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Compass Direct (05/11/06) – A woman in the city of Bareilly , Uttar Pradesh state, has accused six of her uncles and their pastor of trying to forcefully convert her to Christianity.

The men involved say the accusations are an attempt to get revenge after a dispute erupted over a drainage channel.

The tension began three months ago, when Saroj Maurya, the 35-year-old niece of six brothers who attend prayer meetings at the home of Assemblies of God Pastor Mehboob Masih, fought with them over a government drainage channel that flowed past the door of her room.

Maurya is the daughter of the seventh brother, who passed away a few years ago.

She blocked the channel with a brick, but later found the brick had been removed. Blaming her uncles, she apparently locked up one of her aunts for several hours in a fit of anger.

One of the brothers, who works in Delhi , came back to solve the dispute. Maurya, however, rejected his intervention and approached local newspapers with a statement accusing her uncles and Pastor Masih of attempted forced conversion.

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh immediately launched a campaign against Masih.

Death Threats

Three local leaders of the Hindu nationalist BJP came to Masih’s house on Saturday (May 6) and warned him not to hold the prayer meeting, Masih told Compass.

Masih holds a prayer meeting every Sunday in his house at Fateh Ganj, a suburb of Bareilly .

The BJP members apparently told Masih he would meet the same fate as Australian missionary Graham Staines and two of his children, who were burned alive in Orissa state in January 1999, if he continued to hold the meetings.

“They also said if I gathered people for prayer, they would instead hold a Hindu worship ceremony in my house,” said Masih.

Later that day, at 11 p.m., a senior officer of the Fateh Ganj police station came to Masih’s house and ordered him not to hold the prayer meeting the following day. According to Masih, the officer said his men would not be held responsible for any “untoward incident” – and that in the event of any resulting disturbances, police would arrest Masih.

Masih submitted a complaint on Sunday morning, but the police refused to give him a signed copy as required by law. Instead, they informed Masih that a case had been filed against him for attempted forced conversion.

When Compass spoke to Station House Officer Rajesh Singh Solanki, however, he denied advising Masih not to hold the prayer meeting. He further denied any knowledge of the case filed against Masih, claiming the sub-divisional magistrate was handling it.

“This is a gross violation of the right to religious freedom of the Assembly of God church in Bareilly ,” said Jose Sam, a representative of the All India Christian Council (AICC) in Delhi .

The Assemblies of God church is a member of the AICC. Sam will assist in defending Masih against the allegations.