Couple Arrested for Attempted Forced Conversion in India

Monday, August 8, 2005

Hindu villager asked for prayer, then accused Christians of enticing him to convert.

by Vijayesh Lal

NEW DELHI, August 4 (Compass) -- Two Christians in Madhya Pradesh, India, await their first appearance in court after Hindu villagers accused them of attempted forced conversion.

Jagdish and Grace Nayak were arrested on July 19 in Jeet Nagar village, Indore district. That day a villager named Dharmendra Chaterjee invited them to his house for prayer. As soon as they finished praying, Chaterjee called his neighbors into the house and accused the Nayaks of enticing his family to convert to Christianity in return for education, health care and other benefits, including money for a family wedding.

Chaterjee’s immediate neighbor, Bhagwanti Bai, also said the couple offered her help with education and healthcare in return for converting to the Christian faith.

The Nayaks were detained by villagers, including members of the Dharma Raksha Samiti (DRS, or Religious Protection Committee) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist group.

Police soon arrived and took the couple to the Bhanwarkuan police station. The mob followed, accompanied by RSS leader Rajendra Chandel and several key members of the DRS.

At the police station, Chaterjee repeated his accusations, and the police arrested the couple under articles 3, 4 and 5 of the 1968 Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam or Freedom of Religion Bill.

Article 3 states, “No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.”

The bill defines allurement as any offer or temptation in the form of financial gifts or other material benefits given to encourage a person to convert.

Conversion is defined as renouncing one religion and adopting another; while force is defined as a show of force or a threat of injury of any kind, including the threat of divine displeasure or social rejection.

If Chaterjee alone had lodged a complaint, the couple could have faced imprisonment of up to one year and/or a maximum fine of 5,000 rupees ($115) if convicted. But since one of the complainants, Bhagwanti Bai, is a woman, the punishment may be extended to two years imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of 10,000 rupees ($230).

The Nayaks were released on bail within 24 hours. The court has yet to schedule a date for the trial.

Police inspector Parihar of Bhanwarkuan station told Compass he believed that the complaint was a planned attempt by the DRS and the RSS to keep the Nayaks away from the village.

The couple often came to Jeet Nagar to pray with villagers, Parihar explained, but only when they received an invitation to do so. Two people in the village recently became Christians, a move which may have attracted the wrath of the RSS.

In addition, the state government has said the Freedom of Religion Bill will soon be amended to check conversion of tribal people to Christianity. The announcement came after a retired director-general of police, Narendra Prasad, submitted a report on May 21 claiming missionaries were forcibly converting large numbers of tribal people in the state.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct