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Compass Direct (05/04/06) – Police in Jabalpur , Madhya Pradesh state on Monday (May 1) colluded with Hindu extremists by having Christian “evidence” planted in a social worker’s personal bag in order to charge him with “forcible” conversion of children, sources said.

Also this week, Hindu extremists slapped a 60-year-old pastor for distributing Christian literature, and a young Christian man and Hindu woman were beaten for trying to get a marriage license.

Sunil Kumar Rao, a social worker for the Child Labour Project in the Gwarighat and Jilhari villages of Jabalpur , told Compass that police on Monday interrupted his class of 20 laborers’ children living in a slum area near the village railway station. Among his slates, books, play materials and the contents of his personal bag, they were unable to find any Christian materials that would incriminate him as someone they could charge with “forcible” conversion.

“This annoyed them, and they used abusive language and threatened to strip-search me,” he said. “They then searched my personal bag for other articles and warned me of dire consequences and said my intention was to convert these poor children of laborers to Christianity.”

After taking him to the Gwarighat police station, authorities retained his personal bag and other articles, he said. Eventually Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal (youth wing of the extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council) arrived, he said.

“Some Bajrang Dal people and some media persons reached there, and in front of them the police people took out some articles from my bag that were not found in the first check,” he said. “I do not know from where those things came.”

Rao said he was manhandled by Bajrang Dal youths and officials of the Gwarighat police station under the direction of Sub-Inspector Nalinkant Bhadoria.

The extremists then produced supposed witnesses, Puranlal Ahirwar and Dharmendra Ahirwar, and police “took false statements from them against me that I was doing conversions by compulsion and by the promise of attractive offer,” he said. “I do not know Puranlal Ahirwar or have any relation with him, and have neither supplied or distributed any articles or pamphlets to him.”

After Rao gave a statement, he was set free on bail.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops Conference, Madhya Pradesh, told Compass the Jabalpur district administration is working with Hindu fundamentalists to harass members of the Christian community.

“This is ridiculous – there is a nexus between the police and the fundamentalists,” he said. “They even plant evidence like Bibles and other Christian literature and accuse Christians of propagating faith and conversion through allurement.”

Pastor Charged

Also in Jabalpur , members of the Bajrang Dal on Tuesday (May 2) slapped a 60-year-old pastor for distributing Christian literature near the town railway station.

An Independent Pentecostal church leader identified only as Pastor Soni was passing out tracts with gospel passages printed on them when the Hindu extremists accosted him and grabbed his literature. Repeatedly slapping the face of the pastor with a heart condition, they injured his lip and mouth.

The inspector in-charge of the police station, Akhil Verma, filed a First Information Report that Pastor Soni was offering money to people to become Christians.

On a written complaint from Pradeep Kumar of the Hindu extremist Dharma Jagaran Sena, Pastor Soni was arrested by the Jabalpur Railway Police and charged under Section 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, which prohibits “conversion by the use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means.”

Indira Iyenger, President of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association and Member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, told Compass that the arrest was beyond the purview of the railway police.

“They had absolutely no evidence that he was offering money as an allurement,” she said. “The authorities only want to satisfy the demands of these fundamentalist forces and harass the Christians with false witnesses.”

Soni’s lawyer said the pastor had been released on bail of 5,000 rupees (US$111).

Iyengar filed a complaint with the state’s chief secretary noting that laws against distributing religious messages contradict Article-25(1) of the Indian constitution, which guarantees the right to propagate religion.

“The freedom of excersising/propagating one’s religion has a crystal clear mention,” she wrote.

Iyengar told Compass that “allurement” is vague and unspecified.

“The law based on this word is vague and relative term, and thus giving leeway to abuse of the law,” she said. “Pastor Soni’s distribution of religious literature is now a crime of ‘allurement.’”

Objections to Marriage

Fr. Muttungal of the state Catholic Bishops Conference told Compass that Hindu extremists this week also attacked a young Christian man and a Hindu woman who hoped to marry each other.

In the Jabalpur marriage licensing office itself, extremists from the Dharma Raksha Samiti (Protection of Religion group), Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad attacked the couple because the young woman was a Hindu and under Indian laws would convert to Christianity after marriage.

Beaten and insulted were Robin Das, a member of the Our Lady’s Church at Dhana Kamaria, and a tribal Hindu girl known as Deepmala.

“The Christian boy was mercilessly thrashed and the tribal girl was slapped and her hair was pulled in the Collectorate itself,” Fr. Muttungal said. “She was publicly belittled, and many derogatory and insinuating remarks were passed by the police. Her only crime was she wanted to marry a Christian boy.”