India: 12 arrested for 'converting to Christianity'

Twelve people accused of converting to Christianity have been arrested and imprisoned in India, according to UCA news. 

The group – including a blind man, his wife and their three-year-old child – were arrested on 14 January during an evening meeting in Dahar village, Madhya Pradesh.

ReutersChristians in India have protested the lack of protection for religious minorities.

Seven of the 12 were released on bail on 17 January.

"We did not know why we were arrested and sent to jail," said one of the group, Janu Bai, after being released from prison. On the evening of their arrest they had gathered to celebrate Markar Sankrati, the Hindu harvest festival, she said.

A group of Hindu radicals surrounded the home of Shankar Singh, where the 12 had gathered, accusing them of converting to Christianity, before they "informed the police, who arrived and booked us," Singh told UCA news.

In Madhya Pradesh, religious conversion is restricted by state law, and it is a criminal offence to convert through force, allurement or fraudulent means. Conversion without informing the government is also punishable according to the law.

Bai said that although the group follow the teachings of Jesus, they had not converted to Christianity.

"There was no conversion activity and no attempt to convert anyone," Singh said. He suspected the arrests were a part of a conspiracy against him.

Describing his faith, Singh said he has "faith in Jesus and regularly pray[s] to him". "Experiencing the love of God", with the help of some ministers, had transformed his life, he added.

"Later I began to follow Jesus but am not a member of any church."

Richard James, of the Rashtriya Isai Mahasang, a Christian forum in Madhya Pradesh, said "police were hand in glove with the right-wing Hindu activists" who made the accusations of conversion.

They have been "unleashing a reign of terror against minority groups, especially Christians" since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party government took power more than a decade ago, he said.

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