Indian pastor, 4 others arrested on false charges of forced conversions

india church, delhi
An Indian man walks outside a deserted church, as India remains under an unprecedented extended lockdown due to COVID-19 on May 5, 2020, in Delhi, India. |

Police in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state arrested a pastor and four other Christians under the “anti-conversion” law while they were holding a prayer meeting after members of a radical Hindu nationalist group disrupted the gathering and filed a false complaint.

Pastor Richard Benjamin and four believers, who attended the prayer meeting in a Christian's home in Faizabad district’s Jharuva village, spent five days in jail before being released on bail on Sept. 14, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern reported Sunday.

“This is the third time I was put into jail in the last 10 years,” the pastor was quoted as saying. “The five days I spent in jail were difficult as we couldn’t get enough food and the jailer gave us a lot of work. I fainted a couple of times due to the lack of food.”

During the prayer meeting on Sept. 10, five activists from the radical Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal forced themselves into the house, claiming the Christians were “forcibly” converting people. They filed a police complaint leading to the arrest of the five.

Police officers initially wanted to release Pastor Benjamin and the four others, but local politicians pressured them to book the Christians under the state’s recently enacted anti-conversion law, sources told ICC.

Uttar Pradesh

ICC says it has documented at least 30 incidents of Christian persecution in Uttar Pradesh since the enactment of the anti-conversion law in December 2020.

The law, which presumes that Christian workers “force” or give financial benefits to Hindus to convert them to Christianity, 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 “inducement.”

Christians make up about 2.5% of India’s population, while Hindus comprise 79.5%.

Several Indian states have similar anti-conversion laws. 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 ICC previously noted that India’s own 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.”

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