Christians in Jaunpur navigate legal storm and church closure

(Photo: Pixabay)

Three Christians who were arrested on September 29 in Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh continue to languish in prison without bail. The legal challenges faced by them and the 15 others who were arrested with them, continue to escalate, while the Church has been demolished by the administration.

Jeevan Jyoti Mission Church, led by Pastor Durga Prasad Yadav, who is one of the imprisoned, from Bhulandih has been in the eye of a storm since July 2018. After local newspapers published a series of reports against his Church alleging fraudulent conversion to Christianity, police complaints were filed against him and others in September 2018. It has been an uphill battle for the Pastor and his Church since. At one time Pastor Yadav’s Church used to see an attendance of over 5,000 people every Sunday. The Church has now been shut down, like many others in Jaunpur district.

The ongoing legal challenge for pastor Yadav that began afresh this year started with First Information Report (FIR) No. 335 dated 12 September 2023, that charged him along with Govind Lal, Jitendra Kumar, Surendra Gautam, Usha Devi and Pastor Shravan Kumar, under sections of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021.

In all 9 different cases have been filed against Pastor Yadav and others as his accomplices. The details of some of the FIRs are given below:

· FIR # 229 dated 29.9.23.

· FIR # 230 dated 1.10.23.

· FIR # 335 dated 12.9.23.

· FIR # 231 dated 1.10.23.

· FIR # 238 dated 9.10.23.

· FIR # 259 dated 28.10.23.

In FIR number 335, Pastor Yadav and others were booked under Section 3 of the Act that explicitly states – “no person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any other person from one religion to another by use or practice of misrepresentation, force, undue influence, coercion, allurement or by any fraudulent means” and under Section 5(1) that states – “Punishment for contravention of provisions of section 3.”

The complainant, Ram Janm Yadav, who filed the FIR filed against the Christians, interestingly, is himself the Sub Inspector of the police station where the complaint has been filed. The FIR alleges that while on routine duty with his co-workers Yadav heard from an informant that conversion through allurement was going on at the Vikrampur Church. The FIR then goes on to state that the police reached the spot and initially apprehended Govind Lal, Jitendra Kumar, Surendra Gautam and Usha Devi while Pastor Shravan Kumar, who was addressing the church gathering managed to flee. The Sub Inspector then alleges in the FIR, that the four that were apprehended, claimed that pastor Durga Prasad Yadav from Bhulandih (about 55 kilometres away), was their ringleader and boss and used to give them money and conversion materials to carry out conversions of “simple minded people.” 

The FIR also goes on to state that the four confessed to enticing people from the present and nearby areas and luring them to believe in Jesus Christ by offering them money and medical treatment, so that they would eventually convert to Christianity.

The police team under the leadership of Ram Janm Yadav confiscated the so-called conversion material from the Church which included the following: 9 Full Bibles, 1 New Testament, 1 dairy, 98 posters, 138 pamphlets, 293 Christian tracts, etc. Besides, the police also confiscated musical instruments, mics, loudspeaker, podium, 1 pen drive, a mobile cable, etc., classifying them also as conversion material recovered from the site.

By the end of the same month, another FIR (no. 229) was filed against 12 identified and 15-20 unidentified people under FIR no. 229 dated September 29. The complainant in this case is also a government official, Hussain Ahmed, a Deputy to a Sub-divisional Magistrate who went to Durga Prasad Yadav’s Jeevan Jyoti Ashram along with a team to investigate a revenue related matter.

As per the FIR, after the team found the Ashram doors locked, they started to return, but were suddenly attacked by the 12 people named in the FIR (many related to pastor Yadav) as well as many unnamed people. The attackers, the FIR claims, carried the assault using stones, wooden sticks, iron rods, etc.

While the FIR states that Durga Prasad Yadav and his supporters attacked the team, one of the person’s named in the FIR, spoke to Christian Today and revealed that the villagers who were eyewitnesses to the attack informed the Christians later that the attack was carried out by local Hindu extremists with their faces covered with a cloth and it was later blamed on the Christians.

After the filing of this FIR, the Jeevan Jyoti Church was demolished in the presence of the Sub Divisional Magistrate Neha Mishra, CO Gaurav Sharma, Naib Tehsildar Hussain Ahmed, and Police Station Head Mahesh Kumar Singh. The reason given was that the Church structure was an “illegally constructed prayer hall”. The Church had been locked even before being demolished even before the last FIR had been filed.

The latest FIR filed against Durga Prasad Yadav and 17 others was under FIR No. 259 dated 28 October 2023, under the Gangster Act Section 3(1) which states – “A gangster, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than two years and which may extend to ten years and also with fine which shall not be less than 5,000 rupees: Provided that a gangster who commits an offence against the person of a public servant or the person of a member of the family of a public servant shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than three years and also with fine which shall not be less than five thousand rupees.”

While the rest are out on bail, Durga Prasad Yadav, his wife Leela Yadav and his brother Jay Prakash Yadav continue to remain in jail.

One of the 18 arrested earlier was Manoj Jacob who was released after 48 days on bond. Jacob, who was released on Nov. 22 spoke to Christian Today and denied all the allegations against him as baseless.

“I was in Prayagraj, about 60 miles away when all of this was happening in Jaunpur, yet I was dragged into this and I was arrested,” said Jacob.

“There is no doubt that we are innocent, but in order to prove that it will take time and a lot of money,” said Jacob saddened by the harassment all of this has caused him and his family and similarly to all the others who were sent to jail.