01/06/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – According to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), police in India’s Uttar Pradesh state have been ordered to monitor Christian prayer gatherings after five Christians were falsely accused of violating the state’s anti-conversion law by radical Hindu nationalists.
According to UCAN, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a hardline Hindu nationalist group, recently handed five Christians over to police in Shahjahanpur District for allegedly violating the state’s anti-conversion law.
“It is just an allegation from the fanatic groups,” Father Harold D’Cunha, Vicar General of the Bareilly Diocese, told UCAN. “If they are sure about it, let them prove it. Occasionally, these groups blame us for conversions, but until now there is no record of any religious conversion were the church is involved.”
UCAN reports that S. Anand, the Superintendent of Shahjahanpur Police, told the Press Trust of India that after the alleged religious conversion activities, officers have been asked to keep a watch on Christian religious gatherings.
On November 28, the Uttar Pradesh State Cabinet, presided over by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), approved a draft ordinance intended to curb forcible or dishonest religious conversions. With the Uttar Pradesh State Legislature out of session, the constitution gives the governor of a state power to promulgate an ordinance which has the same effect as a law passed by the legislature.
According to the text of the ordinance, forceful religious conversions will be punished by a jail term of one to five years and a fine of 15,000 rupees (approximately $203.00). However, forceful religious conversions of minors, women, or members of low caste communities will be punished by jail term of three to ten years and a fine of 25,000 rupees (approximately $339.00).
Radical Hindu nationalists have used the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity as justification to pass similar laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians are accused of converting poor Hindus to Christianity in mass by fraudulent means.
In states where similar anti-conversion laws are currently enacted, including Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttrakhand, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists abuse these laws by falsely accusing Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to the false accusation of forced conversions.
To date, no individual has been convicted of forced conversions in India. This is in spite of the fact that some of the anti-conversion laws have been on the books since 1967.