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Pastor Arrested While Securing Affidavits on 16 New Christians in UP

Monday, June 25, 2018, 22:07 (IST)

A pastor in Uttar Pradesh accused of forcible conversion was arrested on June 18 while securing affidavits on 16 people who had become Christians on their own will.

Following the arrest of the 58-year-old Dependra Prakash Maleywar at the Sardhana lower court premises near Meerut, Hindu extremists threatened to expel the 16 new Christians if they do not recant their faith, sources told Morning Star News.

While the pastor of the Church of North India (CNI) and a lawyer were securing notarizations of affidavits for baptisms signifying the faith in Christ of 16 people, someone on the court premises had informed the members of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal about the affidavits.

A few members of the Bajrang Dal, youth wing of the Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad, approached and interrogated Maleywar about the affidavits as they man-handled him. Grabbing the affidavits, they accused him of forcible and fraudulent conversion.

"They confiscated my father's cell phone and all the affidavits – he could not even contact us," the Maleywar's 30-year-old son, Rohin Maleywar, told MSN.

Officers from the nearby Sardana police station arrived at the scene and took Maleywar into custody and transferred him to the Abdullapur jail near Meerut, 14 miles away.

He remained in the Abdullapur jail under Section 151 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, "Arrest to prevent the commission of cognizable offense," after the Sub-Divisional Magistrate rejected his bail petition on June 20, according to MSN.

He has also been charged with voluntarily causing hurt under Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 504 of the IPC, "Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace."

"Local politicians created a ruckus in the courtroom," said his attorney, Reena Luka.

"The judge said if he granted Maleywar bail, the peace of the area would be compromised," Luka added.

She said that the judge told them to wait a few days until tensions cooled.

"We are hopeful that we will be able to procure the bail on Monday (June 25)," she added.

Maleywar has been leading the CNI's St Thomas Church in Mulhera for five years and working as an evangelist with CNI for 17 years.

The affidavits are self-declarations that the signees willingly choose to follow Christ, want to get baptized and are not coerced or offered inducements.

In Uttar Pradesh, the affidavits are not legally required.

However, churches request them to avoid controversies and the very kind of accusations that occurred, said the Rev. Prem Prakash Habil, CNI bishop of the Diocese of Agra that includes the two churches the 16 people belong to. Two of the Christians belong to the church Maleywar leads and 14 belonging to Epiphany Church in Khatauli.

"We always follow this procedure; they have to submit a hand-written application in their own writing, verification papers and an affidavit if they want to become a member of the church and receive baptism," said Habil.

While Maleywar was facing legal issues, the Hindu extremists had attacked the families of the 16 Christians.

"The members of the Bajarang Dal went door-to-door and met all the 16 families and spoke to them," said Maleywar's daughter, Ritika Maleywar.

Nirmal Jacob, pastor of the Ephiphany Church said that Bajarang Dal members are exerting severe pressure on all the families.

"The head of the village, along with Bajarang Dal members, went to the homes of these believers and threatened them with dire consequences," said Jacob.

"They said that they would be boycotted from the village, asked to leave, their educational certificates would be confiscated and their entitlement to government benefits would be withdrawn if they profess their faith in Jesus Christ."