Two days before Christmas in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, a group of Christian missionaries were reportedly attacked by more than 30 men armed with sticks over accusations of forced conversions.
Both parties have filed complaints with the police, resulting in the filing of a cross FIR at the Purola police station. So far, no arrests have been made in relation to the FIRs. According to local police officers, the situation is under control.
According to the authorities, Pastor Lazarus Cornelius and his wife Sushma Cornelius of the Union Church in Mussoorie were leading prayers at a structure under construction in the Chhiwala village when the local gang approached. Allegations of religious conversion sparked a dispute between the two parties. Police reported that members of both parties sustained minor injuries during the confrontation.
“According to the residents, led by Virendra Singh Rawat of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), some outsiders have entered the village of Chhiwala and are conducting religious conversions. There was also considerable conflict between the two factions. We have filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the pastor and others based on a complaint from Virendra Singh Rawat, said Purola station officer (SO) Komal Singh Rawat.
“Later, the opposite side filed a second complaint, saying that they were engaged in worship when the locals attacked them and vandalised their vehicle. We have filed a FIR over this complaint,” Rawat stated.
Rawat added that the situation is being investigated and that appropriate action will be taken based on the findings.
The FIR was registered under sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), as well as Section 3/5 of the Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion Act, 2018.
The second FIR was lodged against unidentified locals under IPC sections 147 (rioting), 153 A, 323, 504, 506 (criminal intimidation), and 427 (criminal mischief causing damage).
The police reportedly questioned Pastor Cornelius, his wife, and others, who were later freed.
The Uttarakhand Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2022 was enacted by the Uttarakhand Assembly last month, making unauthorised religious conversion a cognizable and non-bailable offence in the state, punishable by imprisonment for a minimum of three years and a maximum of ten years. According to sources, Uttarakhand governor Gurmit Singh has signed the measure into law. In the near future, a government notice will be released regarding this matter.