Thursday, April 17, 2014

Church leaders gun for ‘utter lie’ on Christian persecution

New Delhi, April 16: Christian leaders today condemned Narendra Modi’s statement in a television interview last week that he was unaware of any attacks on members of the community and their places of worship in India.

“What he said was an utter lie. The onslaught against Christians by Right-wing groups has always been cause for concern. The Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has been attacking members of the Christian community and vandalising churches across India,” said Richard Howell, general secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India, which represents about 45 thousand churches across the country.

Expressing shock and dismay at Modi’s statement, the community leaders said the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate cannot win their trust if he feigns ignorance about their sufferings.

“How can he forget the gruesome attacks on tribal Christians in Gujarat’s Dangs district in 1998 during the NDA regime when members of the Right-wing cadres burnt down churches? Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minster, himself had visited the district to take stock of the situation,” Howell told a news conference in Delhi today.

He said 22 churches were burnt in 2002 in Gujarat and several members of the community were attacked by VHP cadres. The VHP is part of the Sangh parivar.

Replying to a question from a member of the audience who asked him what steps he would take to ensure no churches are broken down if he becomes Prime Minister, Modi said: “I have never heard of such incidents taking place.”

Vijayesh Lal, national director, Religious Liberty Commission, said Christians continue to be attacked and their places of worship are being vandalised over the past few years in states like Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Chhattisgarh.

“Surprisingly, Modi pretends to be ignorant and unaware about such attacks on Christians. If this is the case then why should we trust his promises of a secular India as mentioned in the BJP’s election manifesto,” he asked.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Indian Elections: What Could They Mean for Minority Christians?

India is gearing up for the largest show of democracy on earth. Ahead of the national elections, the silent Christian community in India has become restive and alert.

An electorate of 814 million, a number greater than the entire population of Europe, is eligible to cast the ballot in the staggered polls (scheduled in nine phases from April 7 to May 12) to choose India's 14th Parliament.
The national alliance of all the mainline churches, the National United Christian Forum, has come out with an appeal. The Catholic Church (which accounts for two thirds of the 28 million plus Christians) has issued a voter guideline, and regional ecumenical Christian bodies have recently come out with similar advisories.
Two major alliances-the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the "secular Congress Party (that has ruled the nation for the past two terms) and the National Democratic Alliance, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-are the main protagonists.
Apart from these two main alliances, 25 or so regional parties make the combat tougher for each of the 543 seats in "Lok Sabha ("House of the People-the lower House of the Indian parliament) that will decide who will rule India for the next five years.
With the opposition alliance led by the BJP (known for espousing a Hindu nationalist agenda) being projected by the pre-poll surveys as the front-runner in elections that many expect to produce a fractured verdict, the Christian community has grown increasingly uneasy.
The Catholic Church issued a call for prayer "for divine assistance for all the citizens of India so that we may elect the best persons... uphold the democratic and secular character of our great nation and selflessly work for the peace and prosperity of all the people of India.
BJP's intense campaign for the 2014 elections has been built around Narendra Modi, chief minister of the western state of Gujarat, who is expected to become the prime minister in waiting. While the Hindu nationalist lobby hails Modi as an able administrator who can accelerate India's sagging economy, secular parties claim he is a polarizing personality. He carries the stain of the 2002 slaughter of over 1,200 Muslims in Gujarat-the homeland of Mahatma Gandhi-when Hindu mobs targeted Muslims following the torching of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims.
The inaction and even collusion of the police under Modi's command, coupled with his persistent refusal to express regret for the deaths, has made Modi the target of many secular groups.
"There is (also) a fear in the minds of (Christians), admitted Rev. Roger Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), a network of 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches. "Some fear that difficult are days ahead.
The BJP has campaigned to foster better relationships with the Christian community, trying desperately to shed its "anti-Christian image. Two Bishops of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church praised Modi and his Gujarat model of development, but most Christians were angered by their support of Modi. Despite conciliatory gestures by the BJP, many Christians remain skeptical. States under BJP rule have historically witnessed a rise in incidents of anti-Christian violence, and some BJP State governments have been eager to push through anti-conversion legislation. BJP leaders are also known to have defended the assailants in brutal attacks on Christians and the rape of nuns.

Christians in southern India urged to boycott Hindu nationalist party

Christians in southern India have been urged to boycott the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, in the country’s parliamentary elections in an unprecedented pastoral letter from church leaders including the Archbishop of Hyderabad, Thumma Bala.
The letter to Christians in southern state of Andhra Pradesh, India’s fifth most populous, was read in hundreds of churches on Palm Sunday and will be read out again before polling begins there on 30 April.
In the letter, the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC), an ecumenical council of bishops and church leaders, called on Christians to “elect leaders who are close to people and their needs, and only vote for those who uphold secular character and promote communal harmony”.
The letter was signed by Archbishop Thumma Bala and the moderator of the Church of South India, Anglican Bishop Govada Dyvasirvadam.
The BJP is the leading party in the opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), whose prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat state, sees India as a primarily Hindu nation.
The NDA is currently leading the election and is the major non-secular party. All Christian and Muslim parties are considered secular, and most Christians and Muslim voters support the incumbent Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Hindu American Foundation exposed as foe of human rights and religious freedom

Indian American coalition condemns HAF's sophistry "explaining" Hindu nationalist violence against minorities in India
 
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Washington DC, Monday, April 7, 2014

The Coalition Against Genocide (CAG - http://www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org/), today condemned the Hindu American Foundation for opposing the Congressional hearings on the plight of religious minorities in India and for obfuscating the issues around violence against minorities. As CAG has established in its recent report titled "Affiliations of Faith (Parts I and II)," HAF is primarily a front for the Hindu nationalist movement (also known as Hindutva) led by the RSS in India. Contrary to its claims about being a human rights organization, HAF has consistently served as apologists for the violent politics of the Sangh Parivar (the broad family of RSS organizations that includes HAF and its US based affiliates such as the VHP-A).

HAF's position on the plight of religious minorities in India is diametrically opposite to that of USCIRF, Human Rights Watch, Advocates for Human Rights, and also notable human rights activists like John Dayal. On its website and in social media, HAF has attacked the integrity of prominent organizations like HRW and USCIRF. This fits a pattern followed by Hindutva organizations where concern for minorities in India is projected as "bias" against Hindus.

"While any situation involving millions of people professing diverse religions is necessarily complex, violations of human rights and religious freedom as a result of the increasingly hostile socio-political environment created by the Hindu nationalist movement deserve international condemnation," said Mr. Alex Koshy, a CAG spokesperson. "It is deplorable that an organization claiming to stand for pluralism and human rights stridently opposes any scrutiny of the situation of religious minorities in India," added Mr. Koshy. "While being vocal about the situation of Hindu minorities in other parts of the world, HAF appears to be considering Christian, Muslim and Sikh religious minorities in India as somehow less worthy of having their plight known to the American public," said Dr. Raja Swamy, also a CAG spokesperson.

HAF touts its mission statement as "Promoting Human Dignity, Mutual Respect and Pluralism." Yet HAF's concern about the effect the hearings may have on the upcoming elections betrays its real priorities. In echoing HAF's concern about the timing of the hearing, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard appeared to be reading from an HAF script. At the very least, she could have sought a briefing from her staff on the evidence based data about the condition of religious minorities in India, and that H.Res. 417 is in fact a pro-India resolution that celebrates India's long-standing pluralistic ethos.

HAF's posturing against the hearings is reflected in its written testimony, graciously added to the record by Rep. Joe Pitts. A monumental exercise in apologetics for majoritarian violence in India, HAF claims for instance that the massacre of Christians in Odisha by Hindutva organizations, is to be blamed on the murder of a prominent Hindutva leader Swami Lakshmananda (who was killed by Maoists). Furthermore HAF blames anti-Christian violence perpetrated by the Hindutva movement as a response to "aggressive proselytizing by Christian missionary groups." When it comes to anti-minority violence conducted by the Hindutva movement, HAF consistently blames minority victims and tacitly defends the perpetrators.

HAF's alacrity in protecting Hindutva organizations from any kind of international censure for violence against minorities in India stands in stark contrast to its vigorous efforts to highlight the plight of Hindu minorities in countries around the world. Far from being an organization committed to promoting human dignity and pluralism, HAF stands exposed as a foe of human rights, working to defend the Hindutva movement from much needed public scrutiny in the US.

The Coalition Against Genocide is composed of a diverse group of organizations and individuals in the United States and Canada that have come together in response to the Gujarat genocide to demand accountability and justice.


CONTACT:
  1. Dr. Shaik Ubaid
    Phone: 516-567-0783

  2. Dr. Raja Swamy
    Phone: 864-804-0216

Coalition Against Genocide
Phone/Fax: (443) 927-9039
Email:media@coalitionagainstgenocide.org
http://www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org

REFERENCES:
  1. TLHRC Hearing: The Plight of Religious Minorities in India
    HEARING WEBSITE: http://tlhrc.house.gov/hearing_notice.asp?id=1259
    RECORDING: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/45757005

  2. Affiliations of Faith: Hindu American Foundation and the Global Sangh (Part 1)
    http://coalitionagainstgenocide.org/reports/2013/cag.15dec2013.haf.rss.pdf

  3. Affiliations of Faith: Hindu nationalism and HAF - Joined at the hip (Part 2)
    http://coalitionagainstgenocide.org/reports/2013/cag.22dec2013.haf.rss.2.pdf

  4. Hindu American Foundation reveals its supremacist ideology through smear campaign against CAG and Indian Muslims
    http://www.coalitionagainstgenocide.org/press/cag.pr.06dec2013.pdf

  5. Hindu nationalism set to take over the world's biggest democracy, The Independent, UK, April 4th 2014
    http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/hindu-nationalism-set-to-take-over-theworlds-biggest-democracy-9238724.html

  6. H.Res 417 -- Praising India's rich religious diversity and commitment to tolerance and equality, and reaffirming the need to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities.
    http://pitts.house.gov/sites/pitts.house.gov/files/documents/PittsEllison-IndiaReligiousFreedom.pdf

  7. BJP-led government to be detrimental to religious minorities: Experts
    http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-04-05/news/48887988_1_uscirf-religious-freedom-religious-minorities

  8. MN Rights Group Testifies at Congressional Hearing on the Plight of Minorities in India
    http://www.startribune.com/local/yourvoices/254049571.html

Monday, April 07, 2014

US expresses concern for minorities under Narendra Modi as PM

Washington: Several US lawmakers voiced concern Friday for the future of religious minorities in India in a hearing critics denounced as an attempt to influence upcoming elections.

With polls starting Monday in the world's largest democracy, several activists testifying before the US Congress' human rights commission expressed fear for the treatment of Muslims and Christians if Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi becomes the next prime minister, as surveys predict.

Representative Joe Pitts, a Republican and conservative Christian, said India had a "climate of impunity" for perpetrators of violence against minorities and criticized laws against religious conversion.

"Clearly all of Indian society is being affected by an indisputable rise in religious intolerance at the very least and religious violence at the very worst," Pitts said.

Representative Keith Ellison, a left-leaning Democrat who is Muslim, said that he supported strong US relations with India and did not believe that the US record was faultless.


But he voiced alarm over what he said was continued polarization in the western state of Gujarat, which is led by Modi, since 2002 riots in which more than 1,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- were hacked, burned or shot to death.

Critics say Modi turned a blind eye or worse to attacks on Muslims, although he denies wrongdoing and investigations have cleared him of personal responsibility.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat who is the first Hindu elected to the US Congress, criticized the timing of the hearing and said it could be used either to foment sectarian strife or to provide campaign ammunition for Modi's opponents.

"I feel that the goal of this hearing ultimately is to influence the outcome of this election, which is something that I don't feel is appropriate for us here in the United States Congress to do," Gabbard said.India is majority Hindu but secular and has historically been a safe haven for religious groups including Tibetan Buddhists, Jews and Zoroastrians.

The Indian government often expresses indignation at perceived foreign interference in its domestic affairs, although the Indian embassy did not return a message Friday seeking comment.

The United States has been seeking a warmer relationship with India and has generally avoided criticism on sensitive religious issues, but in 2005 it denied a visa to Modi on human rights grounds.

In February, however, US ambassador to India Nancy Powell met Modi, a sign the US stance was softening towards the controversial politician. President Barack Obama's administration did not send a representative to Friday's hearing, which was sparsely attended.

John Dayal, an Indian Christian writer and activist, charged that a Hindu nationalist Indian government would target minorities by scrapping affirmative action plans and encouraging forcible conversions of Christians.

Dayal, who said he has received threats accusing him of treason for testifying before the commission, called for the United States to include human rights and religious freedom in talks with India, much as Washington does with China.

Katrina Lantos Swett, the vice chair of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom which has long been critical of Modi, voiced concern that his Bharatiya Janata Party would promote policies that portray non-Hindus as foreigners.

"Many religious minority communities fear religious freedom will be jeopardized if the BJP wins and... Modi becomes prime minister. We hope that is not the case," she said.

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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Police in India rebuke, file case against Christians fleeing Hindu extremist attack

A police station official in India’s Jharkhand state this month reviled Christians who sought protection after Hindu extremists beat and threatened to kill them for refusing to convert to Hinduism, area church leaders said.

Accusing Christian leaders of forcible conversion, the Hindu extremists earlier this month attempted to forcibly convert several church members after disrupting a home worship service, beating them and parading them half-naked through the street, area pastor Rampath Nath told Morning Star News.

Police subsequently registered a case of forcible conversion against four Christians, he said.

Virender Singh, the police official at the station in Patratu Thana, Ramgarh District, verbally abused the Christians who fled their homes, rebuked them and sent them away without taking their complaint after the Hindu extremists beat them on two consecutive days, stripped off their clothes and chased them from Pali village, Nath said.

Some 10 Hindu extremists stormed into the March 4 worship meeting at the house of pastor Tilas Bedia at 7 p.m. and began beating the Christians, including the pastor’s 60-year-old mother, Christian leaders said.

“The extremists asked the Christians why they are following Christ when they should be worshipping their tribal god and threatened to kill them if they continued to follow Christ,” Nath said. “They left after they told the Christians that they will teach them a lesson the next day.”

On March 5 at about 11 a.m. a mob of extremists appeared, led by Suresh Upadia, leader of the local Vishwa Hindu Parishad, youth wing of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal, and village head Rohan Bedia. They dragged several Christians from their homes to the compound of the village head, who summoned a public meeting.

“The extremists dragged about 15 people who come to our prayer meetings,” said Jodhan Bedia, a pastor at the church. “They let us stand in the middle and started to verbally abuse us for following Christ, for being low-caste, and warned us to convert back to Hinduism or face harm.”

Several terrified church members denied they were Christians, pastors said.

“They ran off after saying they were Hindus,” Tilas Bedia said, “and two teenage girls who did not deny Christ were forcefully ‘converted’ back to Hinduism.”

Manita Kumari, 16, and Meenu Kumari, 17, refused to renounce Christ, he said.

“The extremists slapped them, verbally abused them for their faith in Christ, threatening them that they will never find a husband if they remain Christians, and forced them to worship Hindu idols at the spot,” he said.

The extremists continued to mock and beat Tilas Bedia, and his brother, Chandra Bedia, as well as the latter’s family; they also beat Jodhan Bedia.

“We told the extremists that we are ready to leave our house, but we cannot leave Christ,” Tilas Bedia said.

The Hindu nationalists slapped and kicked the Christians and struck them with their hands, slippers and clubs. The mother of Tilas and Chandra Bedia fell to the ground from the beating, spraining her ankle as her face swelled up from the blows, they said.

The extremists then dragged Tilas Bedia, Chandra Bedia and another Christian leader along a road, paraded them half-naked as they jeered and beat them, and dragged them to the outskirts of the village.

“They forced us to sign on a blank paper and told us that we will be cut into pieces if we ever return to the village,” Tilas Bedia said. “They said, ‘Those who worship Jesus cannot stay in the village.’”

The three Christians, who converted to Christianity about four years ago, sustained bruises and marks on their backs, and swelling on their faces and other areas, Nath said.

“On March 10, we received a copy of a First Information Report registered against pastor Tilas Bedia, Chandra Bedia, pastor Jodhan Bedia and myself by police officer Virender Singh of forceful conversion,” Nath said.

Singh was not available for comment, but Ramgarh Superintendent of Police Shri Ranjit Kumar Singh told Morning Star News that he had received the Christians’ police complaint and had sent a deputy to investigate.

“Nobody can say anything about the faith that a person chose,” the superintendent said. “The Constitution of India has given the right to each individual to follow the faith that he or she likes. Appropriate action will be taken against the culprits.”

The pastors were scheduled to appear before a judge on April 4. Area Christian leaders said there was no instance of forceful conversion by the accused.

Since Tilas Bedia, Chandra Bedia and Jodhan Bedia began following Christ, their families have been shunned and boycotted and have faced continual threats, Nath said.

“They are not allowed to fetch water from the public well, they are not allowed to walk on the main road and they were prohibited from buying and selling in the village,” Nath said. “They were often beat up and verbally abused and warned to renounce Christ or face harm.”

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

154 cases of anti-Christian violence in 2013 according to EFI

New Delhi: Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka top the list of Indian states in which Christians faced incidents of targeted communal violence in the year 2013, according to data collected by Evangelical Fellowship state offices.
Women, rural pastors and home churches were the main targets of mobs which were often led by members of the Sangh Parivar. Police impunity resulted in most culprits going unpunished, they claimed.

General Secretary the Evangelical Fellowship of India, Rev. Dr. Richard Howell and Religious Liberty Commission Secretary Rev. Vijayesh Lal held a presss conference today in Delhi to release the 2013 partial list of violence meted out to the minority Christian community across the country.
As many as 154 incidents of anti-Christian violence were reported in the year, with Andhra Pradesh registering 42 cases, Chhattisgarh 28 and Karnataka 27. Karnataka had been wrecked by extreme violence during August and September 2008 in the wake of the pogrom against Christians in the Kandhamal district of Orissa.
This list does not include large numbers of cases reported from Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which could not be immediately verified as being motivated by religious prejudice. These include at least three cases of murder, including one of a child of a pastor in Rajasthan.
The Evangelical Fellowship also received a very large number of complaints of structural and institutional violence from Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Gujarat. Most of these pertain to Tribals being deprived of their land f they convert to Christianity. In Gujarat, the computerized registration systems have been so engineered that Tribals have mandatorily to fill their religion as Hindu.
This is in violation of the Constitutional provisions for Scheduled Tribes. The matter is to be taken to the High courts of the respective states. The most shocking aspect of the anti-Christian violence is the targeting of women. This emerging pattern of violence is seen with great concern by the Christian leadership. Christian groups now plan to bring this issue to the notice of national and state political leaders soon.
In one horrendous case on 12th September 2013, a Christian woman, Sanamma, a helper in Anganwadi School was caught by a mob of 40 people when she was inviting children to join the school after the summer break. The mob accused her of forceful conversion, beat her up severely and took her to a temple where they poured water on her as a form of religious cleansing and thereafter applied "kumkum" on her forehead, a sign of Hindu married woman. Local Christians rescued her later and took her to a hospital for treatment.
In another shocking case in Taragoan, Lohandiguda, Hindutva extremist activists forcefully took a Christian widow to the temple and tried to sacrifice her to the idols. Her daughter and relatives rescued the widow.
The Evangelical Fellowship, in association with other Church groups, has consistently demanded that the Central government enact suitable legislation to end communal and targeted violence. We had hoped that Parliament would pass the Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence Bill in the last session. It did not happen. We hope that the government formed after the 2014 General elections will take it up in earnest.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Three convicted over India nun rape

A court in India has found three people guilty in connection with the rape of a Catholic nun in Orissa state in 2008.
The nun was raped by a Hindu mob in Kandhamal district, days after riots between Hindus and Christian there.
Riots began after a Hindu religious leader was shot dead.
Although left-wing Maoist rebels in the state claimed responsibility for the killing, hard-line Hindu groups blamed the minority Christian community for the death.
More than 30 people were killed in the violence and dozens of churches and Christian institutions were vandalised.
Police had arrested nine people in connection with the rape of the nun. One accused is still being sought.
On Friday, Judge Gyana Ranjan Purohit found Santosh Patnaik guilty of rape, and Gajendra Digal and Saroj Badhei guilty of molestation.
Patnaik was sentenced to 11 years in prison, while Digal and Badhei were each sent to prison for 26 months.
Six of the other accused were acquitted by the court in Orissa because of lack of evidence.
The Catholic nun, working with the Divyajyoti Pastoral Centre at Kanjemandi village, alleged that she was dragged out of a Hindu man's house where she had taken shelter along with a 55-year-old priest, Father Thomas Chellantharayil.
She was taken to an abandoned house where she was raped by a mob on 25 August 2008. She also alleged that she was paraded naked through the streets.
Hindu groups in Kandhamal had accused Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to convert to Christianity.
Christians said lower-caste Hindus converted willingly to escape the Hindu caste system. 

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