Four people arrested for handing out Bibles

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Police in the north-eastern Indian state of Orissa arrested four people last May 13 for handing out copies of the Bible to the residents of Rajnagar Block.

The police action came in the wake of rising religious tensions after the alleged conversion of 300 Hindu families to Christianity in Rajnagar.

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the armed wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu nationalist party that runs the local state government, had threatened protest action if the police failed to act against "those responsible for violating the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act."

According to Sistikantha Kanungo, officer in charge of the Rajnagar police station, "the area is already tense, and open distribution of the Bible at such a time could add fuel to the fire. That is why we arrested the four young men and detained them".

The arrested are Ashok Namalpuri (28) from Chalakamba (Nayagarh district), Gorachand Pal (22) from Gaeba (Gajapati district), Siddheswar Nayak (29) and Bimal Wilson (22) from Koraput.

They had come to Rajnagar in January and were immediately accused of proselytising and trying to influence school children because they taught at two primary schools for free over the last five months.

Hemant Sharma, Kendrapara's district collector, has ordered an inquiry into the alleged conversion of 300 Hindu families. The local superintendent of police said that a report will be released within a week.

Orissa Freedom of Religion Act requires all would-be converts to inform the district authorities of their decision and obliges them to obtain the latter's authorisation.