The United Christian Forum had appealed to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to ensure members of the minority religious community are safe after those belonging to the Hindutva organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad allegedly threatened to demolish churches in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh.
Jhabua sub-divisional magistrate said that the VHP had accused churches of running a 'conversion racket'.
"The onslaught on citizens of minority faith continues in Madhya Pradesh," a statement issued by the United Christian Forum on Saturday said. "Individuals claiming to be members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad say they are preparing to demolish churches in the Jhabua district on Sunday, September 26."
The United Christian Forum is an umbrella organisation of Christians that monitors and documents human rights violations against community members.
The statement said that Paul Muniya, the auxiliary Bishop of Protestant Shalom Church in Jhabua, had submitted a memorandum addressed to President Ram Nath Kovind to the tehsildar on September 17. The letter sought that the "anti-Christian violence" in the state be stopped immediately.
It all started when Jhabua Christians received repeated threats to demolish all "illegal" churches in the district.
The district administration promised to maintain social harmony and no clashes or demolition was reported on Sunday. But the tension and fear of the minority Christian communities have not eased.
A.C. Michael, the former member of Delhi Minorities Commission and National Coordinator of United Christian Forum, told a news website (The Wire) that there is an environment of fear in the district among the Christian community due to the threats by men claiming to be VHP members.
The letter said that many Christians from the indigenous communities in the Jhabua district are being targeted by Hindutva organisations such as Bajrang Dal and VHP and framed in fake conversion cases. "Due to such threats, Adivasis in this area are living under fear and pressure," the letter said.
"The onslaught on citizens of minority faith continues in Madhya Pradesh. Individuals claiming to be members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad say they are preparing to demolish churches in the Jhabua district on Sunday, September 26," Muniya said in the statement.
The Bishop told media persons, "If there is an illegal structure, let the administration take action. Why are private individuals and organisations issuing such threats?"
In early September, a group of men visited several churches and threatened to demolish all the "illegal structures running as churches". They also accused the priests of forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity.
A.C. Michael expressed shock when the Collector of Jhabua, instead of helping the minority community, ordered several Christian priests to produce the documents of their appointments and conversions under them.
The notice sent to several Christian priests reads, "Under this notice, it is being stated that if you were forcibly converted or converted by someone with some profitable motive, then please come to my office on 22/09/2021 at 12 pm."
Father Maria Stephan, PRO of Bhopal Catholic Archdiocese, feels both the revenue and police administration of the district are biased against Christians.
Father Maria Stephan said, "Christians are peace-loving citizens. We are seeking judicial remedies to ensure peace and harmony in our society. We have no objection to sharing any official details about our work and personnel to the government provided the intention is right."
Michael Williams of the United Christian Forum appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah to stop the "targeted violence" against Christians.
Referring to the members who threatened the demolition of churches, he said, "The very fabric of our secular nation is being stretched by a few who do not respect the Constitution of India. Such people are the real anti-nationals and must be dealt with as strictly under law as possible. This intolerance has no room in our country."
Madhya Pradesh's Freedom to Religion Act states that no person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise any other person from one religion to another by misrepresentation, allurement, use of threat or force, undue influence, coercion or by marriage or abet or conspire such conversion.
If a person is found guilty, he will be punishable with a prison term of one to five years and a fine not less than Rs 25,000. If the person who has been converted is a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the jail term for the accused person will be between two and 10 years and the fine will be Rs 50,000 or above.
According to The Wire, experts and social activists have repeatedly said that the governments can misuse these laws to target minority groups such as Muslims and Christians.
Data by the United Christian Forum from March last year shows at least 27 incidents against Christians in 10 Indian states – Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Odisha Bihar, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Goa. - Frank Krishner | RVA News