Pressure rises on Indian Christian community as prayer meetings come under police control
January 8, 2021
Indian police in Shahjahanpur district in the state of Uttar Pradesh were tasked with monitoring prayer meetings after five Christians were accused of attempting to “illegally” convert people to Christianity.
The order was issued by a regional police commissioner after five Christians were brought to authorities by members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), an outright Hindu group.
Christians have reportedly violated Uttar Pradesh’s prohibition of illegal conversion of religion, which came into effect in November 2020. New anti-conversion law prohibits “conversion of religion by: force, misrepresentation , abuse of influence and allure, or fraud, or marriage. ”It also prohibits“ encouraging, convincing and conspiring to such conversions ”.
The instructions given to the police stations were to be aware of the prayer meetings in their neighborhood and to “act strictly when they are perfectly sure that the conversion is being done under the cover of prayer”.
The allegations have been disputed by Christians. Local church leader Harold D’Cuhna said: “This is just an allegation from the fanatic groups and if they are sure they will prove it. People are free to express their opinions in a democratic country. He added that the church’s normal charitable activities are misinterpreted as “an attraction to conversion.”
An Indian Christian leader told the Barnabas Fund that incidents of accusation of illegal conversion are often “created to threaten and stop regular worship activities through intimidation.” The contact added, “Christian prayer meetings that have been going on for many years without too much disruption are being targeted… There is a pattern here and it needs to be exposed.
The regional police commissioner also referred to two other cases of “illegal” conversion in which the defendants were Muslims. The implication was that Muslim prayer meetings could also be monitored by the police.
Since 1978, religious freedom laws have been introduced in several Indian states. Despite their name, they are indeed anti-conversion laws prohibiting the use of force, fraud or lure in conversion. Their vague terms make Christians actively sharing their faith vulnerable to false accusations.