Indian Christian couple arrested before wedding over complaint of 'forcible conversion'

People take part in a religion conversion ceremony from Christianity to Hinduism at Hasayan town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. August 29, 2014.Reuters/Adnan Abidi

A Christian couple who were about to get married were reportedly arrested at the wedding venue in India's Jharkhand state two weeks ago after the bride's father accused them of forcible conversion.

According to Morning Star News, the bride and groom were arrested by the police on May 28 while they were preparing for the wedding following a complaint from the bride's father.

The father, Somaru Manjhi, accused the couple of assaulting him and threatening to kill him if he refused to convert to Christianity.

The couple have been charged under the state's new anti-conversion law. Somaru Manjhi's 18-year-old daughter, Tripti, said that everyone in her family had converted to Christianity, except for her father. She claimed that Somaru wanted her sister, Sumanti Kumari, who was baptized in 2012, to marry a tribal Sarna but she wanted to get married to 28-year-old Rupesh Manjhi, who was allegedly shunned by his family after he accepted Christ.

Tripti defended her sister and Manjhi, saying her father had filed a false complaint because the villagers did not want a Christian wedding in the village.

Biyari Devi, the wife of the pastor who was supposed to officiate in the wedding, said that both the bride and groom hailed from Sarna families who converted to Christianity.

"Somaru Manjhi is my uncle also in relation. He has always been against Christ and the church since the house church was established in 2008. But he never became violent or aggressive with us until the question was about his daughter's marriage," she said, as reported by Morning Star News.

Tripti said that they are trying to convince Somaru to drop the charges but her father has reportedly said that he will only ask for help from village elders to secure the release of his daughter.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that the couple were the first to be arrested for alleged forcible conversion since the state's anti-conversion law was enacted in September 2017. They could face jail sentences of up to three years or a fine of 50,000 rupees (US$738) or both if convicted.

The couple's attorney said that the anti-conversion law has turned the family dispute into a nonbailable offense.

"The fact that an irrelevant law has been pulled in needlessly in a family dispute that could have simply arisen from difference of opinions between the members is unfortunate and must be condemned," said the attorney, speaking on the condition of anonymity, as reported by Morning Star News.

"It is very unfortunate police registered the FIR without enquiring or verifying into the matter under a law that contains harsh provisions," the attorney added.