In the short clip circulated in WhatsApp groups and on Twitter, two men could be heard asking the priest to chant ‘Jai Shri Ram’ while also accusing him of “converting” people in the area – a charge that the police and the priest denied. The hecklers repeatedly asked him, “Where are you from? Who brought you here?”
While the visibly scared priest was seen trying to tell them that the family he had visited were Christians before he came to the area, the hecklers continued to push him to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and asked him why wouldn’t he say so. At some point, they also prodded the crowd, that had gathered to watch, to shout ‘Jai Shri Ram’, which they did.
The Wire contacted the priest, Chunglenlal Singsit, who said, “The incident happened around 3 pm on Christmas. I had gone to a believer’s house nearby in Kathua to pray. I returned home and went out to the market to buy some gifts for my three children. That was when two men stopped me and began accusing me of converting the family I had visited that day and was forcing me to say ‘Jai Shri Ram’.”
Chunglenlal, who belongs to the Kuki tribe and is a native of Manipur’s Kangpokpi district, said, “After some time, they phoned someone and one more person joined them. By then a crowd of 100 people had gathered, some of whom threatened to beat me for religious conversion while the three men slapped me a few times. In the video, you see me wetting my lips repeatedly; that was because I was so scared that my mouth and throat had gone dry. I could barely speak out of fear.”
He said, “They also called the local police and accused me of carrying out religious conversion in the area.”
“While I told the police what actually happened and denied carrying out any conversion, the police picked me up instead; kept me for over 24 hours in lockup, shouted abuses at me and also beat me in custody. The Kathua SSP said if I don’t leave for Manipur within five days, action would be taken against me.”
Chunglenlal said he has been residing in Kathua for the last three years and works as a priest in a Christian organisation named Friends of Missionary Prayer Band. “I was released after 24 hours because my organisation members asked if I was arrested and sought a first information report copy to seek my bail.”
The personal assistant to the SSP, Kathua, denied to The Wire any arrest or detention of a Christian priest on the charge of conversion. Saying that the senior officer was not at the office, he said, “We have no information about any such case in Kathua.”