A pastor, his wife, and young son have been jailed for allegedly luring innocent people to Christianity in violation of an anti-conversion law in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state where Christians only make up less than 1% of the 200 million population.
The pastor, Harendra Singh, and his wife, Priya, were arrested by the police and jailed along with their 3-year-old son on July 31 after they were accused of hosting a prayer meeting in their home located in the town of Haidargarh, a report from the Union of Catholic Asian News said.
Even though the pastor had denied the allegation that he was luring innocent people to the Christian faith, the family was arrested for violating Uttar Pradesh’s Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. Their young son had to be jailed with them because, in India, children up to 6 years old are frequently forced to live with their incarcerated parents, especially their mothers, UCA said.
“It is unfortunate that their 3-year-old son also had to go to prison with them,” Dinanath Jaiswal, a social activist assisting persecuted Christians, told the publication.
Even though India’s Constitution “guarantees religious freedom to all persons,” Uttar Pradesh’s state legislators explained in a copy of the law that their anti-conversion statute was necessary to protect “gullible persons.”
“In the recent past many such examples have come to light where gullible persons have been converted from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement by fraudulent means,” state legislators said.
Despite violating international human rights law, 12 of India’s 28 states, including Uttar Pradesh, have anti-conversion laws as of February, according to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. The others are Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand.
How these laws are enforced across each state varies. Some states enforce the laws while others, like Uttar Pradesh, are still actively charging violators. Some states without these laws are also considering introducing them.
Under Uttar Pradesh’s Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021, “no person shall convert or attempt to convert” another individual, directly, or otherwise, by “misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means.”
Violators of the law can be punished with a prison term of up to five years and fined 15,000 Indian rupees or $180.
“Punishments are enhanced if an individual converts or attempts to convert a minor, woman, or person belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Tribe, or if a mass conversion in contravention of section three takes place,” the USCIRF explains.
“The former is punishable by prison terms between two and 10 years and a fine of at least 25,000 rupees ($300); the latter is punishable by prison terms between three and 10 years and a fine of at least 50,000 rupees ($600).”
Christian leaders told UCA that on July 30, 15 Christians, including three pastors, were arrested and jailed in separate incidents.