28 people, a majority of them Christians, booked in a month
Chhatar Singh Katre, a teacher in a small village school run by the government in Madhya Pradesh’s Balaghat district organized a get-together and a prayer meet on January 27. The occasion, his daughter said, was to celebrate her college admission.
Before the programme started on January 27, the police reached the spot, and detained Katre, and his friends Mahendra Nagdeva J Nathan; all three were taken to the police station for interrogation, and subsequently arrested for luring and coercing people for conversion.
All three remain in jail, their bail please having been rejected by the Balaghat sessions court.
Katre’s daughter Kalyani Katre said, “My father organized the meet for me and now he is in jail for no reason. The case was registered against him and two others on the complaint of a person who was booked 10 years ago for assaulting and harassing my father and others for participating in a religious programme.”
Raghunath Khatarkar who is investigating the case at Lalbarra police station of Balaghat district, said the complainant Hemant Thakre recorded his statement before the court and accused Katre and two others of offering him ₹10,000 for conversion. “In the name of God, they also tried to scare people that something bad would happen to them.”
In a month since the enactment of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance to regulate interfaith marriages and conversion, 28 people have been booked and at least half of them are Christians, according to police records.
The ordinance, which replaces the MP Freedom of Religion Act 1968, came into force on January 9. State home department data shows that eight cases have been registered in eight different districts in a month, and 28 people named. While four cases are against nine Muslims for allegedly forcing women to change their religion for marriage, another four were against 19 Christians for luring and coercing people to change their faith through prayer meetings, police reports showed.
“Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan called it a Beti Bachao campaign of the state government. Out of total of eight cases, the complainants in five cases are women. The ordinance was introduced to regularize conversion and to stop illegal activities taking place in the name of conversion. Police are arresting people after preliminary investigation so no one should be worried about anything,” said Vishwas Sarang, cabinet spokesperson and minister of medical education department.
With 67% of those booked being Christian, members of the community have accused the state government of targetting social workers. “Now, people are afraid of organising prayer meet because some anti-social elements are creating ruckus and making false accusations of conversion against our people,” said Jaistar Sarbhang, president of the Christian Welfare Foundation, Balaghat.
Meanwhile, Muslim organisations said that the law was being used to renew old case of marital discord between inter-faith couples. Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind, MP, president, Hazi Haroon said, “Police are renewing the old cases to target the members of Muslim community, especially of middle and lower middle class.” However, Hindu organisations said that the law has proved successful in halting illegal conversions.
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