In a decision that’s unusual for India’s Hindu dominated authorities, a judge has ruled that distributing a Bible does not constitute religious conversion. He said the same ruling applied to promoting education for children and providing “good teachings.”
The case related to Pastor Jose Papachen and his wife Sheeja who were accused of enticing disadvantaged low caste Dalits and tribal people to convert to Christianity. Justice Shamim Ahmed of the Allahabad High Court reviewed an appeal by the Papachens who had previously been denied bail in lower courts since January.
Prosecutors contended the couple “exerted psychological pressure and used undue influence to force conversions as part of their alleged plan to establish a Christian state.” They were accused of “alluring” individuals into converting to Christianity which is illegal in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Christian Today India reports “allurement” is defined as “offering temptation in the form of gifts, gratification, money, employment, free education in a reputable religiously-affiliated school, improved lifestyle or divine favour.”
The complaint was made by a member of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP Party who alleged that the communities targeted for conversion became “annoyed” by these “allurement” attempts.
Witness statements from the alleged targets of the “allurements” revealed that the Papachens provided moral guidance, distributed Bibles, encouraged education for children and advised against fighting and alcohol consumption.
Based on those statements, Judge Ahmed determined that none of those activities qualified as an “allurement” under the state’s unlawful conversion laws. He then freed the couple on bail. He also ruled that only alleged victims could file a complaint and that the complaint in this case was invalid.
“It is a well-explained order. It has exposed the gross misuse of the anti-conversion law,” Pastor Joy Mathew, who has been closely following the progress of the case, told UCA News.
The couple’s lawyer observed that: “Until now, right-wing Hindu activists in connivance with police have filed false cases of religious conversion against Christians.”