According to police, the group made disparaging comments against Hindu tribal places of worship in Dumka, saying that Satan resided in such places!
The local Police have arrested 16 evangelists for trying to convert tribals to Christianity and denigrating Hindu beliefs and symbols in Jharkhand. All 16, including seven women, were booked under the Freedom of Religion Act, which came into force last year.
Speaking to media, Dumka Superintendent of Police Kishore Kaushal said, “An FIR was registered on the basis of a gram pradhan’s complaint in the matter. Following initial investigation, 16 people have been arrested, who are allegedly preachers. Further investigation is on.”
The arrests were made on the complaint registered at the Shikaripara police station by Pradhan of Phool Pahari village, Shri Ramesh Murmu. According to the complaint, the 16 preachers from West Bengal arrived in their village on Thursday evening and sent an open call to villagers to assemble in the ground through loudspeakers. They spoke about Christianity and persuaded people to join it.
Quoting a police officer associated with the case, the Indian Express reported that the villagers became angry when the group began making disparaging comments about tribal places of worship — locally called ‘Manjhi Than’ and ‘Jaher Than’ —saying that Satan resided in such places. Angry villagers asked them to stop but they did not.
“After that, villagers detained them overnight. In the morning, they informed the police and handed them over to us. There was no physical violence or heckling involved,” he said.
The villagers told the police that the same group had come to the village before to carry out “similar activities”.
According to the police all the accused have named an organisation based in Tamil Nadu with which they are associated. The 16 preachers have been booked under the Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, and Section 295-A (insulting religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
Under The Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, anybody trying to influence a person to change his religion on the basis of “allurement, coercion or cheating” shall be punished with three years imprisonment and fined with Rs 50,000. If the victim is a woman, minor, senior citizen and a member of the Scheduled Tribe or Scheduled Caste, the punishment can go up to four years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.