Authorities in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh arrested seven pastors at a prayer meeting under the state’s “anti-conversion” law, which Christians have accused Hindu nationalists of using as a tool to persecute them.
The pastors were arrested during a prayer meeting they were holding in Mau district last Sunday, UCA News reported, adding that the pastors have been charged with “illegal assembly.”
The U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said this past weekend that the Christians remained in jail.
“We will move bail applications and are hopeful that they will be out of jail soon,” the pastors’ lawyer, Ashish Kumar, was quoted as saying.
The police initially also detained 50 worshipers but released them the same day. Two Catholic nuns who were at a bus stop near the prayer house were also held at the police station for several hours until the evening, said UCA News.
“Police wanted to book the sisters along with the pastors but let them go after the pastors and the faithful said they were not part of the prayer group,” Father Anand Mathew, a member of the Indian Missionary Society, was quoted as saying.
Uttar Pradesh is one of the several Indian states that have “anti-conversion” laws, which presume that Christians “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity.
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 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.”
The ICC previously noted that India’s population data proves that the conspiracy of mass conversions to Christianity is a false claim. “In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up only 2.3% of India’s overall population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still only make up 2.3% of the population.”
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.”
“Hindu extremists believe that all Indians should be Hindus and that the country should be rid of Christianity and Islam,” an Open Doors fact sheet on India explains. “They use extensive violence to achieve this goal, particularly targeting Christians from a Hindu background. Christians are accused of following a ‘foreign faith’ and blamed for bad luck in their communities.”