The Jharkhand Police have arrested 16 preachers, including seven women, for allegedly trying to convert local residents to Christianity and making objectionable comments against tribal places of worship in Dumka. All 16 were booked under the Freedom of Religion Act, which came into force last year.
Dumka Superintendent of Police Kishore Kaushal said: “An FIR was registered on the basis of a gram pradhan’s complaint in the matter. Following initial investigation, 16 people have been arrested, who are allegedly preachers. Further investigation is on.”
According to the complaint registered at the Shikaripara police station by Ramesh Murmu, pradhan of Phool Pahari village, the 16 preachers had arrived in a bus from West Bengal on Thursday evening. Murmu alleged that they put up loudspeakers in the village and began inviting people to gather and that they spoke about Christianity and asked people to join it.
“The villagers became angry when they began making disparaging comments about tribal places of worship — locally called ‘Manjhi Than’ and ‘Jaher Than’ —saying that Satan resided in such places. Angry villagers asked them to stop but they did not,” said a senior police officer associated with the case.
“After that, they (villagers) detained them overnight. In the morning, they informed the police and handed them over to us. There was no physical violence or heckling involved.”
According to Kaushal, locals told the police that the same group had come to the village before to carry out “similar activities”. “The villagers had objected to the same, after which they had left. Villagers say that this was the second time. We are verifying and investigating every aspect,” he said.
He also said that the 16 arrested have named an organisation based in Tamil Nadu with which they were associated, which was being probed. The 16 preachers have been booked under the Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, and Section 295-A (insulting religion or religious beliefs) of the Indian Penal Code.
Under The Freedom of Religion Act, 2017, anybody trying to influence a person to change his religion on the basis of “allurement, coercion or cheating” is liable to punishment of three years and fine of Rs 50,000. However, if the victim is a woman, minor, senior citizen and a member of the Scheduled Tribe or Scheduled Caste, the punishment can go up to four years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh.
Police said at least 10 of the arrested had come from West Bengal’s Birbhum district. “Others were from different places in Dumka and Godda. West Bengal’s Birbhum is adjacent to Shikaripara border and the bus had come from there. Some of the written material, a pen drive, the audio system and the vehicle have been seized,” said a police officer.
On June 1, an FIR under the Freedom of Religion Act at the Manoharpur police station in West Singhbhum named local Congress leader Sushil Barla and a dozen others.
The complaint was registered by Adivasi Ho Mahasabha block president Indrajeet Samad, who had alleged that allurement and disparaging comments against tribals, was made by the preachers, who had converted three families in Medasai village, Manoharpur.
Sub-Divisional Police Officer (Manoharpur), Ram Manohar Sharma, said: “An FIR was registered and an investigation is on. No arrests have been made so far.”