A Christian pastor’s plight points to a community under siege in Madhya Pradesh

Pastor Ramesh has spent over six months in jail. His family alleges it is meant to intimidate him to give up his faith.

The prayer hall next to Pastor Ramesh’s house has barely been in use since he was arrested in December. | Aishwarya S Iyer.

By / Scroll

When the Bharatiya Janata Party government in Madhya Pradesh introduced the Freedom of Religion Bill in the state assembly in March 2021, the state home minister boasted that it would be the most stringent anti-conversion law in the country.

As the bill became law, Hindutva organisations stepped up their campaign against Christians in Jhabua, a district on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. In Jhabua, local tribal activists such as Prem Singh Damor, who also has close ties to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, conducted rallies agitating against the Christian community, accusing them of forced conversions.

On December 5, the police arrested Ramesh Vasunia, a pastor from Padalva village. His alleged crime – forcing neighbours in the tribal village to convert to Christianity.

The first information report against him was allegedly based on a written complaint submitted by 70-year-old Moga Vasunia, a Hindu pandit from the same village. But Moga Vasunia denied filing a written complaint to the police, as revealed in a Scroll.in investigation. He claimed he could not read or write. He also denied stepping into the prayer hall where Pastor Ramesh had allegedly carried out the forced conversion.

Yet, seven months later, Ramesh Vasunia is still in jail. He has appealed for bail five times, to no avail.

“My father continues to be in jail on fake charges,” said Pastor Ramesh’s son, 23-year-old Samuel Vausnia. “People here are not letting us live in peace.”

According to Samuel Vasunia, Moga Vasunia and his son, Nagar, have kept up a subtle campaign of intimidation ever since. The pastor and the pandit had disagreed on faith for a while. Moga Vasunia allegedly objected to Pastor Ramesh practising Christianity.

“Why would my father try to convert him, of all people?” asked Samuel Vasunia.

He said he had recently appealed to Moga Vasunia, asking him to drop the complaint as his father had been in jail for months. He alleged the pandit and his son said they would do so if the pastor and his family gave them a written statement saying they would stop practising Christianity.

According to Samuel Vasunia, he said they would put down such a statement if Moga Vasunia and his son gave it in writing that their purported police complaint was wrong. “But he did not agree,” Samual Vasunia said. “He is asking us [to give up Christianity], forcing us, bullying us. He has lied in his statement and he is misusing the situation.”

This story was originally published in scroll.in . Read the full story here

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