Police, Hindu hardliners halt church wedding in India

A group of hardline Hindu activists and police stormed a church in central India and stopped a wedding midway after accusing the pastor of forcefully converting the bride to Christianity, an official said Thursday.

It comes as India’s Christian minority has sounded the alarm over a recent rise in attacks on churches and members of the faith, fuelling tensions over religious freedom in the diverse, secular country.

As the wedding got underway at the Church of God in India in Madhya Pradesh state, men belonging to the fringe Hindu outfit Bajrang Dal barged in accompanied by police, who arrested ten people, a church spokesperson said.

Right-wing Hindu groups accuse churches and missionaries of targeting tribal people and other poor groups with the aim of converting them to Christianity, claims denied by the clergy.

“They said it is a matter of forceful conversion and arrested the bride, the groom, their parents as well pastors of two churches who were present there,” Mariyosh Joseph, a spokesperson for the church in Satna district told media.

“How can you storm into a religious place and stop a ceremony like this? You will never see such a thing happening at a temple or a mosque,” he said.

The area police superintendent said the wedding was stopped because the girl was a Hindu and not yet 18, the legal age for women to marry in India.

“The girl is a Hindu and she is 17. We acted on a complaint made by the bride’s uncle. The matter is under investigation,” Mithilesh Shukla told media.

The Indian Express daily said the couple had converted to Christianity four years ago, but district authorities were not informed — a crime under state laws.

The church insisted the couple were Christians and accused the police of “hiding behind excuses” to justify their conduct.

It follows a series of attacks on Christian religious sites. In March, three men were arrested in neighbouring Chhattisgarh state after they vandalised a church during Sunday mass.

Last year, vandals wrapped a dog chain around the neck of a statue of the Virgin Mary in the northern tourist city of Agra.

Priests and other Christian leaders have blamed the attacks on religious hardliners, who they say have become emboldened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-wing government swept to power in 2014.

A series of mass conversions of Muslims and Christians to Hinduism, allegedly influenced by Hindu hardliners sometimes promising financial incentives, have also raised concern.

Around 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion population is Hindu, but it is also home to large numbers of Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

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