Five including two from TN booked for Sunday prayer event in U.P.

By Omar Rashid

Case filed under new conversion law
David, a pastor from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, recalls with horror January 3, when Bajrang Dal workers allegedly stormed the premises of a marriage lawn in Shahjahanpur where he and a small group of local people, including women and children, were holding a prayer service to mark the first Sunday of the New Year.

“They beat us with lathis while dragging us on the street, where they also made us squat in the murga (rooster) position [corporal stress position in which a person holds their ears through the legs],” Mr. David told The Hindu.

Mr. David alleged that the right-wing group members forced them to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and insult Jesus.

“They said if we don’t say it, they would kill us and started hitting us. And then they called the police,” he said.

At least one of the women, Neha, suffered a fracture in the arm, while Naina, 14, was injured in the leg.

Mr. David and four others were handed over to the police. A case was then lodged against the five under Sections 3 and 5 (1) of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance, 2020 at Kotwali police station on the complaint of Ram Lakhan Verma, a city convenor of the Bajrang Dal.

In his complaint, Mr. Verma said that on January 3, at 10 a.m. when he reached the premises he found that 10-15 persons, including women and children, were attending a satsang (prayer meeting). He alleged that the accused persons, “taking advantage of my poverty”, tried to lure them into converting to Christianity in promise of jobs and free education for their children. Mr. Verma claimed that 15 days prior to the event someone from the group had invited him to attend the satsang in the house of one Shyamji Gupta every Sunday.

Apart from Mr. David, who is from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu, his associate Jagan, who had come to visit him from Kanyakumari, and three local persons — Rajat and Ajay, who are Dalits, and Shyamji Gupta, on whose property in a residential colony the event was going on — were named in the FIR.

Mr. David rubbishes the allegations of his trying to lure people into conversion and says that people attended the prayer services voluntarily, without lure or coercion.

“I myself live in a Kanshiram Colony (meant for the urban poor). Whom can I provide with a job? When I myself live in a state of poverty, how can I pay someone else,” said Mr. David, who has two minor children to feed.

However, talking to The Hindu, Mr. Verma alleged that the group led by Mr. David had been holding programmes for religious conversion for the past two years and he attended at least four such events to “expose” them.

Mr. David, however, contends he has never met Mr. Verma. “I don’t even know who he is,” he said.

Mr. Verma admitted that the Bajrang Dal workers had assaulted those attending the event. “Jab hum log gaye toh hum logo ne unhe mara thoda bahut…do chaar haath mare thay unko (when we reached the venue we did beat them up),” he said.

Mr. David alleged that the Bajrang Dal workers threatened him they would ensure his “ghar vapasi” or return to Hinduism.

The police seized four bibles, two other religious books, one diary, a Casio musical keyboard with sound system (portable sound mic and mixer machine) from the spot.

In a break from the pattern so far in Uttar Pradesh under the new ordinance, police are yet to formally arrest the accused in this case and only have made them submit bonds.

SHO Shahjahanpur Kotwali Parvesh Singh said an investigation is on. “The arrests would be made on the basis of evidence,” he said. “This case also has three Hindus named in it. We are investigating about them, if they are Hindus or not,” he said, refusing to divulge the progress in the investigation so far.

On Tuesday, Mr. David and eight others submitted a complaint to SP Shahjahanpur seeking an FIR against Mr. Verma and two other Bajrang Dal leaders Shyam Mishra and Rajesh Awasthi for the alleged assault. They alleged that the intruders insulted their holy books and hurled casteist abuses at them while the police instead of coming to their help, threatened them with further action and beat them up in the outpost.

The Superintendent of Police, Shahjahanpur did not respond to calls from this correspondent.

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