MUMBAI, India – An employee for the Archdiocese of Bhopal’s commission for education has been released on bail after his arrest for the “intentional insult” of the Hindu religion.
Rajendra Dwivedi was arrested on Easter Sunday after he published articles on his blog claiming the salvation of Jesus had been revealed in the Vedas and Upanishads, religious texts in Hinduism.
Although he works for a Catholic archdiocese, Dwivedi is a Protestant pastor and a convert to Christianity.
Bhopal is the capital of the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, which recently passed a Religious Freedom Bill, which despite its name is an “anti-conversion” law aimed at keeping Hindus from joining other religions.
“It is again a sign of religious intolerance … where the constitution values like freedom of expression and the right to propagate my own religion,” said Father Maria Stephen, the public relations officer for the Archdiocese of Bhopal.
“More similar arrests have taken place after the latest anti conversion bill. The fundamentals take the maximum advantages of the bill,” he told Crux.
“It is the fight between truth and lies, justice and injustice, light and darkness. The lies appear that they are fast in the race, but the truth endures for ever. It is what the Risen Lord taught us. Be not afraid,” Stephen said.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
These pressures on Christians, which also affect Muslims and other religious minorities, are part of what observers describe as a broad program for the “saffronization” of India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, meaning an attempt to impose Hindu values and identity while squeezing out rival faiths.
Modi is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled India since 2014. The BJP is linked with the the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group.
Madhya Pradesh – which is also ruled by the BJP – is one of several states in India to enact anti-conversion laws, despite the freedom of religion enshrined in India’s constitution.
The Religious Freedom Bill was passed on a voice vote by the state assembly on March 8, and replaces the government ordinance promulgated in January to prevent religious conversions through any “fraudulent” means. The state government said a total of 23 cases were registered under the January ordinance, including 11 charges against Christians.
Under the provisions of the new law, a “forced” religious conversion could lead to a one-to-five year jail term and a minimum fine of around $350. If the person converted was a minor, the jail term and fine could be doubled.
After BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh is the third state to pass the “Freedom of Religion” law.
Earlier this year, 9 Christians were arrested on Jan. 27 in the city of Indore – also in Madhya Pradesh – a day after a mob of Hindu militants invaded a Pentecostal prayer meeting taking place at the Satprakashan Sanchar Kendra (Center for the Light of Truth), a media center owned by the Society of the Divine Word, a Catholic religious order that lets other Christian groups use the premises.
There were about 90 Pentecostal Christians at the prayer meeting, and one attendee claimed she was a Hindu whose family took her to the facility to try and convert her.
In February, the principal of Sacred Heart Convent School in Khajuraho, also in Madhya Pradesh state, was accused by a Hindu teacher of trying to force her to become a Christian.
Christians make up only 2.3 percent of the Indian population, and an even smaller proportion of the population in Madhya Pradesh, where they are only 0.29 percent of the population.