Saturday, March 21, 2015

Church Attacked in Jabalpur, Christians Threaten to Shut Schools if Attackers Not Caught

Bhopal:  Members of a Hindu religious group allegedly vandalised a church in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh late on Friday night where a Bible convention was being held. There were around 200 tribals present at the time of the incident; they had come to the church for the convention from Mandla District.

According to church authorities, the men had a heated argument after which they created ruckus in the premises and broke flower pots.

But the the attackers claim there was no vandalism. "We went to the church after we got to know that a religious conversion ceremony is been organised there in the name of Bible convention. Otherwise, why were so many tribals called there?" said Yogesh, a member of the Hindu Dharma Sena.

A police case was registered against unknown people on Saturday after a complaint by church authorities. The Christians have threatened to close all missionary schools and colleges in Jabalpur on Monday if police does not take any action.

"If the perpetrators of this crime are not punished, we will close all the Christian schools in the area," said Denzel Paul, a leader of the Christian community.

"We have registered a case against unknown people after a complaint by Christian community," said Isha Pant, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Jabalpur.

While the Christians deny the allegations made by Hindu Dharma Sena, a few tribals claim they had come to the church to convert. "We came here to convert to Christianity," said Satish, a tribal from Sirhora village who attended the convention.

The three-day Bible convention concludes tomorrow.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

71 Year old nun raped in West Bengal

RANAGHAT (West Bengal): Bringing more shame for Bengal, a 71-year-old nun of a convent school was gang-raped in Ranaghat town, some 80km from Kolkata, early on Saturday. She was injured so badly that she had to undergo a surgery.

Police blamed a gang of robbers and ruled out any motive behind the rape, which triggered protests and angry reactions from Christian leaders in the state that worships Mother Teresa as a saint. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee condemned it and ordered a CID probe and her minister Firhad Hakim called it an "attack on humanity".

"I am shocked. Such an attack on an elderly sister is a rare incident, first time in Bengal and possibly the first time in India. It is deeply distressing," said archbishop of Kolkata Thomas D'Souza, who rushed to Ranaghat and visited the school. "The chief minister was genuinely concerned. She promised speedy action and assured security."

Hakim blamed growing intolerance and religious fanaticism in West Bengal. "Religious intolerance in the name of Ghar Wapsi is at work, sometimes in Odisha and sometimes in Bengal. This may be one of the reasons. Such heinous criminals should be shot dead but our law does not permit this. The Bengal government believes the criminals should be hanged to death," he said.

Mamata chose her words carefully: "We strongly condemn the incident that took place at the Ranaghat convent. We have ordered a CID probe that will examine all aspects of this horrific crime. The government will take swift, strongest possible action against the culprits." The state government has announced Rs 1 lakh reward for the capture of the rapists, said SP Arnab Ghosh.

CCTV footage shows 3 men in convent staff room in Nadia where a nun was allegedly gangraped #BengalGangrapes
Christian missionaries have a significant presence in Ranaghat and neighbouring areas, particularly in education.

According to the complaint lodged by the school, seven to eight armed robbers overpowered the security guard and stormed its compound around 2.30am. The guard was tied up. Holding a pistol to his head, the gang forced its way into the main building. An investigator said that the gang tried to destroy a CCTV camera near the gate but failed. The staff-room CCTV has captured the faces of four robbers.

"The gang then moved to the first floor where the nuns have their residential quarters. A senior sister resisted them when they tried to loot valuables and cash. She was sexually assaulted," a source said. "Two other nuns cowered in fear in nearby rooms while the violence went on for more than an hour. It was nearly dawn by the time they left. The screams of the nuns alerted locals and they helped move the injured nun to hospital.'' School principal Sister P Mary Shanti confirmed this. The gang looted Rs 12 lakh in cash, say agency reports.

Questions are being raised over the role of police. Sources said the missionary school had sought protection from Gangnapur police station nearly a fortnight ago but the officers did nothing. In fact, there is a police outpost just 100 metres from the school that is supposed to carry out regular patrols. The robbers carried out the rape and rampage inside the school for over an hour but no policeman bothered to check, school authorities said.

News of the rape triggered demonstrations by parents of children of the convent and residents of Ranaghat. Trains were blocked on the Sealdah-Ranaghat section and traffic on NH34 was badly affected. Senior administrative and police officers had to intervene to prevent the protests from snowballing into a crisis. Nadia district magistrate P B Salim said the nun was recovering and there was no immediate need to move her to Kolkata. "It was a heinous act and we have initiated an investigation," he said.

Source: TOI

Monday, March 16, 2015

Police blame ‘outside’ elements in latest India church attack

A weekend attack on a church in northern India may have been carried out by ‘outside’ elements, according to police.

The Believers Church in Kaimari village in the Hisar district of Haryana state was vandalized on Sunday and its cross left broken. In addition, a statue of the Hindu God Hanuman was placed inside the church and a flag featuring a Hindu symbol was hung outside the building.

“Some antisocial elements from outside might have been involved in the incident,” investigating officer Ramesh Chand told “The situation is peaceful [now]. There has never been a Christian-Hindu dispute in the area.”

The pastor of the church, Subhash Chand, lodged a complaint against 14 people in the village after the incident. He could not be reached for comment.

Ramesh Chand said that no arrests had been made yet, but assured that “investigations are going on and the culprits will be brought to book”.

According to Kaimari village head Satya Narain, the pastor had moved to the area more than a year ago and purchased two plots on which to build a house.

“Nobody had any objection to him staying there but he was categorically told not to preach the religion there, as there is no Christian family in the village,” Narain told

Narain said that about a month prior to the incident, it came to light that the pastor had attempted to convert some local villagers.

“We confronted the pastor who promised to remove the cross from the building and not preach the religion in the area,” he said.

Narain stressed that local villagers were “not involved in the attack…. We have no problem with the pastor living with us in the village. We want peace in the area.”

“Some people from outside might have taken advantage of the situation,” he said, adding that recently representatives from the pro-Hindu group Bajrang Dal had inquired about Christian activities in the village and if a church was being built in the area.
Sunday’s incident in Kaimari comes amid increased attacks against Christians and their religious institutions across the predominantly Hindu country.

On Friday, an elderly nun was gang-raped and a convent ransacked in eastern West Bengal state.

Last week, a Christian burial service was thwarted in the Faridabad district of Haryana state and the people who attended the service were beaten up by Hindu nationalists.

Late last month, police arrested 20 people for distributing Christian literature in northern Rajasthan state, while in the south Indian state of Karnataka a group of unidentified suspects threw stones at a prayer hall of the Mangalore diocese, smashing the protective glass pane of a Marian statue.

“The Hisar church attack is not an isolated incident. There is a clear pattern,” Vijyesh Lal, secretary of the United Christian Forum, told
Responding to the allegations of the villagers that the pastor was trying to convert some people in the village, Lal said that conversion is illegal in India only if it is done by force or fraudulent means.

“Why was the pastor not allowed to run a church in the village? This is totally unconstitutional,” he said.

Lal said the conversion allegations were an attempt by the accused villagers to counter the complaint made against them for allegedly damaging the church.

“These all are attempts to polarize the society on communal lines and create social unrest,” he added.

Meanwhile, Delhi archbishop Anil JT Couto condemned the church attack.

“Any form of violence in the name of religion needs to be stopped immediately through a collective and strong political will by the governments, both at central and state levels,” the archbishop said in a statement.

He called for immediate action by the local police and civil authorities to stop hate campaigns against the Christian community.  

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Christians Say They are Under Siege in India After Nun's Rape, Church Attacks

Kolkata:  Christians in India said on Monday that the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not done enough to protect their religion, after a spate of attacks including the rape of a 72-year-old nun in Bengal over the weekend.

Christians prayed and held vigils across the country to protest against the rape during an armed assault on a Bengal convent school, the worst in a series of incidents that followers of the faith say are making them feel unwelcome in their own country.

The motive for the assault and armed robbery in West Bengal on Saturday was not clear. Police said they have detained 10 people who broke into the Convent of Jesus and Mary School in Nadia district, northeast of Kolkata. The man suspected of rape has not been caught.

The rape victim who is still in hospital has appealed for peace. " The  nun has said she has forgotten the incident, has forgiven the crime and has asked all to pray for the culprits," said Sister Amala, who visited the assaulted nun this morning. 

A few days ago, a Catholic church being built in Haryana was vandalized; its cross was removed and a small statue of the Hindu god Hanuman was placed in the church.

Father Savari Muthu, spokesman for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese and a national Church organiser, said, "We have to raise our voice against the atrocities. Christians will not tolerate this humiliation." 

Father Muthu said schools across the country were holding prayer meetings on Monday. Christians held a silent protest in the streets of Mumbai on Sunday.

Weeks ago, Mohan Bhagwat, the  leader of  the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), suggested that the charitable work of Mother Teresa had been aimed at religious conversion.

Critics say the remarks by the chief of the RSS, the ideological mentor of the ruling BJP, contributed to a climate where Christians are seen as outsiders, despite a more than 1,500-year presence in India.

"I am not Indian any more, at least in the eyes of the proponents of the Hindu Rashtra," prominent retired police chief Julio Ribeiro wrote in a column for the Indian Express paper.

The RSS has condemned the rape of the elderly nun. 

"No attack should be tolerated on any woman in India. Be it a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian," Suresh Joshi, RSS general secretary, told reporters on Sunday.

Opposition lawmakers in the Rajya Sabha or  Upper House of parliament on Monday said the attack could damage the secular fabric of the country, where about a fifth of the population belongs to faiths other than Hinduism.

Since December, half a dozen churches have been vandalized.

In February, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama called for respect for religious freedom in India, PM Modi broke a long silence on the subject and, speaking at a church event, vowed a crackdown on religious violence.

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Fear and anger grow in India after rape of elderly nun

Prayers were said at churches across India on Sunday for an elderly nun who was raped at a convent in an attack that has intensified anger over sexual violence and fuelled fears among beleaguered Christians.
The assault on the 71-year-old is the latest in a high-profile string of rapes in India and follows a spate of attacks on churches that prompted the Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, to promise a crackdown on religious violence.
The nun was attacked late on Friday after a gang of half a dozen robbers broke into a convent school in eastern West Bengal state and ransacked the premises, police said.
The robbers gagged a security guard before assaulting the nun. They then entered the principal’s room and stole cash, a laptop and a mobile phone, according to police.
Four of the six attackers have allegedly been identified through CCTV footage and a reward of 100,000 rupees (around £1,075) is on offer for any leads on the suspects. Five others have been detained for questioning.
Arnab Ghosh, a police superintendent who visited the convent near the town of Ranaghat, said the robbery appeared to have been carefully planned.
“CCTV footage showed that six men, aged between 20 and 30, scaled the boundary wall around 11.40pm, entered the school and disconnected the telephone lines,” he told Agence France-Presse.
“At least two of them were armed and the rest were carrying burglary tools. In the chapel, a holy scripture was found torn and … a bust of Jesus was broken,” Ghosh said.
Prayers were held on Sunday in churches in West Bengal for the nun, who is recovering at a hospital in Ranaghat, some 45 miles from the state capital, Kolkata.
“In our Sunday mass, we prayed for the sister to recover quickly from trauma, fear and her physical injuries. We will pray for her again this evening,” Thomas D’Souza, the archbishop of Kolkata, told AFP.
“They not only committed a heinous crime, but they also vandalised the chapel …This is the first time such an attack has happened in India.”
Christian leaders in Kolkata said they were planning to hold a candlelight vigil on Monday followed by a solidarity rally in support of the victim.
“We are shocked that a thing like this has happened in our state. We want the culprits to be arrested and brought to justice swiftly,” Father Saroj Biswas told the NDTV news network.
The attack was condemned during morning services in the western state of Goa, which has a sizeable Christian population, and there were also prayers for the nun in the capital, New Delhi.
The rape has added to the sense of fear and dismay among members of the country’s Christian minority, who have been deeply upset by recent attacks on churches.
Modi had been heavily criticised for not speaking out earlier against religious violence and has also faced flak for remaining silent about a spate of mass “re-conversions” of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.
“Even if you call it an isolated incident, the background and the atmosphere for such an attack had already been there, so you cannot simply ignore it as a one-off incident,” Father Savarimuthu Sankar, a spokesman for the Delhi diocese, told AFP.
The incident also adds to a grim record of horrifying sexual assaults in India, which last week banned a documentary about a December 2012 gang-rape that sparked domestic and international outrage.
Authorities said screening the documentary could have caused public disorder, but critics accused the government of being more concerned with the country’s reputation than the safety of its women.
The gang-rape of a young physiotherapy student highlighted the frightening level of violence against women in the world’s second most-populous country and triggered mass protests.
It led to a major reform of India’s rape laws, speeding up trials and increasing penalties, although many campaigners say little has changed for women.

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Tension grips Haryana village after attack on church, 14 booked

The under-construction church in Hisar, Haryana which was attacked on Sunday. (ANI Photo)

Tension gripped a village in Haryana's Hisar district on Monday following an attack on an under-construction church.
Police said 14 people were booked for rioting, damaging a place of worship, theft and promoting enmity following a complaint from the church priest in Kaimri village in Hisar district, 260km from Chandigarh. However, no arrests have been made so far.
At a time when the security of Christians has led to a raging debate and incidents of church attacks in Delhi have hogged headlines, miscreants on Sunday vandalised the church and replaced the cross with an idol of Hanuman.
Some media reports said villagers alleged the priest was trying to construct the church despite the fact that there was no Christian in the entire village. Reports also said villagers were angry over the priest's alleged efforts to convert some of the residents.
There are allegations that the priest had bought the piece of land for building a house but started constructing a church instead.
"I was threatened by Bajrang Dal activists and other locals last month," Father Subhash Chand said.
Chand, priest of the Williwarsh Church in the village, alleged that the accused threatened him with dire consequences if he proceeded with the construction.
He said the accused fragmented the cross and installed the statue of Hanuman and a flag depicting Lord Ram. Chand also alleged that the miscreants stole a cooler and some items.
Christian Front, Haryana, condemned the incident and has demanded immediate arrest of the accused, all believed to be residents of Kaimri.
The Haryana attack came against the backdrop of Prime Minister's Narendra Modi's assurance of ensuring religious freedom, in the wake of attacks on churches in the national capital.
Commenting on the Kaimri incident, Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) Nalin Kohli said, "Any religious place of worship cannot be treated as an object that people can use to take out their frustration."

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Monday, March 02, 2015

Christian man accused of converting Hindus in Alirajpur, farm attacked

Members of the Hindu Jagaran Manch (HJM) allegedly attacked the farm of a Christian man in Alirajpur district on Sunday and accused him of converting Hindus to Christianity.

The activists disrupted a prayer meeting being held at the farm and abused and heckled the Christian man, identified only as Emmanuel. No one was injured in the incident.

The farm is located at Jobat, around two kilometres from Alirajpur city. Alirajpur is around 180 km west of Indore.

According to residents of Jobat, a large number of tribal people gather at Emmanuel’s home every Sunday for a prayer meeting and for getting massage oil for joint pains. Most of those who come to Emmanuel's house are Hindu tribal people.

The HJM activists alleged that Emmanuel was converting Hindus in the name of serving the poor. The activists filed an application at Jobat police station, demanding an inquiry.
Akhilesh Jha, the superintendent of police of Alirajpur, said he was aware of the incident and that the matter was being investigated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently broke his silence on the growing intolerance of Hindu groups linked to the Sangh Parivar, saying his government would uphold freedom of faith and crack down on elements who incite sectarian tensions.

The incident in Alirajpur occurred even as Christian clerics announced in Bhopal that the community will hold special prayers for three days from March 4 at 100 places across the country for an end to "attacks" on churches and the "hate campaign" against the minority.

"We are going to pray in churches for three days from March 4 to 6," said FJ Valsalen, pastor of Jabalpur-based English Methodist Church. In Madhya Pradesh, the prayers will be held at Indore, Jabalpur, Ujjain, Damoh, Gwalior and Bhopal.

"We are passing through a turbulent time...Our churches are being attacked and false cases are being slapped on our ministers and a smear campaign to defame us is being run. Forcible campaign ‘ghar wapsi’ (conversion to Hinduism by right wing groups) is underway to torment us," a cleric alleged.

The Rashtriya Isai Mahasabha (RIM) also handed over a memorandum to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and demanded an end to attacks on Christians.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Christian prayer meeting stormed by Hindutva groups in Madhya Pradesh

A group of Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) activists raised slogans outside a prayer hall near Jobat in Madhya Pradesh’s Alirajpur district Sunday accusing Christians of converting the local tribal people by “inducement”.
Around 300 people were present in the prayer hall on Jhabua Road when the HJM activists arrived at 10 am, nearly an hour after the Sunday prayer began. Church of North India pastor Emmanuel Ariel told The Indian Express that the activists raised anti-Christian slogans and also hurled insults during their protest till the police arrived.
HJM activist Pratap Singh Dawar alleged that it was common for the converted Christians to woo tribals by offering them money or promising “miracle cures” for their ailments. He said Christians provoke tribals against Hindus.
After the prayer meeting was over, the HJM submitted a complaint along with affidavits by three persons who alleged that attempts were made to convert them to Christianity by offering inducement. Sub-divisional police officer Anand Singh Waskale said FIR, if any, would be lodged only after the complaint was probed.
Dawar alleged that as part of their “miracle cures”, young Christian men “apply oil on unwell teenaged female tribals”. “This can’t be allowed to go on,’’ he said and added that the administration had been warned to intervene or else they will be held responsible if something goes wrong.
Ariel said the Christians did not lodge any complaint because the prayer continued after the HJM activists left.
In October last year, the district administration had denied permission to All-India United Christian Front and Moksha Foundation to hold a convention at the same venue where Sunday’s prayer meeting was held. The permission was denied in the wake of communal tension after a Christian boy and a Hindu girl eloped and married at an Arya Samaj temple in Bhopal.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Mother Teresa’s aim was conversion, says Bhagwat

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Monday cast aspersions on the services of Mother Teresa by saying that conversion to Christianity was the main objective behind her service to the poor. 

“Mother Teresa’s service would have been good. But it used to have one objective, to convert the person, who was being served, into a Christian,” he said while speaking at a function organised near Bharatpur by NGO Apna Ghar. “The question is not about conversion but if this [conversion] is done in the name of service, then that service gets devalued,” he said. “But here [at the NGO], the objective is purely service of poor and helpless people,” Mr Bhagwat added.

He was addressing a gathering on Monday in Bajhera, a village near Bharatpur,, after inaugurating a ‘Mahila Sadan’ and ‘Sishu Bal Grah’ — homes for helpless women and children run by a non-governmental organisation Apna Ghar.

Mr. Bhagwat had been in Rajasthan for a couple of days and had already attended an RSS meet and delivered a lecture in the memory of Rajput ruler Rana Sanga.
Politicans across the country reacted to Bhagwat's remark.
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Indian priest kidnapped in Afghanistan released after eight months

Indian Jesuit priest Alexis Prem Kumar who was kidnapped in June 2014 in southern Afghanistan was released and reached New Delhi on February 22 with the intervention of the Indian government.
"Delighted at securing the release of Indian Jesuit priest Father Alexis Prem Kumar from captivity in Afghanistan," tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 22nd afternoon as the priest was on a flight to New Delhi.
Prime Minister Modi himself also rang up the family members of the 48-year old priest in Chennai – capital of southern Tamil Nadu state - and broke the ‘good news’ to the family.
"Have spoken to Father Alexis Prem Kumar. Informed happy family of Father Alexis Prem Kumar of his safe return after 8 months in captivity," Modi said in his tweet two and half hours before Fr Kumar landed in New Delhi.
Following the tweet, over three dozen media people, along with a dozen Jesuits and other priests, were at the international airport awaiting Fr Kumar’s arrival.
Based in Afghanistan since 2011 and heading the Jesuit Refugee Program (JRS) there since 2012, Father Kumar was abducted by gunmen on June 2 at a school built and run by the JRS at Sohadat village in Herat province.
The school 
in Sohadat, 
about 30 
from Herat 
the Jesuit 
to build
when he 
June 2.
The school in Sohadat, about 30 kilometres from Herat city, Afghanistan, that the Jesuit Refugee Service had helped to build Rev. Alexis Prem Kumar was visiting the school when he was abducted June 2.
"First of all, I thank God Almighty. I thought I would be never safe. God has saved me," Father Kumar told World Watch Monitor, in an interview at the five star Ashoka Hotel to which he was escorted by government of India officials from the airport. Father Kumar also thanked Prime Minister Modi and the government for "taking lot of efforts for my release and millions who prayed for my release."
"The Prime Minister spoke to me. When he was speaking I felt that the whole of India was welcoming me. I am grateful and thankful to the Jesuit and all others who have worked for my release," Father Kumar said.
before the 
Rev. Alexis Prem Kumar before the abduction.
"We are thrilled. Words are not enough to describe our feelings," John Joseph, younger brother of Father Kumar, who was flown to Delhi along with his 78-year old widowed father A. S. M. Anthony and sister Elizabeth Rani, a nun of the Congregation of Foyer de Charité and principal of her convent school at Vellur, by the government round midnight, told WWM February 23.
"Our prayers have been heard. God is there," said Joseph, an engineer by profession.
Asked to shed light on his over eight months of captivity, the priest who looked extremely thin and weak declined: "I want to forget everything for some time."
"Anything about Afghanistan or what happened (to me), I am not ready to share now. Please pardon me," pleaded Father Kumar with the media who waited for him at the hotel - when the question was repeated.
Rev. Alexis
Rev. Alexis after being released speaks with the media
"I have plenty of stories (to share). But I feel it is not the right time to share all those about the time (I spent in captivity)," reiterated the priest.
However, he pointed out: "Though I had my troubles and hard times, I feel proud that I am an Indian citizen and the country will take care of me."
Father Joy Karayampuram, the JRS South Asia spokesperson, in a press statement thanked Prime Minister Modi and the foreign ministry ‘for securing the safe release’ of Father Kumar.
Hailing from southern Tamil Nadu state, Father Kumar had worked over 12 years in areas of social action and development including Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka and with tribals.
Director of the JRS in India from 2005 to May 2011, he took up assignment with the JRS in Afghanistan in July 2011 and was heading the JRS operations in Afghanistan when he was kidnapped.
JRS has been working in Afghanistan since 2008, accompanying returnees home from exile in Iran and Pakistan and providing education and healthcare services in Bamiyan, Kabul and Herat. In 2013, more than 6,000 disadvantaged people from disadvantaged communities benefitted from these services, according to the JRS.
Asked whether he was frustrated by the kidnapping and captivity, Father Kumar said: "I will continue to work with people who are neglected and who have lost hope wherever I am sent."
Father Alexis had found mention in the Vatican Congregation's report on church workers killed and targeted during 2014. Fides, the Congregation's news agency, said the fate of five abducted priests belonging to religious orders, including Father Kumar, was ‘unknown’.
Though neither the government nor Father Kumar gave any clue regarding the kidnappers or their motive, the Times of India in its report on his release hinted to a ‘burgeoning kidnapping industry in Afghanistan’.
Quoting a ‘top intelligence officer’, the report on February 23 described the priest’s kidnap ‘as part of the conflict economy’ fed by tens of billions of dollars that the international forces and community have pumped into the country since 2001.
"The law and order situation has worsened due to inherent differences within the Unity government of Afghanistan... This has given Taliban and other petty criminals an opportunity to indulge in extortion via kidnapping of foreigners either associated with journalism or aid workers or private civil contractors," the official said, recalling how most abductions ended either in payment of ransom or killing of the hostage. 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why Mamata’s Trinamool Congress is silent about a VHP ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremony in Bengal

West Bengal’s ruling Trinamool Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is making unprecedented inroads in the state, are sworn enemies. Yet the Trinamool has been surprisingly quiet about a controversial ceremony in which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which is affiliated to the BJP, tried to convert Christian tribals to Hinduism.

In a video clip (at the end of this article) of the ceremony, which took place on January 28 in Birbhum district, a local VHP functionary, Churka Tudu, claims that about a hundred Christians had undergone “shuddhikaran”, or purification, to become Hindus. Local television channels and newspapers covered the ceremony, which is part of a larger contentious campaign of “ghar wapsi”, or reconversion, that the VHP has launched countrywide after the BJP came to power at the Centre in May 2014.

A Trinamool Congress member filed a first information report on the same day against VHP general secretary Jugal Kishore for making a hate speech at the ceremony and against president Praveen Togadia for making one at a nearby venue on the same day.

Two weeks later, on February 12, Mamata Banerjee addressed a public rally at Rampurhat, near the village where the ceremony took place. There, she said her government would not tolerate forced conversions and that those involved would be brought to book. But the police have still made no arrests.

Municipal elections are due in Rampurhat in April and the BJP has more support there than the Trinamool, going by their vote shares in the general election last year.

If the police had arrested the VHP functionaries, it would have sent a clear signal to the group not to play the Hindutva card in the district. That it has not done so suggests that the Trinamool is anxious about lack of support in the region.

Poll calculations

Officials down the line are trying to play down the incident. “I don’t know the details. I have heard that some people were forcibly converted, but I cannot confirm it,” was all Anarul Hossain, a local Trinamool Congress leader would say.

“Our officials went to the spot and submitted a report to the state government,” said a senior bureaucrat in the district administration who did not wish to be named. “There has been no conversion.”

The Trinamool chief minister Mamata Banerjee has in the past vociferously condemned the BJP’s Hindutva agenda, but she now has other pressures. Her party swept to power in 2011, dislodging a coalition led by the Communist Part of India-Marxist, which had ruled the state for 34 years in a row. But over the past two years, members of her party have become embroiled in a huge chit fund scam involving the Saradha group of companies.

These are the same two years during which the BJP has been on a roll across the country, and is trying to put down roots in West Bengal as well.

Rising tension

Ethnic and religious tension has been growing in the Rampurhat area over the past year.

Hindus are in a majority in the area in the Rampurhat municipal area but it has a large minority of Muslims, who form about a third of the population, and Christians.

The Rampurhat 1 block, which contains 34 tribal villages, has a population of 90,000 people. Of these, about 50,000 tribals follow the Sarna religion, an indigenous tradition, while about 30,000 are Christians, those whose ancestors began converting in the mid-19th century after missionaries began settling in the area, said Sunil Soren from the non-profit group Birbhum Adivasi Unnayan Gaonta. About 10,000 tribals are Hindus, although Soren explained that their practices overlap with the Sarna tradition.

The Trinamool has been assiduously wooing Muslims in this area, yet is worried about further polarising communities, and votes, on religious grounds, said a party member, who did not wish to be named.

Forced conversion?

Unlike Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh, West Bengal does not have an anti-conversion law, but legal action can be taken against forced conversions, although it is often hard to define coercion and even harder to prove it.

VHP leaders said about 3,000 villagers attended the event. But 10 days after the ceremony, when Scroll visited the villages from which the participants came, such as Khormadanga, where the ceremony itself took place, and Boropahari, Khurbona, Narayanpur and Taloan, none of them admitted to attending the programme, suggesting there is fear in the air.

“I was at my in-law’s place,” said one villager. “I had gone to work in the fields,” said another. It was impossible to talk to the tribals without their Hindu neighbours insisting on listening in.

But two families in Loripahari village, which is located in neighbouring Jharkhand state and borders the village where the ceremony took place, admitted that they have been converted to Hinduism. Pani Murmu and Srimati Tudu, said their families had converted to Christianity, the only ones in the villages to do so, and had taken part in the VHP ceremony.

Pani Murmu at her Loripahari homePhoto: Swati Sengupta

“We were Hindus earlier,” said Pani Murmu as she boiled rice in a pot and stirred a broth made from leaves in another vessel, both set on earthen ovens in the courtyard. “But my family members fell ill. Nothing was going well for us. So we converted to Christianity, in search of peace,” Her toddler stood by munching on maize soaked in a cup of water.

The family is among the poorest of the poor in the village. Pani’s husband, who did not want to reveal his name, is already drunk at 10 in the morning. He says he wants money to buy liquor in return for talking about the ceremony. He wants to know why people are interested in what happened. “We will adopt any religion we like,” he said aggressively. “They [the Christians] never built us a house or gave us anything else. So why can’t we opt for a different religion” Then he left the house.

After the police lodged the FIR, the VHP began denying that the ceremony had been a ghar wapsi event. “The police were present at the event, so if conversion had taken place, why didn’t they arrest anybody?” asked Amiya Sarkar, the VHP’s vice president in Birbhum.

Dhanapati Hansda, one of the priests who performed the yagna, the ceremony, also denied it had to do with conversion. “It was simply a bhumi shuddhikaran [purifying the land] for a plot donated by a family to the VHP, where a students’ hostel, meditation hall, goshala [cow shed], temple and a school will be built.”

Dhanapati HansdaPhoto: Swati Sengupta

The VHP might be trying to hush up the event because arrests could backfire. At the same time, it plans to continue with its agenda. “Through our meetings, we have been able to put a check on the conversion of Hindus to Christianity and Islam. In the coming days, the result of our meetings and appeals to people will show,” said VHP’s Amiya Sarkar.

In this video clip, Churka Tudu, a VHP member from Birbhum district in West Bengal, talks to local journalists. The exchange has been translated from Bengali.

Video: Kanchan Dey

How many are Christians here and how many have "come back”?
About a hundred.

What is happening here?
A land that will have goshala, Shiva temple, students’ hostel, playground, etc -- things that will attract people to this place.

What is happening as part of the ghar wapsi and shuddhikaran?
Whatever the rituals are. To clean up the place and people [words unclear here], yajna, all those things that are part of the Hindu shastra for those who are coming back.

Which religion are they "coming back” from?

Why did they adopt Christianity?
They had been lured with promises for education, etc. Now they are coming back on their own.

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