Six people, belonging to the Christian community, were arrested for alleged illegal religious conversions in Uttar Pradesh's Fatehpur district.

The FIR accessed by The Citizen shows that a case was registered on September 13, and charges them under Section 188 (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace), 508 (Act caused by inducing person to believe that he will be rendered an object of the Divine displeasure) of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

Speaking to The Citizen, Kishan, the lawyer of the six accused said that the false cases have been slapped on the people who were merely praying. "There were 8 to 10 people who were praying on a private property, and some right wing organisation members complained to the police that illegal conversions were taking place. The police then arrested six people [Christians] and slapped them with anti-conversion law along with other sections," he said.

According to the lawyer, one of the arrested, named Vinay, had only come to collect some money at the house and was waiting for that. "He was not even praying," Kishan added.

However, the FIR said that Ram Lal, who has been named as the main accused, along with Vinay and many others, were "forcing people to accept Christianity and threatened if they don't do so".

"They were also distributing some books to the people," the FIR read. The FIR was filed by Satya Prakash, a resident of Fatehpur and alleged they were also abused when he along with some people went to confront them.

Speaking about the arrest, AP Saini, from Khaga police station in Fatehpur told The Citizen that they received photos and videos of certain "elements" forcefully converting people. "We got evidence from the local people in front of photos and videos that showed this, which is why they were arrested. Rest the court will decide," he said.

While the Fatehpur Lower Court has refused to grant bail to the accused, Kishan said that the next hearing would be at sessions court, for which they are yet to get a date.

"These people just conduct prayers and they pray themselves. Anyone who is feeling ill and hopeless can just come and pray but these people say that conversion is taking place here. In 2022 alone we have seen more than 300 cases alone," he said.

As many as 302 attacks against Christians took place in the first seven months of 2022 according to the United Christian Forum, which has collected data on the basis of distress calls it received on its helpline numbers. The number has only increased post July.

One of the members associated with the organisation, who did not want to be named, said that the numbers are only increasing. "We are receiving distress calls everyday and can have registered more than 300 calls as of now. This is till the month of July. We still have a few months to go. We are scared as such attacks increase during the months of November and December," the member said.

Meanwhile, Pastor David, who is associated with a church in Fatehpur said that on Saturday they received two more calls. "We were already dealing with the Fatehpur case when we received two more calls. We are really disturbed and have to deal with one new case or the other every day," he said.

On August 28, three people were arrested from a small village of Harchandpur in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareilly over allegations that they had attempted to forcibly convert people.

A petition, filed on the behalf of Archbishop of Bengaluru, Peter Machado, the National Solidarity Forum and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, is currently being heard in the Supreme Court, demanding an independent probe into atrocities against Christians.

The petition states that the state has failed to take immediate and necessary action against groups that have caused widespread violence and used hate speech against the Christian community, including attacks at their places of worship and disruption of prayer meetings.

Petitioners have claimed that 505 attacks have happened against the community from January to December 2021 and that the frequency has increased in 2022.

The attacks listed include demolition of churches, complaints on the basis of a claim of forced conversions, physical violence, arrests, breaking of statues, destruction of property, desecration of prayer halls, burning of Bibles and anti-Christian abuse.

Last week, a Supreme Court bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to obtain information from with states about the registration of FIRs, status of investigation, arrests and chargesheets filed in incidents that petitioners have alleged are attacks targeting the Christian community and institutions.

The MHA was asked to call for reports from eight states that were mentioned in the petition: Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. This was said to verify the claims made in the petition.

The Union government told the Supreme Court that the allegations in the petition were "falsehoods" and "self-serving."

"There appears to be some hidden oblique agenda in filing such deceptive petitions, creating unrest throughout the country and perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with internal affairs of our nation," the Union Home Ministry said in an affidavit.

Karnataka Passes Anti-conversion Bill

The Anti-conversion Bill was passed Saturday by the upper house in Karnataka, despite opposition from the Congress and HD Kumaraswamy's Janata Dal Secular. The opposition argued that such a law will infringe on the freedom of religion granted in the Constitution.

However, the government countered that the law would only protect people from forcible conversion, claiming it is becoming increasingly frequent.

The Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Bill, 2021, better known as the anti-conversion bill, was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021. But it was not brought before the Council, where the ruling BJP lacked majority. Instead, the government passed an Ordinance or executive order to stop forcible conversions.

The Bill, piloted by Home Minister Araga Jnanendra, prohibits "unlawful" religious conversion. Under the new law, unlawful conversion will be through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or any fraudulent means.

Those violating the law will get a jail term of three to five years and be fined ₹ 25,000. In case of conversion of a minor, the punishment may extend up to ten years and the fine will be ₹ 50,000. In case of mass conversion, a fine of ₹ 1 lakh can be imposed. A repeat offender can be fined up to ₹ 2 lakh and get a jail term of minimum five years.

"It is an unconstitutional bill and is against Articles 25,26,15 and 29 of the Constitution," said BK Hariprasad, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. "The government says it is not against any community. But most members who spoke from the treasury bench were spitting venom against the minority community," he added.

Similar laws have been passed by Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh as well. Earlier, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Gujarat had passed similar laws. The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018, bans forceful conversion for purposes of marriage.

Cover File Photograph