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In the shadow of the anti-conversion law

The police need to be fair and impartial, and any misuse of the law without concrete evidence should be dealt with with a heavy hand.
Last Updated : 24 December 2023, 19:30 IST

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Christmas will be a low-key affair in several homes this year. The violence in Manipur has dampened the celebratory mood that usually stretches through the month until the first week of January. The Indigenous Tribal Leader’s Forum, a conglomerate of various tribes in Churachandpur, has asked all Zo Kukis to do away with usual celebrations and to keep the festival low-key by just attending the Christmas service and not organising fellowship feasts in the church. With hundreds of Christians languishing in prisons in other parts of the country on alleged charges of conversion under the anti-conversion laws, their families and relatives too would be deprived of the joy of Christmas.

On December 14, 2017, a carol singing party was detained by police in Satna after a right-wing group accused them of conversions. According to the Catholic Bishop Conference of India, eight other priests of St Ephrem’s Theological College who went to the civil lines police station to inquire about the detention were also detained by the police while their vehicles were set on fire outside the police station.

Over 22,000 Christians gathered at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on February 19 this year to vent their anger and dismay over the incessant persecution of Christians across the country during the last nine years. Around 80 denominations of Christians from across the National Capital Region congregated in white shirts, symbolising peace, with black bands on their arms as a mark of protest against the unending atrocities against Christians. Despite the massive gathering, the protestors organised themselves in a peaceful manner while the speakers held the rostrum with appeals to the government to put an end to the violence perpetrated against their fellow brothers and sisters.

Hymns and prayers added an aura of piety and hope.

On March 1, a book stall run by Gideons International at the World Book Fair in the capital was vandalised by Vishwa Hindu Parishad miscreants for distributing free Bibles to the visitors. The officials of the stall, however, chose not to lodge a formal complaint with the police.

On June 4, a priest was manhandled by a group of 25 Hindu Sena men in Kherki Daula village of Gurugram, alleging that he was converting the locals. They took away the sacred books from the church and threatened the priest to close the church. The priest lodged an FIR with Kherki Daula police.

On August 23, five people were arrested by Kushi Nagar Police for allegedly persuading locals in Chandrashekhar Azad Nagar to convert to Christianity. Ramchandra Sahni, along with his associates, had been organising prayer meetings at his home, which were attended by other locals.

Such incidents of attacks on Christians have been on the increase in recent years, and Hindu fundamentalists are resorting to them with impunity. Such attacks on Christians propel them into the media spotlight, which promotes their political status.

According to the United Christian Forum, the number of violent incidents against Christians was 147 in 2014, which shot up to 177 in 2015, 208 in 2016, 240 in 2017, 292 in 2018, and 328 in 2019. The figure dipped the following year to 279, then increased drastically to 505 in 2021. As many
as 599 incidents were reported last year, while 687 incidents were registered until November this year, which translates to two incidents every day across the country.

With 287 incidents of violence against Christians, Uttar Pradesh tops the list, followed by 148 in Chhattisgarh, 49 in Jharkhand, 47 in Haryana, 35 in Madhya Pradesh, 21 in Karnataka, 18 in Punjab, 14 in Bihar, eight each in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Jammu and Kashmir, seven each in Rajasthan and Odisha, six each in Delhi and Maharashtra, four each in Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, and West Bengal, and one each in Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Chandigarh, and Daman and Diu.

In UP alone, 427 cases were registered against Christians for alleged conversions, and 833 people were arrested between January 1, 2021, and April 30, 2023. According to a government press release, in 185 cases, the victims had reportedly been forcibly converted. The redeeming feature is that 93 miscreants of Bajrang Dal were booked when they demolished a wall of a church under construction within a mission school premises in Akbarpur in Kanpur on June 24 this year. They were protesting against the construction of the church.

The worst-affected state this year was violence-hit Manipur, where nearly 200 people, the majority of them Kuki Christians, were killed and 249 churches were destroyed. Violence continues to rock the state, with no sign of abating in the immediate future.

The Tamil Nadu government had in May this year argued in the Supreme Court that there were no forcible and fraudulent religious conversions in the state and countered the petitioner’s plea that his claims of forcible conversions were “without any basis or proof.” The state maintained that by itself, there was nothing illegal if missionaries attempted to spread the Christian doctrine, but it ought to be “without intimidation, threats, deceit, allurement, superstition, or black magic.”

Two persons were arrested in Ambedkar Nagar district of UP on January 24 this year merely for distributing Bibles and tracts on the complaint of a BJP office bearer. After nearly eight months in prison, they were granted bail by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. While granting bail, Justice Ahmed stated, “Providing good teaching, distributing the Holy Bible, encouraging children to get education, organising assemblies of villagers, performing bhandaras, and instructing villagers not to enter into altercations and not to consume liquor do not amount to allurement under the 2021 Anti-Conversion Act.” Evidently, the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of
Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act 2021 is being misused to harass a community.  

In a letter to the prime minister, the Federation of Catholic Associations sought his attention to the draconian law that goes against the spirit of Article 25 and has been a source of harassment for the Christian community, many of whom are imprisoned for no valid reasons. The police need to be fair and impartial, and any misuse of the law without concrete evidence should be dealt with with a heavy hand.

(The writer is a retired Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF)

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Published 24 December 2023, 19:30 IST

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