Orissa: 12 Tribals arrested for converting to Christianity without an official permit

Mumbai, India – Police arrested 12 Tribals in Orissa’s Mayurbhanj District. They were illegally converted to Christianity by Samuel and Manuel Mohapatra, two pastors from Balasore, who are nowhere to be found. The converts violated the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, which bans any conversion that is done without a permit issued by the authorities. The action came after a complaint was filed with police against the two Protestant clergymen and 13 converts, one of whom was able to escape.

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), slammed the arrests. In a statement, he called on Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to withdraw the accusations and put a stop to anti-Christian violence in the state.

“The Global Council of Indian Christians demands Orissa Chief Minister to order a probe against the lower level police officials involved in the intimidation of Christians from tribal background and pastors in Mayurbhanj. The GCIC condemns the arrest of Tribals and the intimidation of pastors in the District of Mayurbhanj,” Mr George’s statement said.

In his view, the state government should stop those who use the law to persecute the population and thwart the constitution, which is based on respect for justice and freedom.

“The attempts by lower level police and the Sangh Parivar are scandalous and a travesty of the noble vision and ideals enshrined in Indian constitution,” he said.

In recent years, the District of Mayurbhanj has been the scene of Hindu anti-Christian violence. On 22 January 1999, Rev Graham Stewart Staines, an Australian Anglican mission and his two sons, Philip and Timothy, were burnt to death as they slept in their station wagon in the village of Manoharpur. In the same year, Fr Arul Doss, a priest with the Church of Anandpur, was attacked by ten extremists who killed him with arrows, and then burnt his church.

Orissa is one of six Indian States, the others being Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan, Arunachal Pradesh, that have adopted anti-conversion legislation under pressure from Hindu extremists linked to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). They want to stop proselytising and conversions done for money. However, to date neither claim has ever been proven.