Visually Impaired Couple, 11 Other Pentecostals Jailed for 'Forced Conversions' in India

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: Reuters/Jayanta Shaw)School children listen to a speech by a Christian leader during a protest rally in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata August 29, 2008.

A judge in central India has sentenced 13 Christians, including a visually-challenged couple and five women, to six months' rigorous imprisonment for trying to "convert" aboriginal people to Christianity by offering them "inducements."

Balu Kesu and his wife Bhuri are handicapped and have a 5-year-old child, and seven of the other accused are daily-wagers from Madhya Pradesh state, according to The Indian Express, which said they were all arrested in January 2016.

The complainant, identified only as Govind from Dhar district, claimed the Christians told him they were Hindus but had converted to Christianity. "If you too convert to Christianity, we will provide you food, medicine and help you encroach government land because your gods and goddesses are feeble," the complainant alleged he was told.

Defense attorney Kamlesh Patidar told the court there were discrepancies and procedural lapses in the investigation, but the judge, a Judicial Magistrate First Class, refused to give any concession to the accused.

Madhya Pradesh, governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has an "anti-conversion" law in place which effectively seeks to restrict religious conversions away from Hinduism or tribal faiths. On paper, the legislation claims to ban conversion by the use of force, fraud or inducement, but these terms are defined loosely to include social work, praying for the sick or even evangelism.

Christians are routinely accused of "forcible" conversions across the country, especially in states where similar anti-conversion laws are in force.

Christian persecution, which includes violent attacks, destruction of Christian property and false accusations, has risen since the Hindu nationalist party won the general election in 2014.

In a recent report, a local partner of persecution watchdog Open Doors said, "When the Christians are beaten by the extremists, they receive injuries mostly on their heads or their vital body parts. The assaulters do not care if the person dies in the attack. They know that they will not be punished because the government (and hence the judiciary) will take their side. In most of the cases the assaulters go unpunished."

The governing party in India is connected with a Hindu nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, whose founder, M.S. Golwalkar, has said: "The non-Hindu people in Hindustan (referring to India) must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and revere Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but the glorification of the Hindu religion, that is they must not only give up their attitude of intolerance and ingratitude toward this land and its age-long tradition but must also cultivate the positive attitude of love and devotion instead; in one word they must cease to be foreigners or may stay in the country wholly subordinated to the Hindu nation claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment not even citizen's rights."