The freedom to practice one's faith for minorities is increasingly under attack in Yogi Adityanath’s rule. The Christians living in Uttar Pradesh are the worst affected. While the Hindutva activists are free to convert/reconvert people, practitioners of Christianity and Islam are being constantly attacked for practising their faith and talking about it in public.
More than a dozen incidents of attack on Christians by the Right wing Hindu groups have been reported recently from different parts of the State. Interestingly, in all these incidents police is working as henchmen to the Hindutva groups.
A local Pastor from the Sardhana area of Meerut, Dipendra Prakash Malewar was brutally attacked and beaten by workers of Bajrang Dal and VHP— affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh— in the premise of a local court in Sardhana. The pastor, who was accompanied by his advocate, was thrashed by the Hindutva workers and handed over to the police. They snatched affidavits of seventeen Hindu families who wanted to convert to Christianity. Instead of taking action against the attackers, the local police arrested the pastor for “illegal and forcible conversion”.
The VHP and Bajrang Dal workers accused the Pastor of “forcibly converting” the local Hindus and threatened him against living in the area. Later the investigation conducted by local Non-Governmental organisations showed that the families wanted to convert of their own will and Pastor Malewar only wanted to make legal affidavits to avoid allegations of “forcible conversion”.
Many families for whom the Pastor was making the affidavits in the Sardhana court on Friday later told NewsClick that no one pressurised them to convert.
Sanjeev, whose name, aadhar card, and signature were found on the affidavit, said that he has started practising Christianity.
“We did not have a single child for the past 12 years. One of my relatives suggested that I might be blessed with a baby if I associate myself with Lord Jesus. For the last six years I have been going to the local Church in Sardhana and I have been blessed with three children”, said Sanjeev, a resident of Mansoorpur in the Sardhana sub-division of Meerut.
“All of my children have Christian names. I visit the Sardhana Church every Sunday. I want to make it very clear that there was no pressure or allurement of any kind from any Christian missionary or Pastor on me or my family to convert. Me and my family converted to Christianity out of our own will,” he added.
Similarly, other families on whose behalf the Pastor Malewar was preparing the affidavit told NewsClick that they regularly go to the local epiphany Church. The priest of the local epiphany Church, Nirmal Jacob told the media that there was no pressure on anyone to convert to Christianity.
“A large number of people visit the Church on Sundays. All of them are associated with the Church without any pressure or allurement,” Jacob said.
The seventeen Hindu families who wanted to convert to Christianity are residents of Sardhana and Khatauli, the two Assembly constituencies represented by BJP leaders Sangeet Som and Vikram Saini. Both of the MLAs, who are also accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots and who were detained under the stringent National Securities Act by the previous State government, are known for their anti-minorities views and have been in controversy for their hate speeches.
Mr. Saini told NewsClick that he will ensure that the police investigates “illegal and unlawful forcible conversion of the local Hindus by Christian missionaries.”
“Forcible conversion of Hindus is an extremely serious issue. Some Christian missionaries were trying to convert local Hindus by offering them money and other forms of allurement. But thankfully they could not be successful in their illegal and unholy attempts. I have asked the local police administration to be vigilant and arrest all those who are into such illegal activity.” he said.
Interestingly, the Christian organisations told NewsClick that every citizen of India has the Constitutional right to choose and practice the faith h/she wanted.
Pramod Singh from Christian Legal Association (CLA), a nationwide group which intervenes in cases of violation of religious rights of Christians, told NewsClick that the Hindu Right in India always opposed the rights of the people to choose their faith as per their wish. “Incidents of attacks on Christians and arresting them on the basis of allegations of forcible conversion has increased”, he said.
“The last time I checked, India was still a Constitutional democracy which granted every citizen the right to choose the faith they want to practice. The Hindutva ideology never liked this freedom because it enabled the local Hindus to convert if they wanted to. They do not have a problem if some Christian or Muslim wanted to convert to Hinduism, but they start their hue and cry if a Hindu wants to convert to another faith. Hence they always use the phrase ‘illegal or forcible conversion’ of Hindus. They never acknowledge this as the Constitutional right of a Hindu to choose a faith of their choice,” Singh said.
“In this case, the local Pastor of Sardhana was getting the affidavits made with the signature of the people who wanted to convert, only as a precaution. So that everything is legal. Otherwise even the affidavits were not needed for anyone to convert in UP,” he added. He said that CLA was preparing a memorandum to be sent to the local officials of Sardhana and Meerut protesting against the attack on the Christian minorities in the State.
“Often in States like UP, when we approach the authorities asking why they arrested the Christians instead of arresting the Hindutva goons who attacked them, they tell us that the mob was aggressive and Christians were arrested to ensure their protection and safety from the mob. By giving this twisted logic, the officials in a way admit that it was a mob rule and the rule of law has no control,” he added.
Such incidents are prominent especially ahead of Christmas. Singh reminded that last year in December, a group of Christians were arrested by the police after they were found to be praying inside their house in a Mathura village. They were accused of “forcible conversion” of people in the Irauli Gurjar village of Mathura. All of them were later granted bail by the Additional Sessions Judge of Mathura, Amar Pal Singh, who scolded the police for lack of evidence in the case and said that India was a secular country which granted people the right to follow any faith as per their will.
Also Read: History of Attacks on Christians by the Right Wing in India
“The prosecution story does not mention who was converted and what was offered in lieu of conversion...No material evidence like money or anything which could be used to lure people for conversion, was recovered by the police. There is no independent witness,” Amar Pal Singh observed while granting bail to the seven individuals.
“I have studied the case diary...There is no evidence that proves that the accused were forcibly trying to convert people. India is a secular country. People are free to follow any faith as per their will. There is no evidence in the case diary to show that the unity and integrity of the country was being affected,” observed the judge.
Similarly, two weeks ago, seven people were arrested from the Nawabganj area in Bahraich after some local residents alleged that a man was forced to convert to Islam. However, Brijmohan of Shivnagra village, the person who wanted to convert, said he embraced Islam on his own volition to marry a Muslim woman. The arrested people were still in jail.
Interestingly, it goes without mentioning that while followers of Islam and Christianity are being attacked, arrested, and prosecuted for following their faith and talking about it in public, Hindutva groups’ attempt to convert Christians and Muslims have gotten a renewed push and encouragement under the Yogi Adityanath government.
Also Read: Campaigns Against Muslims and the Facts
A month after Yogi took oath as the CM, three incidents of “ghar wapsi” were reported from eastern UP. Nineteen Muslims, who were residents of Ambedkar Nagar were converted in April last year, while another 24 were converted on May 20 in Faizabad. Local Hindutva activists told NewsClick that in the atmosphere of uncertainty among the minorities, RSS affiliates like VHP and Dharam Jagaran Manch have found a renewed vigour under the Yogi Adityanath administration to push for their program of conversion of Muslims and Christians- “Ghar Vapsi”.