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UP Police say arrested pastor David Asthana’s NGO violated FCRA norms: All we know so far about the Sitapur mass conversion racket

On Tuesday the Uttar Pradesh police arrested the Lucknow-based pastor David Asthana and his wife for allegedly attempting to convert hundreds of people to Christianity.

The Uttar Pradesh police have widened their probe into the Sitapur mass conversion racket that was busted on Sunday, December 18. The Sitapur police have reportedly traced the sources of foreign funding to the NGO of David Asthana, the main accused in the case.

On Tuesday (December 20), the Uttar Pradesh police arrested the Lucknow-based pastor after registering a case against him and his pastor wife, Rohini Astahana, for allegedly attempting to forcefully convert hundreds of people to Christianity in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur district. The duo was arrested under provisions of The Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. Along with the pastor couple, the police had also detained four Brazillian nationals and are probing their role in the case.

According to Narendra Pratap Singh, Sitapur’s additional superintendent of police, the investigation has so far proven that David Asthana violated the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA). During 2014-15, he received large sums of money from the United States, South Korea, Brazil, Kenya, and Argentina without disclosing them to authorities. “We found lakhs of rupees in three bank accounts of David and when he was confronted about it, he failed to give a satisfactory reply,” said Singh.

According to sources privy to the probe, they have traced donations totalling Rs 1 crore since 2018-19. Police claimed to have tracked down 12 donors who made large deposits using an e-gateway.

Police have also summoned the chartered account of the NGO run by David Asthana and sought 14-day custody of the pastor from a local court.

UP police makes fresh arrest in the Sitapur mass conversion case

In addition, the UP police have made fresh arrests in connection with the case, reported Hindi daily Amar Ujala. These eight accused were said to be a part of the gang that was being led by arrested pastor David Asthana and his wife Rohini Asthana, the prime accused in the case.

According to the police, hundreds of people have been converted to Christianity in the Sadarpur hamlet in the past, however, the majority of these converts did not change their names because the racket was being carried out in a very secretive manner and people did not want the villagers to know about the conversion.

The authorities also believed that David could not have accomplished the mammoth task without the assistance of the locals which is why he had hired several villagers as his aides.

So far, the names of eight other people who were involved in the conversion case racket have come forward in the police inquiry. Their roles were even more significant than David’s, the police said, adding that since David himself could not frequently visit the village his aides were tasked with the responsibility to lure poor villagers to the church on Sundays, on the pretext of offering prayers, after which they were converted. This scam which was going on for eight years, started with the conversion of four people and had now reached four hundred, said the police, adding that the police are probing the role of these villagers who were helping David run the racket in the village.

Sitapur mass conversion racket

Notably, on Monday, December 19, a case was registered against David Asthana and his wife Rohini based on a complaint filed the previous day by Naimish Gupta, a resident of Sehbazpur village. In the complaint, Naimish Gupta alleged that the couple along with four foreign nationals, identified as Rivaldo Joses DaSilva, Magnolia Maro Laronzera, Gulheram Nasimento Edalgo and Alexander D’Silva, participated in a mass conversion event in the village under Sadarpur police limits on Sunday.

As per the complainant, the accused participated in a mass congregation of over 200 people, who were allegedly called for a mass conversion event. 

According to authorities, they received information on Sunday that a group of individuals were protesting against a pastor and his associates in the district’s Shahbazpur hamlet, accusing them of attempting to convert people to Christianity.

A police unit arrived at the spot and detained the pastor couple and the four Brazillian nationals. According to a police officer, the four Brazilian nationals arrived in India on a tourist visa about two months ago. According to the officer, they have been transferred to their hotel in Lucknow, where they will be staying under police protection, and they have alerted officials at the Brazilian Embassy in Delhi.

Additional Superintendent of Police (Sitapur) Narendra Pratap Singh said, “David has been arrested in the case. We are looking into the role of those four Brazilians in the case. The district Superintendent of Police has written a letter to Foreigner Regional Registration Office in Lucknow, recommending deportation of the four Brazilians to their country.”

According to sources, the recommendation for deportation was issued after it was discovered during the preliminary investigation that the four Brazilians had broken visa rules by attending a congregation reportedly involved in unlawful conversion.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian nationals told the police that they visited India on a tourist visa and were visiting Sitapur district with the pastor couple from Lucknow, the officer said.

Another senior officer, requesting anonymity, said a police team reached the village after receiving a complaint from Naimish Gupta, a resident of Sehbazpur village, about a mass conversion attempt. “The FIR was lodged on Gupta’s complaint, alleging the couple David and Rohini Asthana were trying to convert villagers to Christianity forcefully. It is yet to be established how the tourists came in touch with the couple,” the officer said.

Two mass conversion rackets busted in Uttar Pradesh

Notably, two other mass conversion rackets were busted in Uttar Pradesh recently. In the month of November, OpIndia reported about one that emerged from the Fatehpur district of the state. The UP police had arrested a Christian pastor named Vijay Masih and 13 other people for illegally converting a group of Hindus to Christianity. After the arrest, the Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) of the Uttar Pradesh Police started probing foreign funding links of the accused.

The racket was unearthed in April this year. Since then, police in UP’s Fatehpur had carried out three rounds of arrests following complaints from VHP and Bajrang Dal members about Christian groups trying to convert Hindus through bribes and allurement.

Since April, the police have arrested 40 people connected to the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) in the Hariharganj locality of Fatehpur, with 14 of the arrests taking place between 30 October and 9 November. 

The second mass religious conversion racket had emerged from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, in which Christian missionaries allegedly forced, lured and coerced vulnerable Hindus into conversion.

On Friday, October 28, Uttar Pradesh’s Meerut police filed an FIR against 9 accused under sections of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2021. The FIR was filed based on a complaint lodged by many Dalit Hindus living in the Mangatapuram colony, a slum in the Bhrampuri police station area in Meerut. The complainants alleged that some Christian evangelists residing in the same village had compelled as many as 400 of them to convert to Christianity.

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