Christian leaders in India are demanding the release of two Catholics arrested earlier this month on accusations they forcibly converted locals to Christianity and illegally occupied the land.
Priest Binoy John and catechist Munna Hansda were arrested on Sept. 6 in Rajdaha, a locality in the Eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, where the government is controlled by the Hindu nationalist-aligned Bharatiya Janata Party.
The two were arrested along with a second priest, Arun Vincent. But Vincent was released while the other two remain in custody, according to the Catholic press agency Asia News.
The Catholics were detained after police acted on a complaint from a villager accusing them of pressuring locals to convert to the Christian faith.
The New Indian Express reports that police officers went to their residences and asked the Catholics to report to the police station without providing any explanation as to why their presence was requested. When they arrived, the two were reportedly arrested and charged with the crime of forced conversion.
Priest Alphonse Francis, the former vicar general of the Diocese of Bhagalpur, told the Catholic news outlet Crux that the allegations against Hansda and John are “baseless and fabricated.”
“The current dispensation in Jharkhand is very hostile to Christian missionaries, and our services are selectively targeted and harassed,” Francis said.
Francis explained that the diocese had operated a parish and a retreat center in Rajdaha for three years. The retreat center, he added, is also used to host community meetings for “all castes and creeds” as well as women’s groups, children’s groups, and self-help groups.
He contended that the two arrests were “basically a land issue.”
“This land was offered to us, as under the Santhal Pargana Tenancy Act (SPT), tribal land cannot be transferred or sold to non-tribals,” Francis was quoted as saying. “I would like to know what provoked this arrest, never has there been any communal tensions previously.”
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith