09/07/2023, 18.05
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Uttar Pradesh: Catholic prayer centre targeted over ‘conversions’

by Nirmala Carvalho

Police questioned people present at the Ishwar Dham, a prayer centre run by Fr Vineet Pereira after radical Hindus filed a complaint. The house is “open to all,” the priest said, especially “the poor and marginalised” without breaking any law. Meanwhile, India's Supreme Court dismissed a petition by Hindu nationalists on conversions.

Varanasi (AsiaNews) – Radical Hindus have once targeted Christians with the usual accusations of forced conversions, which are banned by a draconian law in Uttar Pradesh, a state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The latest case involves the Ishwar Dham, a prayer centre in Mau district run by a Catholic priest, Fr Vineet Pereira. As a result of a complaint, police visited the place today questioning those present.

"They filed a complaint against us for conversion activities on 1 September. The police called me on 2 September," said Fr Pereira speaking to AsiaNews.

“Right-wing radicals accuse me of converting innocent vulnerable people to Christianity,” he explained. A few days ago, “the prayer centre was pelted with stones and videos were posted on social media accusing us of conversion activities.”

Back in 2018, Fr Pereira was arrested in Varanasi on charges of "rioting" and "unlawful assembly", beaten and then released.

“Ishwar Dham is a house of prayer, open to all. People come to find comfort in preaching and worship. Here they find solidarity,” the priest said.

"I convert no one. I only announce the Good News of Jesus’s love for everyone; this attracts people, especially the poor and marginalised who suffer discrimination and oppression in their lives.”

Fr Pereira is adamant. “There is absolutely no conversion activity at Ishwar Dam. We know the state law and we have not violated any clause.”

Meanwhile, India's Supreme Court yesterday dismissed a petition by Hindu nationalists calling on the central government to take action against fraudulent religious conversions, particularly of Hindus and minors who, according to the plaintiffs' lawyer, are specifically targeted.

A bench composed of Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra, heard the case. In the end, they questioned the nature of the petition.

"If there is a live challenge and someone is prosecuted, we can entertain. But what kind of PIL (public interest litigation) is this? PIL has become a tool and everyone is coming up with petitions like these," Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

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