On 31 December 2020, Meerabehn* suffered a miscarriage when she was mercilessly beaten and kicked by a violent mob while they attacked a Christian gathering in Barwani, Madhya Pradesh.
The mob of over 50 religious extremists attacked 12 Christians who had gathered for prayer in a home. The Christians, most of them women, were violently beaten by the mob. The attackers misbehaved with them, tore off their clothing and molested them. Meerabehn lost consciousness when she was kicked to the ground and fell face down. Later, on the way to the hospital, she delivered a still born baby.
The Christians reported the incident to the police and demanded the arrest of the culprits. But the police refused to register a complaint and even denied that any violence had taken place. Thereafter, persons from the mob had the audacity to accuse the Christians of carrying out religious conversions by force.
Our local allies helped the Christians get much needed medical attention and our allied lawyers assisted the Christians in filing a complaint against the perpetrators in the court.
In another incident that took place on 26 January 2021, a Christian prayer service was disrupted in Indore, Madhya Pradesh by a large mob of around 150 religious extremists. They barged into the hall, where about 50 Christians were gathered, carrying sticks and batons and attacked the Christians. The attackers then filed a complaint against the Christians under the state’s new anti-conversion law, falsely alleging that the Christians had conducted forceful conversions. The police detained 9 Christians, five men and four women, one of whom was pregnant. ADF India allied lawyers secured bail for four women and one man on 3 March and after subsequent hearings, the Court granted bail for the remaining four men on 6 April.
Madhya Pradesh has seen a steep rise in the number of violent incidents against Christians after the enactment of the new anti-conversion law. Compared to 19 incidents of anti-Christian violence recorded in 2020, the state has already witnessed 11 incidents in the first three months of 2021.
The anti-conversion law with its vague, overbroad, and disproportionately punitive sections are used as a tool to harass Christians and to justify assaults on religious minorities. Shankar*, a Christian leader in Madhya Pradesh, reports, “When two or three people come together to pray or even just to celebrate someone’s birthday, religious extremists use that as an opportunity to make allegations of conversions by force, fraud or inducement. Many Christian gatherings have been attacked, whether it be on a weekday or a Sunday, and church property vandalized, by those opposed to Christian worship.”
“No one should be targeted because of their faith. The Indian Constitution protects freedom of religion or belief to all persons,” says Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India. While the new law is in place, the harassment of religious minorities is sadly expected to escalate further. ADF India allied lawyers have filed a petition in the Madhya Pradesh High Court challenging the constitutional validity of the controversial law.
ADF India provides Legal Aid & Assistance to protect religious freedom through its panel of allied lawyers. To avail this service, visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.
Watch our YouTube video with an overview on Freedom of Religion Acts or “Anti-conversion” laws —provisions and penalties.
*Names changed to protect the privacy of individuals