Bhopal, India, May 7, 2019 / 04:18 pm (CNA).- A Protestant pastor in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has been acquitted of charges held against him under India’s state-level anti-conversion laws.
Pentecostal Pastor Balu Saste, his wife, his son, and members of his community were violently attacked by Hindus, later detained by the police and accused of trying to convert people to Christianity by force, according to ADF International.
The group announced May 6 that a court had dropped all charges against Balu and his family.
“The acquittal of Pastor Balu and his family is a vital step towards the protection of religious freedom and the right to freely live out one’s faith,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.
“Now he can continue to tend to his small community of Christians without interference from the state. Unfortunately, this is not the only case in India where Christians have been falsely accused under anti-conversion laws.”
A group of nationalists stormed Balu’s church three years ago during a service and began beating and harassing worshipers, ADF International reports.
The police came and arrested Balu, his wife, and his six-year-old son, stripped them of their clothes, beat them, and kept them detained without bail for three days, finally convicting the family in March of this year of forcing conversion to the Christian faith.
The right to choose one’s own religion is found in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.
Violence against Christians in the majority Hindu country are on the rise. International NGOs and the country’s Catholic bishops have recently raised their voices in protest against mob violence.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal has said numerous mob lynchings of Christians have occurred in which the victims are accused of eating beef or otherwise harming cattle, which are considered sacred in Hinduism.
An article on the Indian website Scroll has documented incidents in which “cow protection vigilantes” have assaulted men they accused of either killings cows or transporting cattle to be slaughtered. A large number of Indian states have made slaughtering cattle illegal, the article says.
Violence against Christians in India does not end with lynchings, however. The United Christian Forum and ADF India documented 80 “violent mob attacks” across India in the first quarter of 2019 alone.
According to ADF International, the attacks will often involve a mob arriving at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering and beating up those in attendance, including women and children, while shouting abusive and harassing things. The group says pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.