In a landmark ruling, an Indian Christian couple were released on bail after a High Court judge in northern Uttar Pradesh state ruled that distributing Bibles and encouraging education weren’t in contravention of the state’s anti-conversion law. Praise God for this just ruling and that Pastor Jose and his wife, Sheeja, are free to continue their ministry in Uttar Pradesh.
India is #11 on the World Watch List 2023. In many regions, Christians are not seen to be true Indians and face violence, discrimination, and harassment.
Pastor Jose Papachen and his wife, Sheeja, were arrested in January after a complaint was filed with the police, accusing them of alluring people belonging to the Scheduled Caste – the most disadvantaged caste in India and considered the lowest in society. They were initially denied bail in March. However, on appeal, the court said the couple should no longer be detained.
“Providing good teachings, distributing Holy Bible books, encouraging children to get an education […], and instructing the villagers not to enter into altercations, and also not to take liquor does not amount to allurement,” the court said in its September ruling, adding, “Rather, it would be a failure on the part of the State to provide basic facilities to individuals in need of the same.”
The impact of anti-conversion laws
Uttar Pradesh’s anti-conversion law prohibits any attempt to force someone to convert to another religion (other than Hinduism) through misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement, or fraudulent means. This anti-conversion law is often used to prosecute Christians and other minorities, with many pastors and church leaders accused of proselytisation and attempting to convert Hindu citizens.
Recent research by Article 14 into recent complaints filed in Uttar Pradesh province reveals that the majority are based on complaints by “Hindutva (Conservative Hindu ideology) outfits that were using the law to harass Christians.” These claims have “no legal standing and should not have been registered by the police,” the research said.
In recent years, anti-conversion laws have been imposed in at least ten other states in India and have been used by its supporters to settle personal scores and promote a Hindu nationalist agenda, making it more challenging for Christians in these states to share their faith openly.
- For a change of narrative around Indian identity that accepts minority faiths.
- For protection over church leaders and their families, including Pastor Jose and his wife, Sheeja, and their ministry.
- That the witness of the Church in India will have a powerful effect on their families and neighbours.
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