In a recent incident in Barabanki, the Uttar Pradesh police arrested about 10 people after officials stated that they busted a conversion ring at the Saint Matthews Methodist Church in the Deva area of Barabanki. Reports have alleged that the religious conversion attempt involved around 300 people in Barabanki. The event was to see people come to Barabanki from various villages in the state who, the police allege, would come enticed by promises of remedies for various illnesses and other issues. A report by the Hindustan Times has stated that most of those who were to attend the event were people from the Scheduled Caste community and that the attendees were mostly poor, vulnerable and illiterate people who had come to the church where they were allegedly being lured to change their religion.
The arrested people have been identified as Father Dominic Pinto, Dharmaraj, Surendra, Ghanshyam Gautam, Pawan, Suraj, and Sarju Prasad, with all, except Father Pinto, coming from Ayodhya. The authorities have launched an investigation and registered a case against them under relevant sections of the anti-conversion law, the Uttar Pradesh Unlawful Religious Conversion Prohibition Act, 2021, and the Indian Penal Code.
According to the report, the police were told about the alleged event by Hindutva outfits of the area. Vishwa Hindu Parishad district chief Brijesh Kumar Vaish and Bajrang Dal district convener Akhand Pratap Singh had reportedly made the first complaint. A complaint has alleged that conversion efforts were reportedly organised by one Father Pinto at the Navinta Prayer Centre and Church near St Matthew’s College in Barabanki.
However, claims of conversion are actually criticised by activists and scholars as something that has been used by right-wing groups as dog whistles very often. In an interview with Sabrang India earlier in 2023, Mr. AC Michael, the National Coordinator for the United Christian Forum, an advocacy group based in New Delhi, addressed the claims of mass conversions Christians are accused of. He stated that the government or courts of law must substantiate claims of alleged forceful conversions with concrete proof, data, and numbers. Mr. Michael mentioned how innocent victims are being unjustly arrested on charges of forceful conversion, despite a lack of supporting data. He also further stated there is a decline in the Christian population, and also pointed out that despite allegations of conversions, official government population censuses have consistently reported a stable Christian population.
The Christian community has consistently called on the government to address the acts of vigilante violence against Churches and Christians by Hindutva outfits across the country. After the recent acts of violence by Hindutva men against Christian communities in Madhya Pradesh’s Jhabua on January 21, which included the reportedly forced hoisting of saffron flags on the rooftops of four churches, leaders within the community came together to urge for heightened security measures.
Furthermore, according to a statement from the United Christian Forum on December 14, an average of two Christians face attacks every day in India. The report highlighted a disturbing trend, citing a total of 687 reported incidents of violence against Christians in 2023. Notably, the majority of these incidents, totalling to more than 531, occurred in North Indian states, with Uttar Pradesh seeing about 287 attacks, Chhattisgarh 148 and Jharkhand and Haryana at 49 and 47, being among the most affected regions.