05/07/2019, 00.00
INDIA
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Blind pastor acquitted of ‘forced conversions’ in Madhya Pradesh

by Nirmala Carvalho

In 2016 Rev Balu Saste, his wife and 11 other Christians were charged under an anti-conversion law, which the accused rejected. In New Delhi, a church is attacked by religious fanatics.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A court in Madhya Pradesh dropped all charges against Rev Balu Saste, who had been arrested for alleged forced conversions in 2016. He is the pastor at a Pentecostal church in Badwani.

A court in Kukshi, Dhar District, ruled that the pastor – a blind man – and 12 other defendants, including his wife, did not try to convert anyone by force to Christianity.

The case dates back to 14 January 2016, when the clergyman was stopped by police in Kukshi following a complaint lodged by Shankar Singh, from Dehar.

According to the latter, Christians were proselytising among some residents in his village, a charge the Christians rejected, noting that they never tried to convert anyone, but only sought to preach the teachings of the Gospel.

Before they were arrested, the blind pastor, his wife and the other 11 Christians were violently beaten by an angry mob of right-wing Hindu extremists.

The authorities eventually charged the Christians under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, the State’s anti-conversion law, as well as section 153 (A) of the Indian Penal Code*.

The acquittal is "a victory for democracy, for secular India, and gives a glimmer of hope to persecuted Christians in India,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

In his view, “The anti-conversion law is a tool of harassment, intimidation against the vulnerable miniscule Christian minority. Malicious propaganda against the Christian faith and the bogey of conversions provokes fringe elements to unleash their terror against the Christian people.”

In parallel to the acquittal of Christians in Madhya Pradesh, there are also some bad news. Religious fanatics attacked the Free Church in Sansad Marg, New Delhi, threatening to burn it down. The congregation belongs to the Evangelical Church of North India.

* Section 153 (A) reads “Promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.”

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