Thursday, June 08, 2006

Police Arrests a Woman in Jabalpur on Charges of Forced Conversion

By Vijayesh Lal

7th June 2006:

Police raided a Christian home in the Ranjhi area of Jabalpur city, Madhya Pradesh late last night and arrested the Christians present there. The police moved on an alleged complaint of one person who claims that he was offered money in order to become a Christian by Meera Bai, whose home the police later raided.

Meera Bai (52), resident of Uday Nagar, Ranjhi, Jabalpur, works in the Gun Carriage Factory at Jabalpur and has been a Christian for the last 17 years. She claims that after many years of being barren, she was blessed by a child because of the blessings of Jesus Christ and the prayers of the Christian community. This prompted her to accept the Christian faith and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ some 17 years ago. Since that time on she is attending Church regularly and practicing her faith.

Sukhdev alias Guddu Usram (19 years) is a neighbor of Meera Bai. Late last night he flied a complaint with the local police that Meera Bai had been counseling him and pressurizing him to become a Christian. He in his complaint said that he had been suffering with stomach ache for a long time and that Meera Bai had offered to pray for him and also told him to pray to Jesus Christ so that his pain will go away. He further stated that Meera Bai also took him to a healing meeting held regularly at Jabalpur by Pastor Munnu Kujur. He further alleged that Meera Bai had offered him 2000 Indian Rupees every month if he became a Christian.

Acting on his complaint some 20 – 25 policemen raided the home of Meera Bai at about 10:00 pm on the 6th June 2006. The family had guests at that time and they had just finished dinner. The names of the guests are Satish and Leela Bai. Meera Bai along with her guests and her son was taken to the police station, where they found members of the Dharma Sena, a Hindu fundamentalist organization, waiting for them in large numbers. The police also confiscated Bibles and pictures of Jesus Christ from Meera Bai's home.

Dharma Sena has been responsible for a large number of false cases and attacks against Christians in the near past. The Dharma Sena was led by Yogesh Agarwal, who, in the presence of the police, threatened Satish and Leela Bai, that he will burn them alive. "Yet the police did nothing," Meera Bai told us, "The police only said, 'don't panic at least he has not burned you now'". Yogesh Agarwal has long been responsible for troubling and attacking the Christian community.

After registering a case against Meera Bai under the Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhinitam 1968, the police let them go on a bail bond of 5000 Indian Rupees.

When we spoke to Meera Bai, she informed us of the scene inside the Police station. She said, "As soon as we reached there, the Dharma Sena people led by Yogesh Agarwal started shouting slogans against Christians and started threatening us in front of the police, who laughed and cooperated with the goons. The Dharma Sena people were openly spreading hate against Christians saying that Christians should be kicked with shoes and killed."

"While we were there, many phone calls came pressurizing the police to register a case against us by hook or by crook. When the police expressed their inability to register a strong case against us, they brought in Guddu. But even he did not say anything; they just took his signatures on a paper." She continues, "The police even forced us to sign on blank papers and since we had no alternative, we did so. The papers are now with the police and they can do anything with them against us."

The most interesting part of the story came later, when according to Meera Bai, Guddu i.e. Sukhdev, the main complainant came to her house and told them that even he was forced to register a complaint against Meera Bai. "He said that he was having his food when Dharma Sena people along with police men came to his house, took him away forcibly and forced him to give a statement against me." Meera Bai explained.

We spoke to the Police Inspector Mr. Vajpayee of the Ranjhi police station and he seemed convinced about the charges of conversion against Meera Bai. He even seemed to hint that the Dharma Sena led by Yogesh Agrawal was doing a fine job and a service to the society. He however added that evidence against Meera Bai was scant and that they could not recover anything from her house except Bibles and pictures of Jesus Christ, but continued to say that there was "…a Christian conspiracy in the area facilitating conversions."

Jabalpur, located in the heart of India, is fast becoming a lab for Hindutva elements to trouble the Christian community. Since January this year there have been close to 15 incidents of attacks and false cases against Christians in the city.

Recently Pastor Peter Lal was troubled by the same elements and a false complaint was sent against him. Pastor Rajesh Choudhary too faced the ire of the local police when they arrested him at about midnight some days back. Though he is bailed out, he says that the police continue to harass him. The police had forced him to submit all his personal financial accounts to them for verification. They keep asking him, "Where do you get money from?"

This is not without significance. In the whole of North and Central India the Christian community has a major presence in Jabalpur and according to Rev. Cyril Cornelius, the Executive Director of CARAVS - a Christian media organization based in Jabalpur, "This is a systematic attempt to provoke the community. But the Church has not retaliated and has not taken the bait which the Hindutva groups are offering. This is also sign which the Hindutva elements want the Church in India to see - If we can harm you in Jabalpur we can do so anywhere in the North and Central India."

Mrs. Indira Iyengar, member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minority Commission has expressed her anger and anguish over the situation in Jabalpur. "This is a systematic attempt by the administration and the Fundamentalists to trouble innocent Christian in Jabalpur." she says.