Pastors in India’s Madhya Pradesh state have started to document the names of Christians attending church services in order to protect themselves against false allegations of illegal religious conversions.
“We are now living in a very difficult situation where a worship service in a church is being portrayed as religious conversion and false cases are registered against ministers,” said Pastor Biju Thomas.
He suspects Hindutva extremists of attempting to entrap him on Sunday 31 October when his congregation gathered for worship in Satna district. As the service began, a youth and a man, thought to be Hindutva militants, entered the church shortly before a crowd of activists accompanied by police gathered outside and began to accuse him of illegal religious conversions.
The youth told police he had been taken to the church for conversion, a claim denied by church members who stated they had never seen him before. Soon afterwards the youth and the man slipped away.
“This incident has taught us a lesson that we need to document everyone who attends services in churches or other prayer gatherings,” said Pastor Biju, who is waiting to hear from police whether he and five of his congregation are to face charges under the state’s anti-conversion legislation.
“We will also have to restrain the entry of outsiders to church services, especially those we do not identify, failing which anybody can trap us in false cases.”
Pastors jailed for 16 days on false claims of illegal conversions
His words were echoed by Pastor Vinod Karvel, who spent 16 days in jail along with another pastor for allegedly carrying out illegal conversions. They were leaving a prayer meeting at the home of a believer in Satna district on 5 September when they were beaten by extremists and arrested by police. Both pastors were released on bail after the house owner filed an affidavit in which he refuted the false claims.
“It is wise to collect signed documents from believers before admitting them to any prayer service to escape fake conversion cases,” said Pastor Vinod.
Madhya Pradesh adopted new anti-conversion provisions into law in March 2021, introducing a prison term of three to ten years as well as fines for anyone using force, fraud, allurement or marriage to obtain religious conversions. Nine of India’s 29 states have anti-conversion laws, which make Christians actively sharing their faith vulnerable to false accusation.