India: Police arrest evangelical Christians on 'forced conversion' charges

Christians gather to appeal to Hindus to stop persecuting them and for the Indian government to crack down on Hindu radicals.Reuters

Police in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have arrested three evangelical Christians, accusing them of forced conversion and insulting Hindu religious sentiment.

Rev V A Anthony, of the Brethren Assembly Church in Satna, his wife Prabha and another woman were arrested after leading prayers in the nearby town of Aber.

According to Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians the three are innocent of the charges. He told AsiaNews they were "detained based on false allegations of forced conversions".

Three men filed a complaint against Anthony and the two women, saying they had been induced to convert by the offer of a secure job. They also alleged that the Christians had torn up an image of Hindu deities.

According to AsiaNews, some villagers have reported that during the arrests the police were accompanied by Hindu nationalists including Laxmi Yadav, a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Backward Classes Commission.

Yadav had filed a complaint three weeks ago against another evangelical, Rev Sam Samuel, and along with members of the youth wing of a Hindu ultra-nationalist organisation had stopped a Christian wedding in the city of Kolgawan, claiming that the bride was underage and that the couple had converted four years previously without informing the authorities. Sajan George said on that occasion: "It is abuse of anti-conversion laws, forced intrusion into a Christian place of worship by the Madhya Pradesh police and the arrest of innocent Christians."

Of the latest arrests he said: "Pentecostal and Evangelical Christians live in an atmosphere of fear in Madhya Pradesh. Here, the anti-conversion law is used to harass and intimate. Ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the state is seriously jeopardising freedom of religion."