Three evangelical Christians arrested in Madhya Pradesh for "forced conversions”
by Nirmala Carvalho

Rev V A Anthony V, his wife Prabha and another woman are arrested after police and Hindu radicals stopped them and took them into custody. Extremists waited until the court rejected the accused’s request for bail. For Christian leaders, religious freedom is at risk under Hindu nationalist rule.

Satna (AsiaNews) – Police in Satna, Madhya Pradesh, arrested on Sunday three evangelical Christians for forced conversion and insulting Hindu religious sentiment.

Rev V A Anthony, of the Brethren Assembly Church, his wife Prabha and another woman were taken into custody as they returned from Aber, where they go every week to lead prayers. They were jailed after their demand for bail was turned down.

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), slammed the arrests. He told AsiaNews that the three Christians are innocent people “who were detained based on false allegations of forced conversions."

The three accused were arrested yesterday but the fact that is alleged goes back to two weeks ago. Their accusers are Rambhan Adivasis, Hemraj Varma and Prashant Gupta, all residents in the village of Goraiya.

The trio filed a complaint in which they claim that the Christians asked them to convert by promising them a secure job. The three men changed their mind after the Christians ripped up the image of Hindu deities. According to local police, this “offended their religious feelings".

Satna Police Superintendent Mithilesh Shukla said that the Christians have been charged under three articles, namely Section 295 A of the Indian Penal Code (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings) and Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, the state’s anti-conversion law.

Some villagers have reported that at the time of the arrest, the police were accompanied by Hindu extremists. Laxmi Yadav, a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Backward Classes Commission, is one of them. He remained with the police until the court decided to deny bail, and placed the Christians in state custody.

Three weeks ago, he had filed a complaint against Rev Sam Samuel. Along with activists of the Bajrang Dal* and the police, Yadav also stopped a wedding in the city of Kolgawan, claiming that bride was underage.

Rev Samuel said that the car on which the three Christians were travelling was stopped by Hindu extremists, who then beat up Rev Anthony.

Sajan K George noted that "this is the second incident in a month.” For the GCIC president, “Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians live in an atmosphere of fear in Madhya Pradesh. Here, the anti-conversion law is used to harass and intimate. Ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state is seriously jeopardising freedom of religion."

* Youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a Hindu ultra-nationalist organisation.