A group of six Christians that included pastors were attacked, arrested, and sent to jail by a gang of radical Hindu nationalists in Central India.
Three Christian pastors in the Balaghat District of Madhya Pradesh in India were arrested and jailed on forced conversion charges on Wednesday, January 27. Pastor Mahendra, Pastor Chatter Singh, and Pastor Nathan were in the Bagoli village to attend a prayer meeting in a Christian home when an intrusion occurred, led by a gang of radical Hindu nationalists. This group took the three men, as well as three other Christians.
According to the International Christian Concern, the three pastors in jail were charged and arrested for violating the new anti-conversion law in Madhya Pradesh. However, the three other Christians were released from the police station following an intervention by locals who were also Christians. The three pastors in jail in India are now waiting for their appeal to the High Court, as their bail claims were rejected, Christian Today reported.
In January, Madhya Pradesh Governor Anandiben Patel approved the anti-conversion ordinance or "Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance 2020," which seeks to punish religious conversions that occur through fraudulent means. The Hindu reported that no individual is allowed to "convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person by use of misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat of force, undue influence, coercion or marriage or by any other fraudulent means."
The anti-conversion law was criticized for its stance against conversion and inter-faith marriages, Jurist reported. Madhya Pradesh Christian leader Pastor Lanjwar said in a conversation with International Christian Concern (ICC), "The situation is like a cyclone hitting the state. Most of the house churches in the rural areas are shut down due to fear of arrest or violent attack."
A local source who asked to remain anonymous for fear of speaking out said that what occurred in the village and the forced conversion charges filed by local police against the three pastors in jail are unrelated. However, it was indeed notable how the pastors were denied bail. The witness said that it "proves everyone involved in the case is complicit in sending the three pastors to jail."
The new anti-conversion law in India, which forces religious conversions to be approved by the state government and forced religious conversions are criminalized, is often abused by radical Hindu nationalists such as the ones who put three pastors in jail. The ordinance or a similar version of it is now being implemented in areas such as Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Himachal Pradesh, and Uttrakhand.
Nationalists are taking advantage of such laws to falsely claim that Christians are forcefully converting locals to Christianity as an excuse to harass and assault them, just as they did to the three pastors in jail facing forced conversion charges.
As of now, no convictions have been made from forced conversion charges, but only time will tell if the three pastors in jail will be released or allowed bail. A petition has been filed to challenge the constitutional validity of the anti-conversion law, which the government has yet to respond to.