India: Christians arrested for 'forcible conversion' while providing aid to the poor

Indian Catholic devotees offer the way of the cross prayers after an Ash Wednesday service at Saint Mary's Basilica in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on March 5, 2014. | AFP via Getty Images/Noah Seelam

Christians in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state were arrested on false charges of “forcible conversion” while providing food and other aid to the poor amid escalating persecution in the majority Hindu country.

Morning Star News reports that pastor Perumal Kanagaraj and about 30 young adults from Viluppuram Church of South India were serving the poor in the nearby slum area of Anumandai village when a member of the Hindu Munnani extremist group showed up and began shouting obscenities at them.

“The Hindu Munnani activist soon lost his cool and started beating the youth missionaries while he continued abusing them in extremely foul language,” Kanagaraj said. “Within no time the crowd started gathering, and he held us up there and was not letting us move.”

When the Christians began to call police, the Hindu nationalist told them he had already filed a police complaint against them.

“We told the person, ‘Brother, you don’t like it that we are coming here. It is fine. We will leave,’” but he threatened us, that if we left from the place we would be burnt alive," Kanagaraj told Morning Star News. “He was getting more and more aggressive.”

The police took the Christians into custody, where they physically abused and verbally berated the believers.

“They spoke ill about Christianity and slapped us as we stood there in the police station helplessly,” Kanagaraj added. “We requested that the police not lodge any cases against the [Christian] youths, fearing police cases would affect their careers.”

Hoping to incite violence, Marakkanam Inspector of Police Senthil Vinayagam spoke abusively to the Christians, telling them, “Instead of doing this work, send your wives to someone and earn money.’”

“The inspector was trying hard to incite the youths that they would respond equally aggressively to his words, but by God’s grace we did not fall into it,” Kanagaraj continued. “We remembered Jesus on the cross when the Hindu extremists and police were humiliating us using vulgar language, and we did not protest.”

Police released them with a warning that they should not be seen again attempting to convert people in the area, he said.

According to Kanagaraj, his church has been providing aid to the poor for three years. The grain, clothing, and flashlights his congregation provides are essential to the poor, who will now have to go without this aid.

Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA notes that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP party rose to power in 2014, India’s Christian minority has faced growing pressures over alleged forced conversions.

Eight out of 29 states in India have adopted anti-conversion laws that seek to prevent any person from converting or attempting to convert, either directly or otherwise, another person through “forcible” or “fraudulent” means, or by “allurement” or “inducement.” 

However, such laws are often used by Hindu extremists as an excuse to disrupt church services and harass Christians. 

In recent years, numerous reports have emerged regarding police brutality toward religious minorities in India. Illegal arrests and false criminal charges are among the most common forms of police harassment endured by Christians, emboldening Hindu militant groups to make false accusations against Christians.

In March, Christians in India’s Uttar Pradesh state were falsely accused of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity. As a result, they were brutally beaten by a drunken police officer who then ordered them to pose like Christ on the cross. 

In February, nine Christians were beaten by the police after being accused of “forceful conversion” in the town of Sathankulam, Thoothukudi District, in India’s Tamil Nadu state.

India is ranked 10th on Open Doors’ 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 80 percent of India's population is Hindu.

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