India: Pentecostal pastor mobbed for 'converting people'

ReutersChristians have protested against increasing persecution in India, despite government pledges to protect religious minorities.

A Pentecostal pastor in India had to be rescued by police after being surrounded by right-wing activists who had accused him of converting local people.

Pastor Lal Singh and another man known only as Idaram were bought to a police station in Barwani district following complaints by a local right-wing group. Activists had protested outside Idaram's house, where a prayer meeting was taking place, shouting anti-Christian slogans.

After the pastor and his colleague were taken to the police station, the protestors surrounded the building, forcing the authorities to detain the two men for longer.

"The [activists] were agitated and would have harmed the pastor had I released him,'' Head Constable Rameshwar Pande told The Indian Express.

The officer in charge of Rajpur Police Station, Asharam Varma, told the newspaper that the accusations of conversion were found to be false, and the men were not charged.

Five states in India currently have anti-conversion laws which state that those who wish to convert to another religion must first gain official permission. Religious leaders are also required by law to report conversions or risk a three-year jail sentence themselves.

However, a fifth of the population identify with religions other than Hinduism, and there have been increasing calls for the government to strengthen protections for minority groups.

Prompted by the urging of Barack Obama on a recent visit to India, in addition to a spate of church attacks in Delhi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to promote religious freedom.

"We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard," he said last month.

However, reports recently emerged of 20 Christian evangelists being harassed and beaten by police in Rajasthan state.

People's Union for Civil Liberties head Kavita Srivastava told the World Watch Monitor (WWM) that the Christians were detained in Jaipur after attempting to preach there on February 25. They were also allegedly beaten with sticks on their hands and wrists by policemen.