Police in India’s northern state of Himachal Pradesh arrested a Pentecostal pastor and two other Christians who were handing out evangelistic booklets and Bibles in villages after radical Hindu nationalists accused them of “forcibly” converting people, according to a report.
The Rev. Charlie John and two other Christians, Vishal and Keval Ram, were arrested last week after they distributed Christian literature and Bibles in Lalas village near Rampur city, Asia News reported.
“I only offered the Bible, and I gave it to those who freely accept the Good News,” Pastor John was quoted as saying. “If anyone refused, I didn't insist. We did not convert anyone; I'm even willing to offer the Bible, which is God's Word, even to the police.”
He added, “What we do is share the Good News with people, tell them about Jesus, without forcing anyone to convert. The accusations made against me are totally false; I have never offered money for the conversion of people.”
Himachal Pradesh is one of the several Indian states that have “anti-conversion” laws.
While some of these laws have been in place for decades in some states, no Christian has been convicted of “forcibly” converting anyone to Christianity. These laws, however, allow Hindu nationalist groups to make false charges against Christians and launch attacks on them under the pretext of the alleged forced conversion.
The law, which presumes that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity, states that no one is allowed to use the “threat” of “divine displeasure,” meaning Christians cannot talk about Heaven or Hell, as that would be seen as “forcing” someone to convert. And if snacks or meals are served to Hindus after an evangelistic meeting, that could be seen as an “inducement.”
In 2019, Himachal Pradesh amended its anti-conversion law to make it tougher. Violations are punishable with up to five years in prison.
Christians make up about 2.5% of India’s population, while Hindus comprise 79.5%.
India ranks as the 10th-worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA's 2021 World Watch List. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has urged the U.S. State Department to label India as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in or tolerating severe religious freedom violations.
Open Doors USA warns that since the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power in 2014, persecution against Christians and other religious minorities has increased.
The group reports that “Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences.”