Archbishop Machado: Many are challenging the anti-conversion law
“Legal luminaries, eminent intellectuals, are questioning the legal validity of this ordinance, which touches the core of the constitution,” the prelate said. A pastor and some faithful are beaten and arrested.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Last Sunday, a gang of Bajrang Dal men attacked a Christian clergyman in Shahjahanpur, a district in the State of Uttar Pradesh, during a prayer meeting.
According to The Hindu newspaper, Rev David, who hails from Tirunelveli in Kerala and a group of local people, including women and children, had gathered in a garden for prayer to mark the first Sunday of the New Year when men stormed the premises and disrupted the activity.
After the Bajrang Dal members filed a complaint, local police charged the pastor and four others under the new anti-conversion law.
“This is a special ordinance,” said Archbishop Felix Machado of Vasai, but “there is a groundswell of public opinion against it. “Legal luminaries, eminent intellectuals, are questioning the legal validity of this ordinance, which touches the core of the constitution”,
For the prelate, who is also general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), “A few national and local influential newspapers are questioning this ordinance and even the procedures by which it was passed.
“Reputed newspapers are analysing the new ordinance. In fact a group of over a hundred retired civil servants wrote to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath demanding immediate withdrawal of the anti-conversion ordinance.”
Speaking about his run-in with the Bajrang Dal, Rev David told The Hindu that “They beat us with lathis (long bamboo sticks) while dragging us on the street, where they also made us squat in the murga position.”
Murga means rooster and is a stressful form of corporal punishment in which the victim is forced to squat and then loop the arms behind the knees and firmly hold the ears through the legs.
Rev David explained that the Bajrang Dal men forced them to shout slogans like ”Jai Shri Ram” and insult Jesus. “They said if we don’t, they would kill us and then they start hitting us. Later they called the police.” Two women, including a minor, were injured.
The gang hauled David and four others to the Kotwali police station where they filed a case against them under Sections 3 and 5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020.
According to the First Information Report (FIR), the complaint was lodged by one Ram Lakhan Verma, Bajrang Dal city convenor, who alleges that the accused were holding a prayer meeting “to lure the attendants into converting to Christianity by promising jobs and free education for their children.”
The report names Rev David, his associate Jagan – who had come to visit him from Kanyakumari – and three local people – Rajat and Ajay, who are Dalit, and Shyamji Gupta, on whose property the event was taking place.
Rev David dismissed the allegation of luring people to convert them, saying that the people voluntarily participated in prayer services.
“I myself live in Kanshiram Colony (established for the urban poor). Whom can I provide with a job when I myself live in a state of poverty? How can I pay someone else?” asked the pastor, who has two children to feed.
According to the FIR, the complainant, Verma, admitted that Bajrang Dal workers attacked the participants at the event: “When we reached the place, we beat them up,”[*] he said.
Rev David claimed that Bajrang Dal workers threatened him with Ghar Wapasi (literally Homecoming), a ceremony used by right-wing Hindu organisations to forcibly convert members of religious minorities to Hinduism.
Police said they seized religious books and sound systems.
“The arrests were made on the basis of evidence,” said Shahjahanpur Kotwali Station House Officer Parvesh Singh. “This case also has three Hindus named in it. We are investigating them, whether they are Hindus or not.”
On Tuesday, Rev David and eight others approached the Shahjahanpur Superintendent of Police to file a case against Verma and two other Bajrang leaders, Dal Shyam Mishra and Rajesh Awasthi, for assault, abuse, and insulting their holy book.
This incident is not the first of its kind. Earlier in December, three people were arrested in Uttar Pradesh’s Azamgarh district under the state’s new anti-conversion law, police said Tuesday.
Balchandra, Gopal Prajapati and Neeraj Kumar were also arrested in Deeh Kauthaul village on Sunday, Deedargaj Station House Officer Sanay Kumar Singh said.
The three men came to the village and allegedly organised a meeting at the home of one Tribhuvan Yadav to convert people to Christianity, the police officer said.
A villager, Ashok Yadav, informed the police, following which the arrests were made under the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020, he said.
According to the ordinance, “No person shall convert, either directly or indirectly from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage nor shall any person abet, convince or conspire such conversion.”
What is more, the onus to prove that the conversion was not done forcibly lies with the person accused of the act and the convert.