The eighth Indian state to ratify and implement an anti-conversion law, Uttar Pradesh, has just seen the first arrest of a Christian under the new legislation. In addition to Uttar Pradesh, other states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Guharat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Uttarakhand have all implemented similar laws which the governments claim are imperative to combat “Love Jihad” (also commonly referred to as “Romeo Jihad”), an unproven conspiracy theory that Indian Muslim men are seeking marriage with Hindu women in order to convert their wives to Islam and have Muslim children.
The new legislation, under which an individual can be charged of “facilitating fraudulent [religious] conversion” with little to no evidence or warrant, posits a penalization of 10 years of imprisonment to individuals convicted of waging ‘Love Jihad.’ Additionally, the law stipulates that nay individual who wishes to convert religions must confer first with the district magistrate and submit a “declaration” of conversion 60 days prior to the religious conversion ceremony. Those that do not follow these stringent regulations can be detained in prison for a term of no less than six months and no more than five years.
Even more reprehensible is that, following an individual’s submission of their declaration of intent to convert religions, the district magistrate is required to display it on a notice board, where the convert’s sensitive information such as name, family members, former and current religion, and even residential address are visible for anyone to see. This is extremely dangerous, as it places religious minority converts at greater risk and vulnerability to reprisal ‘revenge’ persecution from angered members of the religious majority.
Now, on 4 January 2021, Morning Star News announced that three Indian civilians and one Korean Christian woman were arrested in Uttar Pradesh on December 19th, having been accused of violating the new legislation and engaging in fraudulent evangelism. Two individuals by the name of Sharma and Gupta claimed that three Indian civilians visited their homes not only to deliver COVID-19 aid, but also in attempts to convert them to Christianity by offering them some stimulus money. More specifically, they claim that the aid workers told them that if they visited church with them or converted to Christianity, they would receive extra rations and 1 million rupees (≈ USD $13,673).
The South Korean woman, 50-year-old Mi Kyung Lee, was not involved in the visit but was arrested for driving with them.
Raj Kumar Masih, the leader of the aid organization that the three arrested individuals worked for, has asserted that Sharma and Gupta’s claims of attempted incitement to fraudulent conversion to Christianity are absurd, as not all of those arrested are even Christian themselves. Moreover, Masih has steadfastly denied that the aid organization has offered recipients any money as an incentive to convert to Christianity; he has offered to provide documentation of the organization’s beneficiaries who will testify that they were made no such propositions.
“Seema [one of the arrested individuals] visited Muski Gupta’s house to collect the names of the beneficiaries who would be given relief. Muksi knows the people in her area well. The driver [also arrested] had taken Seema there, and Sandhya [also arrested] had accompanied her. It hardly took them five-seven minutes while Seema prepared the list, and when they left Gupta’s home to leave, Anita Sharma the adjacent-door neighbor was watching all of this.”
Gupta and Sharma together filed First Information Report No. 0998, and the four individuals (Seema, Sandhya, the driver Umesh Kumar, and Mi Kyung Lee) were formally charged under the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings” and Uttar Pradesh’s new Prohibition of Unlawful Religious Conversion Ordinance, which prohibits “unlawful conversion from one religion to another by misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means or by marriage.”
Aid organizer Masih has lamented that “nobody even bothered to ask the arrested their side of the story”, and explains that “what is shocking is that the driver, Umesh Kumar, and Sandhya are not even Christians. The local media have falsely reported them all to be Christians.”
Meanwhile, many radical Hindu nationalist groups such as the local and municipal outfits of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus) and Karni Sena (Karni Army) have lauded the authorities for the arrests and subsequent detentions.