MUMBAI, India – A Catholic priest in India has been granted bail over a month after he was arrested for allegedly trying to force non-Christians to change their religion.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Father Dominic Pinto of the Lucknow diocese was arrested Feb. 5 along with six Protestants on charges of trying to convert poor Dalits, or “untouchables,” from Hinduism to Christianity

“Finally, I am able to give you good news. The District Judge has granted bail to Father Dominic and all those who were arrested with him. Praise the Lord,” said Bishop Gerald John Mathias of Lucknow, the capital and largest city of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

“I thank you sincerely for your constant prayers and sacrifices for this intention. So many people including bishops, priests, sisters, lay faithful, and youth have been praying. God has finally heard our prayers,” the bishop said.

The diocese has over 22 million people, but the Catholic population is only about 8,200.

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Both the city and state are ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which often accuses Christians of trying to convert Hindus.

Pinto is the director of the Navintha pastoral center of the Lucknow diocese, which he had agreed to make available to a group called Khrist Bhakts, or “followers of Christ,” composed of Hindus, Muslims and members of other religions who nevertheless find inspiration in Christ and pray to him.

Sources said that while the meeting of roughly 200 people was taking place, a group of Hindu activists attempted to disrupt the gathering and then staged a protest outside the local police station, accusing the meeting of targeting poor Hindus, especially women and children, for conversion.

Police officers arrived at the pastoral center and broke up the meeting, taking several people into custody.

The Hindu protestors demanded that Pinto’s name be included in the police complaint, on the grounds that he was responsible for permitting the meeting to occur, even though a diocesan spokesman later said he wasn’t even in attendance.

At the time of the arrest, Mathias called charges that the meeting was engaging in conversion “totally false.”

“There was no conversion involved,” Mathias told Crux.

“This is a gross misuse of the draconian anti-conversion law in the state,” the bishop said. “Police have registered a complaint without any evidence or proof of conversion. They come under mob pressure or succumb to the dictates of higher-ups. This is a typical case of harassment and atrocities against Christians.”

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Founded in 1980 though with roots in earlier Hindu nationalist movements, the Bharatiya Janata Party stresses the importance of preserving and defending India’s Hindu identity, an ideology sometimes described by observers as a “saffron wave.” Since the party came to power in the national government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, Christians and other religious minorities in India, especially Muslims, have complained of increasing harassment and marginalization.

In January 2021, Uttar Pradesh adopted a controversial anti-conversion law establishing penalties of up to ten years in prison for coerced or fraudulent conversion, which critics charge is often used to intimidate religious minorities.