A MEMBER of the Madhya Pradesh Backward Classes and Minority Welfare Department who enjoys minister of state status, Laxmi Yadav, was present when Bajrang Dal activists stormed into a church in Satna on April 27 and stopped a wedding alleging the couple had converted.
As the Bajrang Dal insists Arun Kushwaha and Subhadra Kushwaha can marry only in a temple, Yadav said, “This is the first case in the country when Christians were caught red-handed converting and marrying OBCs. We will reconvert them, purify them after sprinkling Gangajal and hold a Hindu marriage for the couple. I am seeking legal opinion on whether sedition charge could be invoked against the Christians for waging a war against the country.”
Bajrang Dal leader Rajkumar Mishra, who has spearheaded campaigns against conversion, love jihad and cow slaughter and claims to have “saved hundreds of Hindu girls”, led a protest two days after the Church attack where an effigy of the Pope was burnt in front of a leading Catholic school of Satna. The protesters tried to enter the school premises too but were stopped by police.
Both Arun, 24, who has studied up to Class XII, and Subhadra insist they have not formally converted to Christianity, only undergone “man parivartan (a change of heart)”. They say their families were attracted to Christianity after their ailing parents, who couldn’t be helped by medical practitioners, were cured.
“We went to five doctors, and then the sixth (Christ) cured them, so we started believing in Him,” says Arun.
However, the Bajrang Dal men kept asking them why they were getting married in a church if they hadn’t converted, they say. The couple had chosen April 27 for the wedding as it was Arun’s birthday.
Bajrang Dal activists had barged into the Church of God (Full Gospel) in India, where the wedding was happening, followed by the local police, roughed up relatives from both sides, and stopped the ceremony. Police say they went because they were told “conversion was taking place”.
Pastor Sam Samuel says Wednesday’s was the first-ever wedding being held at the church that came up in 1998. “The presence of so many Hindus, many of whom believe in our way, had the right wing worried. Police abused us in front of the activists and later apologised saying they had to put up an act,” he says. He says he was also asked by police not to visit the church or his first-floor residence that night and later not to venture out of his home.
Amid claims and counterclaims over conversion, and proof demanded by right-wing activists, police checked Subhadra’s Class VIII mark-sheet and found that she was 10 days short of turning 18. Nine persons, including six pastors and Arun, were arrested and a case registered under the anti-conversion law, prevention of child marriage law and the IPC section related to hurting religious sentiments. They were released on bail late in the night.
“No one misbehaved with me but they pushed Arun around and asked how and why did he convert to Christianity,” says a distraught Subhadra.
According to Arun, Bajrang Dal men told them, “If you are ready to marry according to Hindu traditions, we will take you to a temple and perform the wedding on a grand scale. If you insist on marrying in a church, we have to take you to the police station.”
Her father Loknath Kushwaha claims his daughter is actually 19 years old and that her marksheet wrongly mentioned her birth year as 1998. He has so far failed to provide proof from the hospital where she was born but shows three marksheets of his youngest son Jashwant that mention different years of birth.
“Who gave the Bajrang Dal the right to storm into a church, beat up pastors and insult all of us?” asks Loknath, calling their action an “atikraman (encroachment)”. “Punish us if she is a minor but why insult us like this? We are vishwasu (people of faith). When both sides are ready to marry, how can others interfere?”
The family had printed invitations and many relatives had come for the wedding when the Bajrang Dal attacked. He is also angry with pastor Samuel for not going through Subhadra’s marksheet before fixing the wedding day at Arun’s insistence. “He should have waited till her birthday and we would not have ended up like this,” he says, pointing to his despondent daughter.
Police dubbed Loknath “mentally unstable”, claiming relatives have told them this. Subhadra’s 44-year-old mother Munni says she used to get “visits from ghosts” till 10 years ago and no doctors could cure her. She admits to have received baptism at Gaughat in Allahabad, but adds, “no one has given us money and we have not paid anything. I turned a believer after I was cured.”
Loknath’s elder brother Gayaprasad, who incidentally is a BJP member, having joined the party after spending more than two decades in the BSP, was among those present at the wedding.
Later, he filed the complaint that led to the arrests. He claims police made him a scapegoat by getting him to file the complaint. The grocer also says that while his brother has changed his faith, he continues to be a Hindu. “I have seen weddings of other community but had never seen a Christian marriage, so I was curious and went to the church,” he claims.
Bajrang Dal leader Mishra says their protests were justified. “The couple have converted but haven’t changed their names to get the benefits that are due to OBCs.”
Pointing out that Madhya Pradesh’s anti-conversion law requires those who change their faith to notify district authorities, he adds, “If they have already converted or are set to convert, where is the letter of permission?”
Meanwhile, Arun and Subhadra remain determined to marry. “I am not scared by what happened but it’s at the back of my mind that I may be harmed when I am out. We will marry again when she becomes major in a few days. It will be a court marriage because we have no other option,” he says, adding that he would henceforth see whether authorities take similar action in cases of other Hindu minors getting married.
Standing at her home that is still decorated, for what would have been the first wedding in the family, Subhadra nods, “I will marry him.”