They were celebrating the birthday of one of their children when neighbours called police., who arrested them after finding Christian religious texts in their possession. For Fr Vineet Pereira, the problem is “community polarization”. First application for bail was denied.
Lucknow (AsiaNews) – Police in Uttar Pradesh arrested six women on conversion charges when they were attending a birthday party in Maharajganj, Azamgarh district.
Police found some religious texts with the women, who are currently held in Azamgarh district jail.
According to the preliminary investigation, one of the women, Indrakala, from the village of Pipri in Kaptanganj, organised a birthday party for her son last Sunday inviting local families.
Eventually, some residents went to police to complain that the get-together was designed to force people to convert.
When police arrived, they found copies of Christian religious texts and other documents, and proceeded to arrest six women: Indrakala, Subhagi Devi, Sadhana, Samata, Anita and Sunita.
"One of the women is disabled, one is a widow with three young children, and one is single,” said Fr Vineet Pereira, a Catholic priest from the Diocese of Varanasi, who spoke to AsiaNews.
"It's all about politics,” he explained. “The situation in Uttar Pradesh is such that no Christian can hold prayer services at home, this at a time when we will celebrate India's 75th year of independence.”
“Not only are we not free to worship Jesus, but we are even prevented from celebrating a social event like a birthday,” the clergyman lamented.
This is due do “communal polarisation in Uttar Pradesh" that "has sown seeds of suspicion in the minds of people, while before everyone lived in peace and harmony and celebrated each other’s festivals.”
"Having religious material in one’s home is not a criminal offence or an illegal act," the priest stressed. "How can this be used as a pretext to accuse others of conversion?”
The six women were indicted under sections 504[*] and 506[†] of the Indian Penal Code, and 3/5 of the Uttar Pradesh's Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Ordinance.
“Sub Inspector Kamlesh Yadav of the Maharajganj police station was in the vicinity with other staff when he learnt that some women were pushing impoverished villagers to convert to their religion,” said Police Superintendent Siddharth Kumar. “The police have initiated a detailed investigation into the case.”
An initial application for bail was rejected. A second one is scheduled for 16 August. The six women now can only hope to be released soon to be reunited with their families.
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[*] Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace.
[†] Punishment for criminal intimidation.