Christians in the district of Simdega, Jharkhand state, India were arrested on charges of conversion on 29 May.
Local monitoring sources
have informed CSW that the charges are false, and that this is a case of collusion between the local police and villagers.
Two of the accused, Ms
Sumanti Kumari and Mr Rupash Manjhi, both Christians, were scheduled to be married in the village of Podkher, Jharkhand state, on 30 May, when the local villagers and some from neighbouring villages
voiced their opposition to the Christian ceremony.
While the couple sought
the help of the police at Bolba police station, the villagers brought the girl’s father to the police and alleged that the couple had forcefully tried to convert him. The police then contacted their
pastor, Sudarshan Manjhi, and requested that he present himself at the station to conduct the marriage. However, when he arrived there with his assistant, a First Information Report (FIR) was
registered against the pastor, his assistant and the couple. They were charged under Section 4 of the Jharkhand Freedom of Religion Act 2017, which criminalises religious conversion.
The Christians have been
remanded in prison. If found guilty, they face up to three years imprisonment or a fine of fifty thousand rupees (about £560) or both. This is the first reported arrest under Jharkhand’s Freedom of
Religion Law came into force on 11 September 2017, the seventh Indian state to introduce such legislation.
This case follows another
in West Singhbum district, Jharkhand State, in which 11 Christians were accused of converting the local community in Manoharpur. Local monitoring groups have said that the complainant was the
President of Ho Samaj Mahasabha, an organization that is closely associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which espouses a Hindu nationalist ideology. The 11 men have not been arrested while
the police investigate further. Their case is due to be heard on 2 June.
The Chief Minister of
Jharkhand, Raghuvar Das has been known to make
vitriolic statements about Christians and threatened to imprison anyone involved in sharing their religion or belief.
Ramnath Purti, a social
activist from the district of Chaibasa, Jharkhand Sate, told CSW that “the recent false cases and charges,
which have led to several Christians being put in prison, has created a lot of fear among the Christian community. Most of the people who were falsely accused are just laymen. The government is
clearly on over-drive with anti-Christian propaganda to terrorise not just Christians but other minorities in Jharkhand.”
CSW’s Chief Executive
Mervyn Thomas said “India’s Freedom of Religion laws, as
we see in Jharkhand state, do not uphold freedom of religion or belief. By criminalising conversion, they impinge on individual choice. This contravenes the right to freedom of religion or belief as
articulated in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is signatory. We call on the government to drop the charges against these
Christians and repeal this legislation which gives the authorities arbitrary powers to investigate religious conversions and is being misused. We also call on law enforcement agencies in Jharkhand to
discharge their duties without bias.”