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 three-year-old son on 31 July after they were accused of hosting a prayer meeting in their home located in the town of Haidargarh.
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.
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”.
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 (USCIRF). 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 USD.
According to USCIRF, 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.
On 30 July, 15 Christians, including three pastors, were arrested and jailed in separate incidents.