02/05/2021, 16.28
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Taking party in a public prayer appears to be a crime in India

by Nirmala Carvalho

Father Babu Joseph, SVD, talks about the arrest of nine people who attended a service in Madhya Pradesh. “In a democratic country, citizens should have right to exercise their freedom of worship,” but sadly, he laments, this “seems to be on the decline in India.”

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Nine people who took part in a meeting organised by the Sat Prakashan Sanchar Kendra, a Catholic non-profit, were arrested after people affiliated with the Bajrang Da, the youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad, stormed its headquarters in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, on 26 January.

“Arresting a group of people who were peacefully participating in a public prayer meeting based on an unsubstantiated complaint by certain hardcore organisations is nothing short of travesty of justice,” said Sat Prakashan Sanchar Kendra’s director, Father Babu Joseph, SVD.

In his view, “As a matter of justice and fairness those who trespassed the property and created a ruckus should have been booked but then they are protected because of their political patronage.” Instead, “innocent people are incarcerated for no crime they have committed.”

“Is participating in a public prayer a crime in this country?” asks Fr Joseph. “If so, a satsang (spiritual discourse) organised by a sadhu or a sant should also come under a cloud of suspicion. In a democratic country, citizens should have right to exercise their freedom of worship,” but sadly, this “seems to be on the decline in India.”

On the basis of the Madhya Pradesh’s new anti-conversion law, police arrested the parents of a woman and seven other people for allegedly forcing her to embrace Christianity.

Police station in-charge Santosh Kumar Dudhi said that the 25-year-old woman's complaint says that her parents, under the pretext of taking her to her grandmother's home, took her to a Christian community centre in Indore for a prayer meeting.

“Some women pulled my hands and legs and beat me up there (at the centre). I was forced to sit in a hall. I was born a Hindu and I practice the same religion ... but my mother and those present forced me to leave my religion,” says the First Information Report (FIR) filed at the police by the woman, who is from Gujarkheda, a village near Indore.

Based on her complaint, police on Tuesday registered a case under the relevant provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act against her parents and the people present at the meeting held on Republic Day.

"Nine people, including the woman's parents, have been arrested and we are searching for two other accused," said the police officer.

"The  Madhya Pradesh state government promulgated the Freedom of Religion Ordinance in 2020”. It “provides for 10 years in jail in some cases if the accused is found guilty of conversion through fraudulent means,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

“The new draconian anti-conversion legislation is a tool for majority vigilante groups to make false complaints and harass the small Christian community.” The law “is deliberately misused by right-wing groups and vested interests to exploit existing communal tensions in which Christians are a minority,” George added.

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