Friday, July 22, 2005

Christian Couple Arrested Under the Freedom of Religion Act in Madhya Pradesh

By Vijayesh Lal

Bhanwarkuan, Indore - A Christian couple was detained by RSS activists and later arrested last evening. At the time of writing this report the couple was in police custody and was presented in the court in front of the district magistrate, where they await their bail.

20th July 2005 - Jagdish and Grace (Saraswati) Nayak belonging to the Banjara tribe and independent Christian workers were visiting Christians in Jeet Nagar in Indore, when Dharmendra Chaterjee the local RSS activist gathered people from the neighborhood and accused the couple of alluring him and his family to convert to Christianity in return for favors like education, health and other facilities.

Bhagwanti Bai, the neighbor of Dharmendra also gave a similar complaint and affirmed that she too had been offered money and facilities like education and health by the couple, in return for her promise to adopt the Christian religion. The couple Dharmendra alleged had also promised him money for his family wedding.

The couple was detained by the neighbors of Dharmendra and Bhagwanti Bai together with the activists of the Dharma Raksha Samiti (Religion Protection Committee) and the RSS (Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh). They were threatened during this time and questioned.

Soon the police got this information and a team from Bhanwarkuan police station reached the spot and brought the couple and the mob that had formed by then to the police station. The mob was lead by RSS leader Rajendra Chandel and the office bearers of Dharma Raksha Samiti.

In the police station Dharmendra alleged that he had been allured by the couple to accept Christianity and renounce Hinduism. The police arrested the couple under the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 1968) articles 3, 4 and 5.

Article 3 of the Freedom of Religion Bill says, “Prohibition of forcible conversion - No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means not shall any person abet any such conversion.”

The Bill also lists out definitions for allurement, conversion, and force wherein

"Allurement" means offer of any temptation in the form of-

(i) Any gift of gratification either in cash or kind.
(ii) Grant of any material benefit either monetary or other wise.

(b) "Conversion" means renouncing one religion and adopting another;

(c) "Force" shall include a show of force or a threat of injury of any kind including threat of divine displeasure or social excommunication;

If convicted the couple will be punishable with imprisonment with may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees or with both. Since a woman (Bhagwanti Bai) is also involved as complainant the punishment may extend to two years and a fine up to ten thousand rupees.

The correspondent spoke to the Police Inspector of Bhanwarkuan Police station, Mr. Parihar and he dismissed the complaint of the complainant, suggesting instead that it was a planned move of the Dharma Raksha Samiti and the RSS against the couple.

Parihar informed Compass that the couple had been visiting Jeet Nagar for some time now for the purpose of praying for people. It was recently that two people in Jeet Nagar, accepted Christianity and it was widely perceived that it happened because of the visit of this couple and that is why they were targeted by the RSS.

Mr. Praihar added that Christian missionaries like the Nayaks only go to pray for people when they are invited and keep away otherwise. He was confident that the couple will be awarded bail by the court.

The issue of conversions has once again come into the limelight with the issue of a government report by the former director-general of police Narendra Prasad on the Jhabua violence.

The report clearly blames the conversions in the Jhabua district for the violence against Christians. It raises an alarm at the number of conversions taking place without going into the fact whether the conversions were by force or fraud. The report seems to treat conversion to another faith, a constitutionally guaranteed fundamental right, as a sin against society.

Following the report the Chief Minister of the state Mr. Babulal Gaur has come out with a proposal to amend the present state Freedom of Religion Act with intent to make religious conversions more difficult.