Behind one of UP’s biggest ‘anti-conversion’ case; 54 persons booked

While UP Police continues to investigate the case of a church in Fatehpur accused of alleged ‘forceful conversions’, an on ground report shows a different side to the story.

church in Fatehpur accused of forceful conversions

Making headway in what is touted as one of the biggest ‘anti-conversion’ cases in the state, UP police have booked 54 persons in an April case filed after a complaint by local VHP leader against conversion by a church in Fatehpur by deception and allurement.

The Fatehpur District Police has recently issued notice to Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and an official of Sam Higginbottom University of Agriculture, Technology and Sciences (SHUATS), a minority educational institute over allegations of religious conversion, reported Indian Express.  They have been asked to join the probe and explain their role by December 29 2022.

Notices were also issued to the caretakers of two local churches, including the ECI church, seeking details including their sources of income, names of donors, amounts received from them, and the names of people converted so far. The ECI church of Hariharganj is alleged to have links with the global Christian charity World Vision International. Another church under investigation is Naya Jeevan in Fatehpur’s Bahuwa town.

This is a development in the 8-month long investigation carried out by the police after having received a complaint from the Bajrang Dal that in a church run by Evangelical Church of India (ECI), in Hariharganj area of Fatehpur, people were being lured with false promises to convert. This dates back to April 14, 2022 when an FIR was lodged at the instance of VHP leader Himanshu Dixit in which 35 people, including a minor girl, were named. So far, the police have booked 54 persons in this case out of which 22 are employees of the Broadwell Christian Hospital, located near the church.

Out of these, 26 accused were arrested and later released on bail. The Pastor, Vijay Masih was among those arrested. Masih was again arrested in November in another case alleging forceful conversion where it was alleged that he brought Hindus to the church on the pretext of praying.

The FIR, in April, was filed under IPC Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between two groups), 506 (criminal intimidation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 467 (forgery of valuable security, will etc) and 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) as well as the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act.  “Since cheating and forgery could not be established initially, the court dropped IPC Sections 420, 467 and 468 against the accused. The accused were granted bail within two to three days,” a police officer told IE. The police further said that two Dalit local farmers namely Shri Kishan and Satya Pal informed the police that they were converted in April as also three other locals Pramod Kumar Dixit, Sanjay Singh and Rajesh Kumar Trivedi, filed affidavits claiming the same.

The police state that they have found Aadhar cards in the new names for Shri Kishan and Satyapal, who were renamed as Kishan Joseph and Satyapal Samson. With these new accusations, Sections 420, 467 and 468 have been added again and the Pastor, Masih has been re-arrested in this case. However, when ThePrint tracked down Keshan and Satyapal in Aswar Tarapur village, they claimed they had never been converted and pointed to a local RSS member called Arun Tiwari, to whom they had given their cards in connection with property matters.

“There is evidence that the accused were involved in conversion. We have booked 54 people in the case so far. Among these, 15 are in jail, 36 have obtained anticipatory bail, and three are absconding,” SHO Mishra told the publication. He deemed this to be one of the biggest ‘anti-conversion’ cases in the state, where a chargesheet is yet to be filed.

The Pastors’ wife, Preeti Masih has denied all allegations and stated that she and her husband have been caretakers of the church for a decade and no such complaint was made earlier.

The Print reported that even the anti-terrorism squad (ATS) got involved in the case as it is probing the source of funding of a branch of the ECI. When the news portal visited Khaga, Hariharganj, and Bahuwa, they found conflicting narratives. Some villagers claimed that Christian groups were exhorting them to give up Hindu practices while others stated that they willingly converted.

Meanwhile, the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, along with similar laws from states of Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, which have been challenged before the Supreme Court by Citizens for Justice and Peace will be coming up for hearing before the bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud on January 2, as soon as the court reopens after winter break.


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