Thursday, February 04, 2016

Indian Church committed to Kandhamal’s suffering brethren: Cardinal Cleemis

Bhubaneswar: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is committed to the “suffering brethren of Kandhamal,” says the head of the highest Catholic body in the country.

“I join in praying and thanking God for the blessings showered upon the Kandhamal Christian community. I want to assure my commitment and the unwavering support of the CBCI to the suffering brethren in Kandhamal,” CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis wrote in a February 4 letter to Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in Odisha state.

Kandhamal, a district in the eastern Indian state, was the scene of the worst anti-Christian violence the country witnessed in its modern history. It was the biggest and largest attack in 300 years in Indian history. The violence that lasted nearly four months claimed nearly 100 lives and rendered more than 50,000 homeless.

CBCI has accepted a suggestion from Archbishop Barwa to discuss the anti-Christian persecution of 2007 and 2008 in Kandhamal at its plenary meeting scheduled for March 2-9 at St John’s Medical College Campus, Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Archbishop Barwa is scheduled to speak for 20 minutes on March 4 giving a panoramic view of Kandhamal violence from 2007 to 2016. He will also answer questions for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile a group of priests and lay people is preparing a detailed list of Kandhamal martyrs, according to the dates of their death, denomination or religion.

Archbishop Barwa, chairperson of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council (OCBC), hailed the CBCI decis9on to address the Kandhamal issue. The Divine Word prelate said it was the first time in eight years the national body of the Indian bishops has expressed its willingness to know about the status of Kandhamal violence.

The Odisha Church wanted the bishops’ conference to discuss the possibilities of observing Kandhamal Martyrs’ Day at national level, initiating the canonization process for Kandhamal martyrs and putting up an exhibition on Kandhamal violence at the plenary venue.

The appeal was made in a December 10 letter that Archbishop Barwa wrote to CBCI deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan. The prelate writing on behalf of the Odisha bishops wanted the CBCI plenary to allow 20 minutes for Kandhamal survivors to share their experience. CBCI, however, turned down the request. It also rejected another request to put up an exhibition on Kandhamal at the plenary venue.

Heads of India’s 171 dioceses, auxiliary and retired bishops are expected to attend the assembly that has chosen the theme, “The Response of the Church in India to the present day Challenges.”

The bishops are meeting first time after a coalition headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) formed the federal government on May 26, 2014. India was in the grip of an election fever when the prelates met last time at Palai in February that year. They addressed the theme, “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II.”

Justice Cyriac Joseph, a retired Supreme Court judge and acting chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, will be the main speaker at the next plenary, said CBCI secretary general Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra in a report.

The bishops have invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to address the plenary. The plenary has slotted some space for eminent persons from other Christian denominations and religions to express their views on the issues the bishops will discuss.

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Humiliating Attack in India Tests Young Pastor’s Faith

A pastor in northern India who was beaten and paraded through streets with his head half-shaved as crowds called for him to be cut to pieces said he is thankful that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.

On Friday (Jan. 29) Hindu extremists posing as policemen picked up Avdhesh Savita, a 35-year-old father of four, from his home in Rendhar village in Uttar Pradesh state and took him to Orai, Jalaun District. They beat him, shaved half of his head, one eyebrow and one side of his moustache, and put him on a donkey as they led him in a procession through Orai.

They and others in the frenzied crowd mocked him, falsely accusing him of forcible conversion.

“The mob that was parading me was shouting, ‘Kill him, cut him in pieces,’ but I kept telling them that faith unites, it does not divide,” Savita told Morning Star News. “I told my tormentors that I believe in Christ out of my own freewill, and that I have never hurt anyone, but they just did not listen to me.”

The assailants were reportedly members of Yuvavahini (Youth Brigade), a Hindu nationalist group, and took him to the head office of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal in Orai, where others joined in the abuse.

“I kept praying throughout the ordeal, I am not afraid of dying,” Savita said. “I thought, ‘This is the day when I will stand before my Savior.’ But I also thought of my children, they are young, and that was my only concern. In the Lord I am persecuted, I am thankful for this privilege.”

The extremists picked up Savita, who became a Christian four years ago, in Rendhar, about 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Orai, in what appeared to be a police Jeep, and told him to come along for questioning, he said. Like him, his family members believed the men who came were policemen though they were in civilian clothes.

“They started hitting me once I was in the Jeep and continued hitting me on the way,” he told Morning Star News, in anguish. “They took me to the Bajrang Dal head office in Orai, where they hit me with their legs and fists, verbally abused me with the filthiest of language, shaved half my head, removed one eyebrow completely and half shaved my moustache. They then put me on a donkey and paraded me for about a half hour.”

The Hindu extremists took his jacket, which had money in it, and his mobile phone, said Savita, a poor lay pastor from the Dalit “untouchable” class that is lower than any of the Hindu caste levels.

Savita has two daughters, 16 and 14 years old, and two sons, 11 and 8.

Revenge Attack

The attack was rooted in the alleged instigator deciding to take vengeance on Savita because the pastor refused his request to give him money for alcohol and tobacco, a Christian leader said.

When Savita went to a Christian program in Varanasi from Dec. 18 to 23, Sangam Jatav was among three men from his village who had shown an interest in attending and accompanied him, the Rev. Daniel Inbaraj of the Mizpah Ministries told Morning Star News.

“On the fourth day of the program, Sangam Jatav asked Pastor Avdhesh for some money to buy alcohol and tobacco,” Pastor Inbaraj said. “When Avdhesh refused, he got furious. After returning from the program, Sangam Jatav went to Avdhesh’s house, threatened him and demanded money.”

Jatav demanded 20,000 rupees (US$294), saying that if Savita refused he would spread rumors that the pastor had tried to fraudulently convert him, and that he would get Bajrang Dal members to beat him, Savita said. Jatav subsequently called the Bajrang Dal, saying Savita had “converted him without his knowledge” and made him eat beef and desecrate photographs of Hindu gods by walking on them.

Jatav leveled the accusations in interviews with television stations, Pastor Inbaraj said.

“During the interviews, he alleged that the Christians forced him to eat beef, locked him in a room with the other two who had accompanied Avdhesh and him to the program, and forced him to walk on pictures of Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman,” he said. “He also alleged that he was given 5,000 Indian rupees to become a Christian. But when the other two were quizzed by the police, they denied any such accusation.”

The other two men who attended the Christian program, Sunil Jatav and Ravi Saxena, said that they were never forced to eat beef, and that only vegetarian food was served, Pastor Inbaraj said.

“They did say that they attended religious discourses but denounced the claim of Sangam Jatav that they were forcibly converted,” he said. “‘We went to the program and came back safe,’ they said.”

Jatav was arrested on Sunday (Jan. 31) and remains in jail, police officials told Morning Star News. Three cases are registered against him, including one of attempted murder in connection with the attack on Savita, they said.

Orai Senior Inspector Alok Sinha told Morning Star News that nine Bajrang Dal members have been arrested, but he declined to give any more information, except to say that police were searching for other members.

Pastor Inbaraj said he would raise the issue of Hindu extremists using what appeared to be a police Jeep with the superintendent of police.

The Rev. Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Delhi Archdiocese, called the attack a “glaring example of the impunitythat Hindu extremist groups enjoy under the federal government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We demand a reply from the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the parent body and the government,” he said.

John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum, told Morning Star News that election time in India seems to breed even more Hindu nationalist violence than that which takes place in provinces and towns where elections are not imminent.

“Uttar Pradesh, which is preparing for its legislative assembly elections, has seen considerable Hindutva activity in recent months, with both Christian and Muslims as its victims,” he said. “The state government, which is not controlled by the BJP, seems complicit on this violence.”

At the very least, Dayal said, the state government has failed to act on complaints.

“This blatant attempt to terrorize the community in the guise of protesting conversions is a case in point,” he said. “Uttar Pradesh does not have laws banning [fraudulent or forced] conversion such as exist in the states of Orissa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and three others. And yet both these Hindutva gangs and the police seem to believe that even the profession and propagation of faith is illegal. We condemn this manifestation of religious terrorism and call upon the state and Union governments to take strict action against it. Policemen guilty of complicity or impunity need also to be identified and brought to book.”

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) were registered against 150 to 200 unknown people at Orai and Rendhar police stations. The FIRs also name 13 people, including Jatav, who has been charged with attempt to murder (Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code), voluntary causing hurt (323), intentional insult to provoke breach of peace (504) and criminal intimidation (506) at Orai Police Station; and cheating by impersonation (419), cheating and dishonesty (420), punishment for extortion (384), impersonating a public servant (170) and public mischief with intent to incite (505) at Rendhar Police Station.

One FIR also names Akhilesh Dhiya, district convenor of Bajrang Dal at Jalaun. He has been charged with house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint (452), punishment for dacoity (395), kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person (365), promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion (153A), criminal intimidation (506), voluntary causing hurt (323) and punishment for defamation (500). Dhiya is absconding, and the police have yet to find him.

After the ordeal, Savita spent a night at the police station for interrogation and was released the next day when local Christian leaders intervened.

Living in Fear

Savita have moved to his parents’ place at a different village out of fear over his family’s safety. Because his wife and family must care for two animals, they cannot leave the village, he said. If the family left the area, they would have to sell their animals.

“My three elder children have stopped going to school, as they are very fearful,” he said. “We fear that they too might be kidnapped or insulted in the same manner.”

His brother, Mukesh Savita, said the attack seemed to be well-planned.

“My brother is in shock, but what can we do?” he said. “We are in a minority, we are Dalits. Even my family is very afraid. These people who did this to my brother are criminals, and till they are all arrested, we will not be able to live in peace.”

Village onlookers also mistook the assailants for policemen, he added.

“It would have been better if they had shot him,” he told Morning Star News. “This humiliation is a lot worse than death.”

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Village fines people for saying 'Christian' prayers in Madhya Pradesh

Julwania: A village council in central India has fined four people for practicing Christianity and is closely watching them to prevent them continuing to do so.

The Dahar village council in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, fined the four 5,000 rupees (US$75) each, Shankar Singh, one of those fined told Feb 4.

The punishment on Jan. 19 came five days after police arrested and later released 12 people who had gathered at Singh's house.

The arrests followed accusations by a Hindu group that the people at the gathering were attempting to convert to Christianity.

Members of the Hindu group surrounded the house and called police, Singh said.

"We are under tremendous pressure to give up our faith in Christ," the 40-year-old told, adding that he had been prevented from leaving the village for the past two weeks.

He and the other three denied allegations they had converted to Christianity or indulged in any conversion activity.

"I am a member of the Bhilala tribe and continue to be in it," Singh said.

"I'm simply happy to attend Christian meetings and prayers, which have helped me overcome my financial worries, alcoholism, unhappiness and other negativities in my life."

The state, run by pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has an anti-conversion law that criminalizes conversion if done without permission from government authorities. Fines and jail terms are stipulated for those involved in "fraudulent" and "forced" conversion and for "alluring" people to change their religion.

Fined for breaching harmony

Singh recounted that for more than two weeks he has been closely watched by a self-appointed "vigilance team" and that he and the other people fined were "prevented from leaving the village."
The village of some 2,000 people has only four people attending Christian prayers, the rest follow tribal traditions, Singh said.

Jurla Bhai, 36, who also was fined, said the council threatened "to expell us from the village after accusing us of converting to Christianity and going against local traditions."

Bhai also denied converting.

Village headman Mukud Randa confirmed the imposition of the fines.

They were fined for "breaching peace and harmony" in the village and "picking arguments with their own family members," he said.

In breaching harmony, "they were refusing to offer prayers and sacrifices to their goddesses and eat food offered in our worship," Randa said.

"This led to family discord and the fine was to discipline them and to keep the community together," he said.

Those wanting to follow Christianity are facing a "hostile situation," according to Jagdish Mehara, a local minister, who was among the 12 arrested, told

Christians have been opposing the state's anti-conversion laws on the grounds that they violate religious freedom as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bajrang Dal members assault Christian man, tonsure half his head, made to sit him on donkey and pass two police outposts unscathed

Bajrang Dal members assault Christian man, tonsure half his head, made to sit him on donkey and pass two police outposts unscathed

Lucknow: Suspected Bajrang Dal activists tonsured the head of a youth in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh and paraded him on a donkey for four hours on Saturday after accusing him of being involved in conversions.

Paraded through a half-kilometre stretch that includes two police outposts, Awadhesh Kumar was finally rescued when superintendent of police N. Kolanchi reached the spot with a large force around 10pm.

Kolanchi told The Telegraph that five Bajrang Dal members and the barber hired to shave Awadhesh’s head had been arrested.

Awadhesh has denied that he had forced anyone to convert and has filed an FIR against 25 Bajrang Dal members and about 200 unidentified men.

“I have been practising Christianity for the last few years. But I have never insisted on converting anybody. Sangam Jatav, who is close to Bajrang Dal leaders, wanted to accompany me to Varanasi. But he cooked up a story against me after returning from there,” the 35-year-old barber was quoted as having told the police.

Jatav, who has lodged a counter FIR, has alleged that Awadhesh and some of his friends “promised me a job and financial help if I agreed to visit Varanasi and meet some of their associates”.

“But on reaching there, they took me to a church and forced me to walk on the posters of Hindu gods and goddesses and eat beef,” the 30-year-old said, adding that there were six persons in the church at that time and they declared that he had been converted to Christianity because he had eaten beef.

The incident happened a month ago, Jatav said. He claimed he had approached the police soon after returning from Varanasi but was denied an audience. “I was upset and decided to inform the Bajrang Dal leaders,” he said.

Police sources said they had received no such complaint.

Awadhesh has complained in his FIR that Akhilesh Diha, the Bajrang Dal convener of Jalaun, and his aides kidnapped him from his house, thrashed him mercilessly, tonsured his head and paraded him in the village on a donkey.

A witness said that addressing a gathering during the procession, Diha had alleged that Awadhesh had converted many Dalits to Christianity in the past.

“Diha and his other aides are absconding. The police are conducting raids to arrest them,” superintendent of police Kolanchi said.

The police are also probing the charge that Awadhesh was forcing conversions.

Located 220km from Lucknow along NH25, Jalaun district borders Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. It is a communally sensitive place, with even a minor incident elsewhere leading to unrest here. There are 41 big temples in Jalaun town, compared to only 33 schools and colleges.

The Bajrang Dal runs a Ghar Wapsi (reconversion to Hinduism) programme here.

The Telegraph, Kolkata

Uttar Pradesh: Bajrang Dal activists ‘tonsure, parade man for conversion bid’

A man was allegedly tonsured, garlanded with shoes and paraded on a donkey by Bajrang Dal activists in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh Friday. According to police, the activists believed the man had lured four Hindus — two of them Dalits — into changing their religion.

Police have registered two FIRs in connection with the incident, and arrested five Bajrang Dal workers and the barber who tonsured the man’s head.

Circle Officer, city area, Jung Bahadur Yadav said the man, Awadhesh Kumar, an OBC, was picked up by the activists of Bajrang Dal Friday morning from his house in Redhar village, about 45 kilometres from Orai town. The men had come in a jeep fitted with a hooter and a police sign. Claiming to be policemen, the activists asked Awadhesh to accompany them for questioning. Awadhesh’s family did not raise any objection, the CO said.

Upon reaching Ambedkar crossing around 1.30 pm, Awadhesh was beaten up, police said. Later, a barber was called, who shaved his head, half his moustache and an eyebrow. He was then forced to sit on a donkey, garlanded with shoes and paraded for 150 metres. All this took place as hundreds of people looked on, police said, quoting from the complaint lodged by Awadhesh.

Police suspect the Bajrang Dal activists were contacted by one of the four men Awadhesh had allegedly taken to a Mirzapur church for a conversion bid. “They went to Mirzapur on December 18 and returned on December 23,” said the CO.

Additional Superintendent of Police, Jalaun, Shakeel Ahmed said that three of the men have denied any attempt by Awadhesh to convert them to Christianity. “They admitted to have gone to a church in Mirzapur but said no conversion took place,” said the ASP.

On Saturday, the police arrested five Bajrang Dal workers — Ashu Yadav, Prince Gupta, Karnendra Chauhan, Pradeep and Arun Tiwari — and the barber Ashish. They were produced in court, which sent them to judicial custody, said Station House Officer, Kotwali, Alok Saxena.

The ASP said the arrests were made after going through video clippings of the incident. “We have so far identified eight more Bajrang Dal men, including the outfit’s Jalaun district convenor Akhilesh Dhiya, who is currently absconding,” the ASP said.

The FIR registered against 100-150 unidentified Bajrang Dal men charges them with kidnapping and other offences. Police have also registered a case against Awadhesh for promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion and other charges.

BJP’s Jalaun district president Jagdish Tiwari confirmed the arrest of Bajrang Dal workers but claimed they were innocent. “Police are conducting raids to trace Akhilesh Dhiya so they can arrest him. The police are harassing his family members by taking his brother and mother into illegal custody,” Tiwari alleged.

Janata Dal (United) MP K C Tyagi, meanwhile, condemned the incident and claimed that the Centre has failed to control such outfits.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

India targets Western, Christian groups at odds with Hinduism

VARANASI, India — A crackdown on private activist groups, especially Western and Christian organizations, has many here worried that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is selectively targeting organizations that don’t fit into his nationalist vision of India emphasizing Hinduism.

In the most notable instance, Greenpeace India is fighting for its survival in Indian courts after the government seizure of its accounts and temporary withdrawal of its license last year. The government said the organization was receiving foreign funds illegally.

An appeals court has allowed the Indian chapter of the environmental nongovernmental organization to remain open until a judge hears arguments in the case. In the meantime, Greenpeace India is limping along without funds from its international headquarters.

Vinuta Gopal, who stepped down as Greenpeace India’s interim executive director Jan. 20, said Mr. Modi’s regulators were targeting her group because of its advocacy for sustainable development that countered the prime minister’s relentless push for economic growth and support for business.

“The Home Ministry’s clumsy tactics to suppress free speech and dissenting voices are turning into a major national and international embarrassment for this government,” said Ms. Gopal. “This is an extension of the deep intolerance for differing viewpoints that sections of this government seem to harbor.”

Occupying an uneasy space between the state and individual voters, nongovernmental organizations that deal with hot-button issues including the environment, mining, ethnic rights and democracy-building have found themselves in the crosshairs in countries such as China and Russia.

Even Israel is facing heat from the Obama administration and American Jewish groups over a bill in the Knesset that would require nongovernmental organizations funded by foreign governments to label themselves as such in official meetings and in official reports. Critics of the bill in Israel and the U.S. say it amounts to a backdoor attempt to silence criticism of the government over its treatment of Palestinians and Israel’s Arab minority.

Greenpeace India is one of the five high-profile NGOs — including the United Theological College and the Salve Regina Charitable Trust, both based in Bangalore — whose operations have come under fire during Mr. Modi’s 1-year old tenure in office. Elected on a platform of reforming India’s notoriously backward business sector, the 65-year-old prime minister has also pursued a forceful agenda to promote Hindu values in a massive, diverse country that is around 80 percent Hindu but officially a secular democracy.

It didn’t start with the current government. Mr. Modi’s predecessors stopped foreign funding for almost 8,700 NGOs under a 2010 law that sought to reduce outside influence in the country, especially when it was linked to religious organizations that lawmakers feared could foment interfaith strife.

But Mr. Modi is now targeting popular groups that have long operated legally in India, a shift that NGO representatives say reflects his agenda to curtail non-Hindu groups.

“For sure, Hindu radical forces seek revenge on minorities,” said Lenin Raghuvanshi, founder of the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights.

He acknowledged that foreign NGOs can be badly managed, sometimes deliberately so. “That’s why they disturb those whose agenda goes against their ideology,” he said.

The Indian government recently shut down the Kerala-based Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services — one of the five high-profile groups under fire — because the group reportedly failed to pay its annual income tax. But analysts say its real offense was maintaining popular social welfare programs in the spirit of a Western faith, said John Dayal, general secretary of All India Christian Council and member of National Integration Council, a government advisory board on religious and ethnic tolerance.

Selective targeting

Plenty of NGOs in India’s corruption-riddled economy maintain shoddy accounting practices, said Mr. Dayal, but officials in Mr. Modi’s government are selective in which ones they target.

“If a Christian or minority organization is working peacefully, the government tends to disrupt that peace,” said Mr. Dayal. “It is evident that many of the organizations do not pay taxes. But why specifically target those who are working for social welfare?”

The Indian Ministry of Home Affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

Last year, regulators from the ministry sought to close the United Theological College on charges of tax evasion and financial mismanagement, as well as engaging in political activity by encouraging students to protest a steel mill project that was displacing local villagers. College administrators have appealed that move and are awaiting a final decision about their fate.

John Samuel Raj, principal of the college, denied that he or other administrators encouraged students to protest but defended the students’ right to free speech and to demonstrate.

“We provide a free and socially aware platform to our students,” said Mr. Raj. “We never stop them going to protests.”

The government has also targeted Indian NGOs caught up in religious controversies. Indian Finance Ministry officials raided and closed down the high-profile Sabrang Trust for six months in September on charges that the group failed to file taxes and misspent donations. But Teesta Setalvad, the trust’s director who was arrested and nearly jailed before posting bail, said the government’s moves are revenge for her key role in filing petitions in Indian courts that led to investigations into the Gujarat riots of 2002.

More than 1,000 Muslims died during the riots, which erupted while Mr. Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat. The episode has long been a stain on his political record.

Ms. Setalvad’s petitions helped reveal that Mr. Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party helped provoke the riots.

Ms. Setalvad declined to be quoted because she didn’t want to harm her chances in her pending court case.

Meanwhile, the government hasn’t investigated or suspended the license of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a controversial Hindu volunteer organization that is widely viewed as the ideological wing of Mr. Modi’s ruling party.

Regarded as the biggest NGO in India, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh receives foreign funds but doesn’t have a bank account in India, according to numerous Indian media outlets whose reports the group has never denied. The government has not audited the organization. The group has performed forced conversions of Muslims to Hinduism and other practices that have garnered intense criticism and stirred religious tensions in India.

“Why has the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh not been monitored for funding?” asked Mr. Raghuvanshi. “Its profile and agenda are more dubious than any other organization. It sure is discriminatory.”

The government also has yet to move against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a radical Hindu organization responsible for the destruction of the Babri Mosque in northern India in 1992 and other incidents that have led to violence, Mr. Dayal said.

“These organizations have not been registered,” he said. “They are running freely and with the backing of government.”

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh district leader Sushil Kumar Sharma defended his group by saying his volunteers benefit India whereas the others undermine steps Mr. Modi is taking to improve the country.

“These NGOs take money from foreigners to conduct anti-national activities in India,” he said. “They don’t care of India’s place in the world. Modi is right in taking these steps. No one should have the right to operate in India if it tarnishes Modi’s development agenda in the outside world.”

Anil Chaudhary, an economist and adviser to the Indian Social Action Forum, a human rights organization, said attitudes like Mr. Sharma’s illustrate Mr. Modi’s stance toward NGOs.

“The government has a [hypocritical] policy,” said Mr. Chaudhary. “They have no issues with various foreign contributors investing in India for business purposes, but those who donate to NGOs annoy the government.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Blind couple among 13 in Madhya Pradesh held for ‘conversion’

Madhya Pradesh police have arrested 13 people, including a blind couple, for allegedly trying to convert a few residents of Dehar village in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district to Christianity.

Officers from the Kukshi station said they had also launched a search for four more persons in connection with the alleged conversion attempt in the house of a local resident, Shankar Singh, on January 14.

Twelve of those arrested last week — the 13th arrest was recorded yesterday — are linked to a Pentecostal church in Badwani and claimed that they had not converted but only followed the teachings of Jesus, said police.

All the arrested were booked under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act and Section 153 (A) of the IPC, said police. Among those were Balu Keshu Saste, a blind man in his 40s, and his wife Bhuri, said police, adding that Saste had earlier been detained for a similar offence in 2010; the trial is on at a court in Kukshi.

“They trick local residents by offering inducements or using force. We had received information that the conversion was on,’’ U C Tiwari, in-charge of Kukshi station, told The Indian Express. Shankar Singh, however, accused the police of acting at the behest of right-wing activists from Nisarpura village, who he alleged led the police to his house when he was serving the visitors lunch. “They stormed my house and misbehaved with women,’’ alleged Singh. 

Badwani-based Anar Singh, who identified himself as an assistant to a pastor, said the activists also raised slogans and damaged two-wheelers before police completed the arrests.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Punjab: Five Christian schools ‘burgled’ in 13 days

Incidents of theft at five Christian schools, three in Amritsar and one each in Tarn Taran and Fazilka districts, over the past 13 days have the Diocesan Education Board, Jalandhar, worried.

In Amritsar district, on January 5, thieves reportedly stole Rs 68,000 from Sacred Heart Convent School, Majitha. On January 7, Rs 30,000 was found missing from the locker at Sacred Convent School in Beas. Thieves reportedly broke into St Mary’s Convent School, Chamiyari, on January 10 but could not steal anything, police said.

In Tarn Taran district, on January 13, thieves allegedly stole Rs 45,000 from Sacred Heart School, Harike. On Saturday, thieves broke into Assumption Convent School, Sito Guno Road, at Abohar in Fazilka district. They escaped with Rs 8,000.

Father Roby Kolencherry, representative of Diocesan Education Board, Jalandhar, said he feels that “some anti-religious elements” are involved in these incidents.

But SSP Amritsar Rural Jagdeep Singh rejected the role of any “religious fundamentalist group”.

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Our Take: Coincidence. We don't think so. 

CSF says that 2015 was the worst yet for Christians since independence

The year gone by was the worst one for Indian Christians in the
history of post-Independence India, a report released by the Catholic
Secular Forum (CSF) has stated.

Statistics compiled by the forum, which has been documenting cases related to religious persecution of Christians for decades, show there have been at least 365 major attacks on community members as well as institutions for practising and spreading their faith in 2015. “There were 120 attacks in 2014. The attacks have more than tripled in the last one year,” CSF general secretary Joseph Dias told HT.

Retired Karnataka high court judge MF Saldanha, who helped compile the report, pointed out that the rise in violent crimes against
Christians has been noted by rights organisations outside the country too. “India has moved up to number 17 in the global Christian
persecution index put out by Open Doors, an international watchdog,” he said.

Eight Christians were killed and at least 8,000 attacked or severely
harassed by extremists in different parts of the country in 2015. Of the 8,000 victims, 4,000 were women and 2,000 were children, the report added. Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh once again topped the charts in this regard.

Squarely blaming Hindutva groups for the trend, the CSF report said:
“There has been a very marked rise in attacks on minorities with the
swearing in of BJP-led governments at the Centre as well as the states.”

The report pointed out that while a majority of such incidents go
unreported because “the victims are too scared to complain”, only the ones brought to the attention of the police were documented.

“There were some shocking cases of persecution that we were forced to leave out because the police and politicians forced the victims to compromise with their attackers,” Dias said.

The CSF’s 2013 report, which recorded 4,000 offences against
Christians in India, was used by Indian Christian groups in California
to lobby for minority protection as one of the terms of reference for
India-US talks. In a February 2013 memorandum, these groups sought a “house resolution that would make human rights and justice for religious minorities a priority in US-India talks”.

Thirteen people including a blind couple and their son arrested in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh

Thirteen persons, including a blind couple and their three-year-old
son, were sent to jail in central India for allegedly violating a law
that forbid religious conversion through allurements and force. They were arrested under the MP Freedom of Religion Act and under section 153 A of the IPC.

Seven of the arrested, including the blind couple, were released from jail on Sunday in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, while the other six remain in jail. Their bail hearing is scheduled for today.

According to Pastor Suresh Mandlo, the Christians were arrested on January 14 and sent to jail the next day. They were invited by Shankar Singh, a resident of Dahar village to join a meal on the occasion of Makar Sankranti festival.

A group of men surrounded the house until police came and took the 13 away.

Singh has been quoted by, “My guests were arrested and sent to jail for alleged conversion activity in my house even without any complaint from me.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Incidents against the Christian community in October 2015 as reported by Evangelical Fellowship of India

Introductory Note EFI News October 2015
The Evangelical Fellowship of India has recorded at least 23 verified incidents targeting the Christian community in the months of September - October 2015. This includes one person being killed by unidentified people in Jharkhand while other incidents like arrests on cooked up charges and attacks on individual Christians and worship services continued. At least one act of vandalism of a cemetery was reported from Karnataka.

Most of the incidents came from the central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh (11 incidents) and Chhattisgarh (5 incidents). Jharkhand reported two incidents, Delhi, one; Uttar Pradesh, one, Punjab, one; Gujarat, one and Karnataka reported one incident.

Majority of the incidents centered on the tribal belts of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand with tribal Christians bearing the brunt of most of the violence.

These incidents of hate crime and violence against the Christian minority are at best a partial indicator of the situation of Christians in the country for many incidents are not even reported. The Evangelical Fellowship of India urges the central government and the respective state governments to look into these incidents and take steps to check the hate and ensure justice and protection for the minority community.

Christian Cemetery Vandalised in Belgaum, Karnataka
September 7, 2015: A cemetery in Belgaum of Karnataka was found vandalized on September 7, 2015 when a group of people went to bury their dead. According to reports in the media, the vandals have uprooted more than a dozen crosses, broke up some gravestones and dig up some graves. The incident happened at Bharatnagar of Shahapur area, which is about 2kms from Belgaum city.

Three Christians including two pastors jailed at Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh
September 8, 2015: Three Christians including two pastors are in jail in Jagdalpur, Bastar district since September 8, 2015. Pastor Loknath Baghel, Pastor Suddu Baghel, and Tikaram Netam of Barpaguda village of Bastar district were arrested after they opposed the takeover of their village land. The land in question has been used as a graveyard in the past and now has been marked by the government authorities that want to develop a pond there. A FIR was filed against the Pastors when the villagers opposed the takeover of land. The sessions court has rejected the bail application for the Pastors twice.

Church members brutally attacked by Hindu extremists at Bastar, Chhattisgarh
September 8, 2015: Christian villagers in Karmari village, district Bastar, Chhattisgarh were brutally attacked by Hindu extremists following the passing of a resolution in the village banning all non-Hindu religious activities. A mob of over 50 Hindu radicals gathered and surrounded a Church building around 4 pm on September 8, 2015. Before any of the Christians could even ask what was happening, the radicals attacked, assaulting Christians with wooden clubs and sticks. When some women from the Church confronted the radicals, they too were brutally beaten with wooden clubs and fists. Two Christian women, Pulo Bhai and Ludri were seriously injured in the assault and lost consciousness. As Christians in Karmari village face a social boycott, life has become very difficult for them.

House Church Service stopped at Palian Kalan, Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh
September 13, 2015: Pastor Durgesh Yadav of Palian Kalan, Lakhimpur Kheri district, Uttar Pradesh was threatened by a mob of around 200-250 people led by local RSS and BJP leaders during Sunday worship service on 13 September 2015 at 11:00 am. The mob wanted him to stop conducting worship in the area. The house Church of about 100 members has stopped worship as of now because of the threats received. Pastor Yadav has filed a complained to the Palia Kalan police station but the police have not yet lodged the FIR against the local leaders.

Pastor and wife detained and interrogated by Police alleging force conversions at Chandia, Umaria, Madhya Pradesh
September 18, 2015: Pastor Gaya Prasad Dharwiya and his wife, from Shahdol district, Madhya Pradesh were apprehended and threatened by a local RSS leader who was accompanied by the police. The Pastor and his wife were returning from a friend's house at Chandia town of Umria District, Madhya Pradesh. The RSS leader and the policemen forcibly took the couple to the Chandia Police Station without assigning any reason and detained them there for more than eleven hours before letting them go late in the night. The Superintendent of Police, Umria District ordered Pastor Dharviya and his wife to be present at the Chandia Police Station next morning at 10:00AM.

Christians Beaten Up, Chased Out from Home in Chhattisgarh
September 22, 2015: In Kongud, Kondagoan, Chhatisgarh, Hindu extremists beat up two Christian siblings after they refused to renounce Christ. The extremists summoned Mankuram Singh and his brother to a Hindu temple and asked them to renounce Christ However, the Christians refused and the mob thereafter started to beat them up, accused them of being involved in forceful conversions and proceeded to vandalize their home. The attackers later locked up their home and chased them out of the village. The brothers submitted a police complaint with the help of area Christian leaders, but the police did not register a case against the attackers and the extremists are threatening to harm them if they do not withdraw their complaint.

Delhi, Pastor threatened to stop Church service
September 27, 2015: September 27, 2015: Pastor Pradeep Kumar in Matiala, Uttam Nagar, New Delhi was manhandled and threatened by some of his neighbors who were led by local Hindu extremists. The attackers wanted to stop the Sunday Church service that was going on.

Three Christians arrested for alleged forced conversions in Satna, Madhya Pradesh 
October 3, 2015: Madhya Pradesh police arrested three evangelists accusing them of proselytizing and forced conversions. The arrest took place at a school located at Majhgawan, a small town in Satna district. The three Stephen Rajkumar, 40; Harilal 20; and Anil Kumar have been charged under the Madhya Pradesh freedom of religion act. The police also confiscated Bibles, books, CDs and projectors that were with them. 

26 Christian Families threatened with boycott and ouster from the village at Betul, Madhya Pradesh 
October 3, 2015: Suraj Sariyam, a Christian from Chattarpur, Ghoda Dongri, Betul district was threatened and harassed by local Hindu leader Kailash Sariyam alias Gabba on October 3, 2015. Gabba not only stopped Suraj from enter his own paddy field but also did not allow him to take water for next two days from the village river. The village has 26 Christian families. On October 5, 2015 the village council summoned all the Christian families for a hearing. Orders were also issued to the villagers to boycott all the Christian families. Villagers were told not to provide basic facilities like water etc. to the Christians. But due to police intervention the hearing could not take place. The Christians in the village are still getting threats from Hindu extremists and are living in danger.

Christian family pressured and threatened for Ghar Wapsi (re-conversion) at Satna, MP
October 5, 2015: A group of 15 Hindu extremists trespassed into the home of a Christian family at Motwa village in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh and threatened them. The extremists were pressurizing the family to do a 'Ghar Wapsi' (homecoming). This family had accepted Christianity 5 years ago. The extremists threatened the family and warned them not to partake in Christian worship service.

Pastor, his pregnant wife, and their 11-month-old baby beaten at Kapurthala, Punjab 
October 8, 2015: Pastor Arvinder Singh and his family were brutally beaten up to the point of  death by a mob that included his neighbours in Phagwara city of Kapurthala district, Punjab. Pastor Arvinder was hit with an iron object on his head, which made him unconscious for a couple of hours. His wife, who was seven months pregnant, was manhandled and struck many times over on her stomach by the mob. The couple's 11-month baby boy was also thrown at pile of bricks, which caused him serious internal injuries. No FIR has been registered till date.

Pastor's mother pelted with stones in Dahod, Gujarat
October 12, 2015: Dasudi Ben Bhuriya (58), mother of Pastor Rajesh Bhuriya was at tacked and pelted with stones by 6-7 Hindu extremists, on October 12, at Bilwani village of Dahod district. She was admitted at the Bilwani hospital as a result of the attack for treatment of her injuries.

Pastor Shot Dead in Jharkhand  
October 13, 2015: Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty of the Pentecostal Church at Sandih, Khunti district was killed as unidentified people opened gunfire at him after entering his house. The murder took place in the late evening of October 13. Pastor Chamu Hasda Purty was well respected and valued by the local community.

Christians summoned at Police station for questioning on false charges of Conversion at Betul, MP 
October 17, 2015: Two Christians, Yuvraj and Kumar Singh were taken to the Bhimpur Police station in Betul district for questioning after local Hindu extremists complained against them alleging religious conversions. Christians have been gathering as a Church conducting regular Sunday worship at Bhimpur village for more than a year now but they are getting regular threats from local Hindu groups to close down the Church and move out of the village.

Christians detained at police station on the complaint of Bajrang Dal and VHP members in Rajnandgaon, Chhattisgarh
October 17, 2015: Members of Bajrang Dal attacked a prayer meeting near Rajnandgaon and beat up the preacher Dev Kumar Sahu on October 17, 2015. The meeting was held at the house of Mr. Lalit Sahu and about 50 Christians were in attendance when more than 20 armed members of the Bajrang Dal trespassed into the private property of Mr. Lalit Sahu and started pushing people and beat up the preacher. The police carried the Christians to the police station for questioning and they were let off later after EFI and other local Christian leaders intervened.

Christian meeting disrupted in Dalli Rajhara, Chhattisgarh
October 21, 2015: A prayer meeting organized at the home of Mrs. Dhaneswari Sahu was disrupted by member of the Dharm Jagran Samiti along with some representatives of the Sahu community who were angry that the family had started organizing Christian prayer meetings at their home since last many months. According to reports when the prayer meeting was going on, members of the Dharm Jagran Samiti and representatives of the Sahu community arrived at the house of Mrs. Dhaneswari Sahu in an inebriated state. They created a ruckus and stopped the prayer meeting. They accused the Christians of conversions and also charged them with scheming alleging that the Christians wanted to demolish the nearby temple. The Christians have not reported the matter to the police.

Christians arrested in Kanhiwada, Madhya Pradesh 
October 25, 2015: A Christian woman and a man were arrested by the police from a private prayer meeting at Bhatekhari village after a local Hindu leader complained against them alleging conversions through allurement. Mrs. Anjana Jharia and Mr. Manish Yadav were speaking at a private prayer meeting organized at the house of a Christian, when the police arrested them on the complaint of one Ashok Baghel. There is no evidence of Mr. Ashok Baghel even being present in the meeting according to local Christians. They were charged with sections 3 and 4 of the MP Freedom of Religion Act and under sections 506 and 34 of the Indian Penal Code. They were later bailed out.

Christians including children arrested in Junardeo, Madhya Pradesh
October 25, 2015: At least 8 Christians plus two children were arrested from Silvada, Junnardeo on cooked up charges of forced conversion and of hurting religious sentiments this included a family from Bhopal who had come down to Junnardeo for their vacations. Pastor A J Thomas, his wife, and two children, John (14) and Kezia (12) were among the people arrested. Pastor Thomas and his wife were later put in a jail in Junnardeo while their children were taken to Chhindwara which is 50 kilometres away. Later the children were separated and while Kezia was sent to Shahdol (421 Kilometres away), John was sent to Narsinghpur (125 Kilometres away), where they await their bail till the writing of this story. Their parents have been bailed out. 

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

Indian Christians condemn growing intolerance in the country

We the undersigned Indian Christians as citizens of our country India and as Christians in unequivocal terms denounce the growing intolerance in the country. We also denounce the sinister attempts to do away with reservation policy and ultimately the attempt to undermine the Constitution of India; we denounce the planned move to utilize religion for politico-economic benefits; we denounce the well orchestrated efforts to use government machinery to achieve ones evil ends;  we denounce all the efforts to divide the nation into fiefdom of some elements.

We denounce all the attempts to erode scientific temper and scholarship by meddling with the education system of the country. We are in  special way concerned at how the Indigenous Adivasi People in our country are being coerced to leave their traditional nature-based religious beliefs and practices and are subjected to so-called ‘ghar vapsi’ by some hindutva elements thus ushering in disharmony within their communities. Under this pretext, they are being alienated from their natural habitat and resources.

As citizens, we uphold the democratic, secular and socialist principles and practices of our mother country; we uphold the basic foundations of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in our Constitution for all the citizens of the country; we uphold the right to freedom of different cultures, religions, ways of life, beliefs, traditions, practices, customs and orientations; we uphold the right of the citizens to live a life without any intimidation by anyone; we uphold the age old tradition of living in harmony and unity by all the citizens of this country; we uphold the value of rural reconstruction and nation building.

Further, we stand in solidarity with all victims of targeted violence against Adivasis, Dalits, Women, religious minorities and people of other orientations. We uphold freedom of expression and ways of life. We are in defence of human rights defenders and advocacy groups.

We stand in solidarity with all those from various walks of life, faiths, traditions, backgrounds, cultures, communities, professions and orientations who have raised voice against the growing intolerance in the country and call upon all the citizens to resist every move to create crisis and conflict by some vested interests.

We invite others too to stand up at this time and express concern and do whatever is needed to uphold inclusive development, peace, unity, integrity, sovereignty and harmony in our Country India.

Citizens of India

Mr. Francis Colaso – Former DGP Karnataka
John Dayal – Member, National Integration Council, Writer and Activist
Darryl D'Monte – Journalist, Maharashtra                 
Dr. Walter Fernandes – Social Scientist, Guwahati
Cedric Prakash – Social Activist, Ahmadabad                      
A.C. Michael – Former Minority Commission Member, Govt of Delhi
Lukose Vallatharai IAS (Rtd) – Bengaluru
Philomena Fernandez – Goans in Gulf
Dolphy Dsouza - Police Reforms Watch, Mumbai
Ms. Virginia Saldanhaz- Secretary, Indian Christian Women's Movement, Mumbai
Dr. Kochurani Abraham - Indian Women Theologians Forum, Kottayam
Managing Committee Members of the Bombay Catholic Sabha, Kalina Unit
BG Koshy - The Rainbow Forum, Bangalore
Margaret Gonsalves -  ANNNI Charitable Trust, Maharashtra
Ms. Mary Alfred, International Travel House, Mumbai
Fr. Dominic Immanuel – Media Person, Delhi   
Dr. Fr. Felix Raj – Principal, St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata
Aasha Ramesh – Bengaluru                     
Deepak Mukarji – Delhi                           
Clement Periera – Bengaluru                    
Alana Golmei – Guwahati                        
Ajaya Singh – Bhubaneswar                      
Manju Tirkey – Rourkela                         
Harvey Hoddings – Bengaluru                           
Cynthia Stephen – Bengaluru                            
Dominic Immanuel – Delhi                       
Dr. Keith D Cunha – Bengaluru                          
Helen Saldanha – New York                     
Alex Ekka – Ranchi                                  
Marie Charmaine  Lamount -  Bengaluru 
Rajesh M Singh – Bengaluru                    
Dr. Goldy George – Raipur                      
R. Viegas – Mumbai                                 
Gracias C – Bengaluru                                       
Benny Chiramel – Trivandrum                          
Venus Mario John – Bengaluru                          
Lynette Gomes – Mumbai                         
Sebastian Poomattam – Chattisgarh        
Harry Pereira – Bengaluru                        
Anthony Dias – Mumbai                                   
Santona Das – Bengaluru                                   
Ms. M. Shimray – Manipur                       
A R F Viegas – Mumbai                                    
Fredrick Francis – Bengaluru                         
Rebecca Kurian – Bengaluru                             
Angela L Viegas – Mumbai                      
Omena Matthan – Bengaluru                   
Mr. Eldred Tellis – Mumbai                     
Mr. Loyola Azavedo – Mumbai                         
Fulgence Lakra – Jashpur                        
Sannybhai – Surat                                             
Mario Jason Braganza – Thane                          
Ms. Prasanna Thomas – Mumbai             
Aloysius Irudayam - Madurai,                           
Joe Mattam – Vadodara
Joe Xavier – Madurai                               
Rosely Cheeramkunnel – Mumbai             
Sr Mariola BS – Mangaloru                     
Velangani Sinnamuthu – Kalol, Gujart
Stan Swamy - Ranchi
A.J. Philip - Delhi
Stanley H Mark - Bengaluru
Jothi – Kolkatt
Alwyn D’Souza – Bangkok
Julius Gonsalves - Bengaluru
Dorothy D'Souza - Pune
Manu Alphonse – Chennai
Fredrick Francis - Bengaluru
Ruth D’Souza - Maharashtra
Benedict Joy -  Bengaluru
R. Viegas – Mumbai
Rapheal  RSM - Bengaluru
Xavier Jeyaraj - Kolkatta
William Stanley – Vizag
Lewis James – Bengaluru
Dr. Rudi Heredia - Mumbai   
Bobby – Delhi
K.M. Selvaraj – Ooty
Freda Coelho -  Ahmadabad
Miss Anoushka Viegas - Mumbai
Ruby – Jammu
James Pochury - Nagaland
Xavier Manjooran – Songad, Gujarat
Shanta Mathai – Bengaluru   
Nithiya Sagayam – Trichy
Mr. Apem Shangh - Manipur
Premalatha  Kumar – Bengaluru     
Lydia Fernandez – Bengaluru
Mathai Kocuparampil – Ahmedabad       
Prashant Olalekar – Lonavala
Valerian Mendonca - Belgium
Rita Puthenkalam – Bihar
Leela Jose -  Kochi
Enid Fernandes – Mumbai
Antony Arulraj - New Delhi
Dinesh Braganza – Mumbai
Mathew AJ – Trichy
Rohit James Joseph – Mumbai
Sr Jessy Leena BS - Mangaloru
Velangani Sinnamuthu – Kalol, Gujart
Lynette Viegas - Lector at Our Lady of Egypt Church, Mumbai
Mrs. Praxedes Gomes – Senior Citizen, Mumbai
Sahaya Philomin Raj – Tamil Nadu
Owen Chourappa – Kohima
David Solomon - Dumka
Varkey Perekkatt - Delhi       
Jacob Kujur – Pathalgaon
Lilly Pereira BS - Austria
Lourdu Raju.D.Joy – Khammam, Telangana
Hazel D'Lima - Mumbai
Dr. Pius Kizha - Kerala
Nestor J Rodrigues - Bengaluru
Samuel Kapani - Austria
Vedanayagam – Dharmapur, Tamil Nadu
Arockiasamy Arulandu
Dr. Prakash Louis – Patna