A court in India sent five Christian preachers to police custody Sunday for their alleged involvement in “inciting communal feelings.” According to a local news agency, the five will be kept under custody until November 4.
As people in the tribal belt of Suliapada block in Orissa’s Mayurbhanj district were busy with Durga Puja festivities, sources say Mumbai-based Catholic missionaries led by Pastor Karl Silva were reportedly preaching.
The missionaries were then arrested Thursday on charges of “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of others and issuing threats or criminal intimidation to several persons,” said police.
The next day, the five missionaries were brought before the Baripada Sub-divisional Judicial Magistrate who rejected their bail application and sent them to custody until November 4.
The Mayurbhanj district, in which they were preaching, has reportedly seen increased activity by fundamentalist Hindu groups and has been an area of concern for local Christians. It was also the location of recent re-conversion ceremonies of tribal Christian converts to Hindu. In the most recent ceremony, organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), tribal natives from three different villages within the area were driven to the Orissa’s Sindurgh district in northern India Oct. 17, and after reconverting to Hinduism, received gifts such as food and new clothing.
In another incident, which took place in September, 76 Tribal Christians ‘re-embraced’ Hinduism in the village of Sarat, Mayurbhanj district, in what the VHP described as “a return home for the tribal people”.
According to local sources, fundamentalist groups such as the VHP are very active in Orissa and make life difficult for Christian Tribals who are often threatened if they attend Church services. While Hindu nationalist organizations frequently allege that Christian missionaries force Hindus, particularly those of lower castes, to convert to Christianity, Christians claim that the efforts of Hindu groups to "reconvert" Christians to Hinduism are coercive.
Anti-conversion laws have been in effect in Orissa since the 1960s, under which those "forcing" or "alluring" individuals to convert are subject to criminal action, however sources say what constitutes forced conversions or allurement is not specified.