Religious Freedom in India

Indian Catholic denied marriage on conversion allegations

.- Local officials had refused, on four separate occasions, to register the marriage of a Catholic day laborer and a tribal woman in central India, alleging that the groom wanted to convert his bride to Christianity.

According to the groom, Peter Abraham, Dharam Sena (the religious army) had even threatened to kill him if he went ahead with the marriage.

However, Suraj Jaiswal, a member of Congress in the state's opposition party, read about the couple’s struggle. He dismissed the conversion charges against Abraham as "rubbish" and took their case to the governor of Madhya Pradesh state, Balram Jhakhar, on Jan. 8.

Jaiswal told UCA News that the governor intervened, directing the state chief secretary to arrange for the couple to have their marriage registered. The couple finally registered their marriage in a civil court in Jabalpur, 815 kilometers south of New Delhi, on Jan. 11.

Abraham, 38, dropped out of school in the fifth grade, pedals a tricycle taxi for a living. On an average day he earns about 100 rupees (US$2.20). The bride, Meena Singh Gond, 36, cannot walk unaided, the legacy of polio.

She told UCA News that she has "great faith in God" and expressed her confidence that "everything would turn out in our favor." Gond said she was "happy and relieved" after the marriage and that she wants to join her husband's religion.

Gond's brother Ajeet Singh told UCA News the family has no objection if she wants to embrace Catholicism. He says Abraham has given his sister "a life, which nobody could even think of."

Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur told UCA News the difficulties faced by this couple are not uncommon and similar incidents have taken place in various parts of the diocese. He regrets that the civil administration often fails to protect Christians and other minority groups in Madhya Pradesh.

According to UCA News, Several anti-Christian incidents have been reported in the state since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) came to power on Dec. 8, 2003. Christian leaders say the administration tacitly supports fanatic Hindu activities.

Tribal people have their own religious traditions, but Hindu fanatics claim that these are part of Hinduism and all tribal people are or once were Hindus.

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