastor in published remarks. The church leader wasn’t identified amid apparent security concerns.
Uttar Pradesh, comprising 200 million inhabitants, is among several states with anti-legislation. Anti-conversion laws are on the rise in India “as a weapon to harass and persecute believers from a Hindu background,” according to rights researchers.
That became evident a week before the Uttar Pradesh incident when a 200-strong mob of Hindu nationalists attacked a church service in Roorkee in neighboring Uttarakhand state, injuring five people, Christians said. No arrests for the attack were made to date, said sources familiar with the situation.
Though India’s Constitution claims the country is secular, the “rising” number of anti-conversion laws used in nine states are targeting religious freedom of minority faith groups, critics argue. A tenth, Karnataka, is already treating conversion activities as illegal and reportedly plans to introduce its anti-conversion law soon.
The wording of the legislation generally states that “no person should convert or attempt to convert either directly or indirectly any person from one religion to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means.”
The anti-conversion law is used “under the claim that they are to protect Hindus from forced conversion,” commented Christian rights watchdog Open Doors.
However, in practice, the legislation increased difficulties for Christian converts abandoning Hinduism. The crackdown included authorities punishing the singing of Christmas carols, private church gatherings, and even the distribution of aid with fines and detention, Worthy News established.
Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic made life more difficult for Christian converts, noted Christian aid workers in the area. “Believers who their families have rejected are extremely likely to be deliberately overlooked when food and aid are distributed,” noted Open Doors.
“Open Doors has heard some reports that believers are ‘converting back’ to Hinduism to receive aid. You’d think that this sort of coerced conversion would be prosecuted under the anti-conversion laws,” it said. “But converting people to Hinduism, even by force, fraud or inducement, appears not to be covered by existing anti-conversion laws in different states,” Open Doors added.
Christian charity VOMC said it asked its supporters to pray for detained pastors and other Christians facing harassment, as well as authorities prosecuting them.
While India has had a Hindu majority for centuries, Hindu hardliners have increased their influence in recent years. Open Doors accused “Hindu extremists” of “putting forward the narrative that Muslims” (14.4 percent of the nearly 1.4 billion population) “and Christians (4.8 percent) are not true Indians.”
Anti-conversion laws are used “as a weapon in this fight,” it said.
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