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Two Nepali Christian couples detained for “forced conversions” in Bihar

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New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Indian police arrested two Nepali Christian couples after a group of Indians accused them of possible “forced conversions”.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that the Indian constitution guarantees the “right to freedom of conscience and to profess, practice and propagate religion.”

The couples, whose names have not been revealed, come from the Nepali town of Chiton Narayangarh and they had been in Muzaffarpur (Bihar) for about a month. During this period, the two couples were guests at a hotel in the Ahodia market area, but every day they visited a different part of the city, preaching Christianity, especially among the poor and the illiterate.

A local counsellor and his mother-in-law were the first to criticise the Nepalis and file a complaint against the two couples accusing them of converting people by fraudulent means, namely by enticing the poor to become Christians through promises. Six more people later joined the complainants in making the charge.

On 1st August, the Nepalis were taken into custody at Kaji Mohammedpur police station. The accused have rejected the allegation of using money to entice the poor to convert to Christianity. They say they only used their words, talking about Christianity and things written in the Bible.

For several years, laws have been in place in seven Indian states, banning conversions based on money promises or brainwashing. Jharkhand is the latest state to adopt such a law. Its new legislation does not prohibit conversions but imposes a lot of red tape to would-be converts.

Sajan K George is worried by the growing number of “Christians arrested under false charges of forced conversions”. In his view, things have gotten worse since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the Union level.

The BJP’s victory has had the effect of casting suspicions on conversions and evangelisation by Christian Churches. The case of Nepali couples is a case in point. The four people were indeed evangelising, but the charges of enticing the poor were not backed up by any evidence.

The GCIC president notes that “Article 25 (1) of the Indian Constitution says that ‘all persons’, not just Indian citizens, ‘are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion’.” Indeed, “Sharing the Good News is not an illegal or criminal act. To share the Gospel with others is not a crime. Yet they [the Nepalis] were arrested.”

“India is a multi-ethnic, multilingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural society with constitutional guarantees,” George notes. Sadly, “In our independent India, it is a great shame that Christians, a tiny 2.3 per cent of the population, live in a climate of fear and intimidation.”

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