Sunday, December 21, 2014

MHA getting ready to clear the Chhattisgarh anti-conversion bill, says, examining it

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is still examining the controversial anti-conversion Bill passed by the Chhattisgarh Assembly in 2006. The Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam Act, 2006, brought by BJP’s Raman Singh government in the state says the return of a person to his ancestor’s religion or own original religion shall not be construed as “conversion.”

The Bill also says that a district magistrate will have to be intimated 30 days prior to the conversion and he will be the final authority on the subject.

When the Bill was passed by the state Assembly in 2006, it drew sharp criticism from the opposition parties and several Christian bodies, which opposed it saying organisation involved in philanthropic activities will be deliberately targeted by the state government.
Former Chhattisgarh governors Lieutenant General Krishna Mohan Seth and ESL Narsimhan had refused to give an assent to the Bill. Narsimhan’s successor Shekhar Dutt, also appointed by the then UPA government, kept it hanging for three years after taking charge in 2010.

The Bill was finally sent by Chhattisgarh Governor’s office to the MHA for consultation. Officials said they were still awaiting response from Women and Child Development Ministry,ministries of culture, tribal affairs, minority affairs and law on the subject.

“The MHA is still examining the provisions of the Bill to check if it is at all in contravention with the Centre’s stand on it. We are legally examining it. However, considering that there has been a change of government at the Centre, the Bill could get clearance,” said a senior MHA official on condition of anonymity.

The previous UPA government had kept the Bill hanging and took no decision over it. The Bill says that anybody found guilty of contravening the district magistrate’s decision is liable to imprisonment for up to three years and a fine of up to Rs 20,000. It also says that violation of the provisions is a cognizable offence.

Why his govt Bill is controversial

Return of a person to one’s ancestor’s religion or own original religion shall not be construed as ‘conversion’.

DM will be the final authority on the subject and anybody guilty of contravening the DM’s decision is liable to imprisonment for up to 3 years.

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Truth vs Hype: In BJP-run States, Sangh Outfits Flout The Anti-Conversion Law?

New Delhi:  Defending their sudden spate of conversion activities, Sangh Parivar groups say they are only reacting to conversions by Christian and Muslim groups, whose proselytisation activities are altering India's demographics.

To this end, the BJP supports the demand for a national anti-conversion law.

At the moment, only five Indian states have such a law, according to which people have to report their intention to convert to district authorities. Evidence of inducement or coercion can result in heavy penalties, even imprisonment.

We tested the claims made by the Sangh about the efficacy of the law in checking conversions in two BJP-run states, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.

In Gujarat's Dangs, a tribal-dominated district with a five per cent Christian population, the district Collector has received no applications seeking conversion. Nor has a single complaint been registered under the Act in the district.

The same is the case in Madhya Pradesh's tribal-dominated Jhabua district - no conversions registered, nor any police complaints filed. Officials told NDTV's Siddharth Das that they don't have the manpower to monitor conversions.

Ironically, the poor implementation of the laws allows the Sangh Parivar to carry out its own conversions - what they call Ghar Wapasi or homecoming - without informing the administration. In Madhya Pradesh, Khum Singh Maharaj, a functionary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad told NDTV that his group never alerts the district officials of their plans to convert. "If the Collector is not informing us (of the number of Christian conversions) then why should we," said Khum Singh.

Christian organisations have consistently opposed anti-conversion laws, calling them dangerous and motivated.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Mumbai told NDTV, "If you put impossible conditions or very difficult conditions then that is certainly hindering the freedom of religion. That I think is absolutely wrong. It might look okay on paper, its open to abuse, to prevent people from exercising their freedom to choose what they want to choose, that would certainly take India behind."

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

MP police book Christian convention organiser under anti-conversion law

A week after insisting that there was no evidence of conversion, forced or otherwise, the Ratlam Police has booked the organiser of a Pentecostal convention under the state’s anti-conversion law.

The convention, organised by the Indian Pentecostal Church of God and the United Christian Council (UCC) on December 12, at Ratlam was attended by ailing tribals from nearby areas who were promised free treatment.

Alleging that the organisers had promised the tribals jobs and money to convert them to Christianity, activists of Hindu Jagaran Manch informed the authorities and brought the convention to a halt.

Station Road Police Station in-charge Rajesh Chouhan told The Sunday Express that Jose Matthew of UCC and others had been booked after preliminary investigation and after recording statements of some tribals who attended the convention.

However, he said no one has been arrested so far. The police have booked Matthew, a resident of Bajrang Nagar, under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968.

The police were initially reluctant to register a case but the right-wing organisation threatened to stage protests if the police failed to act. The organisers had denied the allegations about conversion claiming that it was a spiritual event.

Ratlam-based RSS leader Dr Ratnadeep Nigam, who is Prachar Pramukh of Ujjain Vibhag, alleged that the police were acting under pressure from missionaries and had tried to dismiss the case but were forced to act after “honest statements by tribals” and solid evidence.

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Coverage from NDTV

Ratlam:  The police in Madhya Pradesh's Ratlam on Saturday booked Josh Mathew, Secretary of the United Christian Council, for allegedly luring local tribals to convert to Christianity.

On December 12, the Indian Penticoastal Church of God, along with the United Christian Council, had reportedly organised a spiritual programme. Members of various tribal groups from interior parts of Ratlam were reportedly brought to the event.

Members of some right-wing groups, who reportedly reached the venue after they got to know of the programme, alleged that the organisers of the event were trying to lure the tribals to convert to Christianity with promises of miracle cure and jobs.

The police identified one Josh Mathew, who was allegedly part of the group.

"A case has been registered under the Freedom of Religion Act, Sections 3,4 and 5. We had received a complaint about an attempt to lure tribals to convert to Christianity. We have booked the organiser in the case and are trying to identify the other members who were part of the organising team. As soon as they are identified, we will book them and arrest them," Superintendent of Police, Ratlam, Dr Ashish told NDTV.

Josh Mathew, secretary of the United Christian Council, told media personnel," During the festive season, we organise such spiritual programmes. That was just a spiritual upliftment programme. I do not have information about how the tribals came to the event. In such programmes, we just conduct prayers. We do not guarantee a miracle cure to anyone."

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VHP conducts ‘ghar wapsi’ of 100 Christian tribals, later claims 900 reconverted

Stepping up its ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign to mark its golden jubilee Saturday, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad “officially brought back to the Hindu fold” some 100 Christian tribals who had “embraced Hinduism earlier” in south Gujarat.

VHP activists later claimed as many as 900 had been “reconverted”.

The ‘ghar wapsi’ ceremony was conducted this afternoon at Arnai, a village in Kaprada taluka of Valsad district.

VHP members and some religious leaders watched as tribals from six villages were taken to a hot spring stream, made to take a dip. They were then made to sit for a ‘havan’ and told to throw rosaries into the fire as a confirmation of quitting Christianity. Religious leaders sprinkled ‘Gangajal’ on them for “purification”.

“This is a homecoming,” announced ‘kathakar’ (story teller) Praful Shukla who performed the rituals. “Hindustan Hindu ka desh aur Hindu ka desh hi rahega (Hindustan is a country of Hindus and will remain so),” Shukla told the gathering. He said those “reconverted” had embraced Hinduism a couple of years ago and the Saturday event was their “official entry” into Hinduism again.

Rankaben Somabhai Kadat, one of the “reconverted” told The Sunday Express: “I wanted to return to Hinduism. I had converted to Christianity after my brother fell ill and went to a ‘father’ (Christian priest) for treatment. He was cured and he became a Christian. My brother and his children are Christians even today. But I decided to become a Hindu again. Nobody forced me do so.”

Gujarat VHP chief Kaushik Mehta said the Arnai event had “nothing to do with religious conversion” and was “a homecoming” for which people had “volunteered without greed”.

“Yeh ghar wapsi ka karyakram hai, dharm parivartan ka nahin. Jo log lobh aur bhay se doosare dharm me chale gaye the, wo wapis aa gaye hain. Ye log mukhyadhara me aa rahe hain (It is a homecoming event, not religious conversion. Those who were lured by money or intimidated to convert have returned. These people are coming back into the mainstream),” Mehta said.

Dharmendra Bhavani, chief of Dharm Prasar Vibhag of the VHP in Gujarat, claimed 170 families who had embraced Christianity were “reconverted” into Hinduism. “The event should not be read as dharm parivartan (religious conversion). These people wanted to return to Hinduism, the religion of their ancestors. For them, it is ghar wapsi,” he said. 

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VHP claims 're-conversion' of 200 Christians in Gujarat, Congress says it's unfortunate

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) "re-converted" over 200 tribal Christians to Hinduism on Saturday by holding rituals at Aranai village in Valsad district in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Gujarat, claimed a leader of the outfit.

The right-wing group also said the re-conversion was "voluntary" and not by force.

"As part of the ongoing 'ghar-wapsi' programme, VHP today (Saturday) re-converted 225 people from Christian community and took them back into Hindu religion," said Valsad district VHP chief Natu Patel.

He said VHP organised a 'Maha Yagnya' (ritual of the sacred fire) for "purification" of the tribals before taking them back in Hindu-fold and also gave each of them a copy of Bhagwad Gita.

Another VHP worker, Ashok Sharma, said around 3,000 people had gathered at the 'ghar-wapsi' programme in Valsad.

"VHP greeted around 225 people back in their own religion in Valsad. We have not forced them, they came on their own wish," Sharma said.

Congress leader Rashid Alvi said on Sunday that such acts conducted by right-wing outfits only created a bad impression about India across the world.

"This is totally unfortunate whatever is happening. In the world, India had a different image of having people practising various religious beliefs, speaking different languages -- based on which the country was built... These actions will only create bad impression about the country," Alvi told ANI.

He also said that if such re-conversion happened through coercion or inducement then it was a clear violation of law.

"Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and others are trying to destroy the country. If these people have been converted by coercion or inducement then it is a clear violation of law. But then what kind of image of India will be in the world," he added.

The incident came against the backdrop of a raging debate over such programmes being organised by Sangh Parivar groups in various parts of the country.

A controversy had erupted early this month when a right wing group had organised a 'ghar-wapsi' drive wherein it reportedly converted about 100 people from a minority community in Agra in Uttar Pradesh.

The incident had created a ruckus in the Rajya Sabha, with the Opposition demanding a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

A similar incident was also reported from BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh where a party MP had claimed 39 tribal Christians were re-converted to Hinduism in Maoist-hit Bastar district in October this year.

In its response to the Opposition over the conversion issue, the BJP has demanded bringing of anti-conversion law.

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Coverage by Zee News. Link Here

Ahmedabad: The Opposition on Sunday sharpened its attack on Hindu outfit Vishwa Hindu Parishad which claimed to have reconverted over 200 Christian families to Hinduism yesterday in Gujarat's Valsad district.
Accusing VHP of carrying out forceful conversion, Congress senior leader Digvijay Singh said, “Personally I've no problem on Anti Conversion Law as VHP and Bajrang Dal are doing the same. Conversion by force and inducement.”

Criticising the crusade, Father Dominic told Zee News that the VHP is forcefully converting people.

“I don't accept that anyone who has been a Christian will convert to other religion by personal choice. VHP is forcing people and luring them to convert their religion. I've got an information that in Bihar people were threatened with dire consequences if they do not convert. These people were told that they will be ostracized if they would refuse to accept Hinduism,” he said.
CPI(M) leader, D Raja also backed the Opposition voice and said, "India is not a Hindu Rashtra, but a democratic republic.”
Meanwhile, Gujarat government spokesperson Nitin Patel said that they had the information about several families willing to convert to Hinduism.
“Gujarat government has nothing to do with it. The people converted willingly. However, if their will be any complaint regarding forceful conversion then we will take action,” he said.
Clearing BJP's stand on conversion issue, party leader Shahnawaz Hussain told ANI that the party is against forcefull conversion, but causing disruption in House won't get Opposition anywhere.
“If Opposition is really concerned, they should support the government for anti-conversion bill,” said Hussain.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Saturday called for an anti conversion bill in Parliament. “Bring law against conversion in Parliament if you don't like conversion,” Bhagwat was quoted as saying by PTI.
After organising its 'Ghar Vapsi' programme, the right-wing outfit, VHP, yesterday said the re-conversion was "voluntary" and not by force.
"As part of the ongoing 'Ghar-Vaapsi' programme, VHP today re-converted 225 people from Christian community and took them back into Hindu religion," said Valsad district VHP chief Natu Patel.
He said VHP organised a 'Maha Yagnya' (ritual of the sacred fire) for "purification" of the tribals before taking them back in Hindu-fold and also gave each of them a copy of Bhagwad Gita.
Another VHP worker, Ashok Sharma, said around 3,000 people had gathered at the 'Ghar-Vaapsi' programme in Valsad, which culminated on Saturday.
(With Agency inputs)

Christians attacked near Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Hindu extremists disrupted a Christian prayer meeting and beat up Christians in Varanasi on December 19, 2014. Varanasi is the constituency of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Pastor Shobhnath and local Christians were participating in prayer and fasting in a village in Chiraigaon Block, Varanasi. While the believers were praying and worshiping, 10-12 people came in a Bolero (SUV), entered the house forcefully, and started beating the Christians.

They took away Bible and other literature and also destroyed household furniture.

The matter was reported to the local police. No FIR has been filed but the police has invited both the parties to come and settle the matter on December 21, 2014.

The attackers are supported by BJP and it allies. Some of them are also office bearers of RSS.

Local MLA Mr. Uday Lal Maurya of BSP has lent support for the Christians.

Please pray for Pastor Shobhnath, his family and the Church.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Pastor arrested in Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh on chrages of forced and fradulent conversion

Lucknow: Over 70 Hindus have been allegedly converted to Christianity in Uttar Pradesh's Bahraich district. While district officials are probing the matter, a suspect from an outfit called India Hope Center has been arrested, police said.

A district official said office bearers of the outfit are active in the Kamalpuri village and that they were trying to allure villagers into accepting Christianity.

However, District Magistrate Satyendra Kumar told a news agency on Thursday that it has not been confirmed if the conversions took place.

"We have send officials to the village and are trying to ascertain the veracity of the charges," he added.

Kumar said the district administration was vigilant about such issues. Intelligence officials, however, said the India Hope Center activities "had picked up in the area" for the past few months, especially after the floods.

"They had distributed relief material to the villagers and it is feared that in lieu of this they tried to allure the villagers into embracing Christianity," a police official said.

Police said they are looking for the India Hope Center head. Sources said that the 'baptism' of villagers Lallan, Bhaniram, Amarjeet, Happy, Shyamlal, Jawahar Lal, Benchan Prasad and many others was done by Bishop Mahendra Kumar.

The converts were also seen wearing crosses but they have now gone underground for fear of police, a local said.

Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded a thorough probe into the episode.

"It is amazing and disturbing that the chief minister is mum on this issue while he does not miss any chance to score political points when the issue is about Muslims being converted to Hinduism," said Vijaya Bahadur Pathak, state spokesman of the BJP.

Meanwhile, a series of 'Ghar Wapasi' (home coming) events are lined up for Thursday in Allahabad and Varanasi. Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders Ashok Sinhal and Sumeru seer Narendranand Saraswati will camp in Varanasi to make the events a success.

Advocating a stern law to curb all religious conversions, Singhal said that he will not disclose the event venue for now and would proceed with the home coming events.

A home department official told IANS that district administrations across the state were being sensitised on the matter.

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Christians forcibly converted into HInduism by VHP in Bihar

Three of the dozen Hindus who converted to Christianity in two Bihar villages have returned to the Hindu fold after they were threatened with a social boycott, an official said Thursday.
Nearly a dozen poor Hindus, including women, were converted to Christianity at Barohiya village and Gangaldeh villages in Bhagalpur district, 200 km from here, early this week.
“Three of those who converted to Christianity have returned to Hindu fold at a ‘ghar wapasi’ (returning home) ceremony by the VHP,” police official Durgesh Kumar said.
He has denied that villagers threatened those converted and said that the village is peaceful.
“Police have been closely monitoring the situation in the village and will not allow any one to create trouble,” he said.
But a villager, who did not want to be quoted, said that those converted to Christianity were given an ultimatum of social boycott by the villagers.
Rakesh Sinha, a local Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader, said the three were persuaded by a VHP team to return to Hindu fold.
Right-wing Hindu organisations have alleged that Christian missionaries allured them to convert by promising them money.
Sinha said the VHP, Bajrang Dal and the RSS will protest against Hindus being converted to Christianity by allurement.
A probe began Wednesday after Bhagalpur District Magistrate Virendra Prasad Yadav had ordered to look into the conversions.
According to villagers, those converted had been suffering from some health problems and were suggested to follow Christian practices as remedial measures, and hence they converted.

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Press statement by Christian leadership in Delhi

New Delhi, 18th December 2014
We meet you at a time when the entire world, every parent on earth, is grieving the loss of 132 innocent children shot dead in Peshawar in Pakistan. That such brutality is seen in the 21st century is evidence of the dangers of fanaticism and extremism hate and violence acting in the name of faith is a challenge to society at large.  We extend to the people of Pakistan and specially its children our heartfelt condolences. We remain in solidarity with them as we pray for the souls of the dead students.
We are reminded again of the message of Jesus Christ to eschew hate, to work for peace, to forgive those who hurt us, and to love our neighbours.
This Christmas season, therefore, we come to you with a heavy heart and great concern of the sense of apprehension and fear in our community at the incidents of violence against our Churches and personnel in various parts of the country, and specially in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and now in the National Capital Territory of Delhi where  the St. Sebastian’s Church in Dlishad Garden, East Delhi was torched in what we think is an act of malicious arson on 1st December 2014.
The gutting of the St. Sebastian’s Church, as well as the other incidents of targeted violence in other parts of the country, speak of extreme police and administrative impunity and disregard not only to the sentiments and religious feelings of our community but also the guarantees of the Constitution of India.
These acts of violence do not stand alone, nor are they isolated incidents. They are quite part of a series of interconnected actions by various non-State actors closely associated with the ruling dispensation. The official celebrations of a good governance day on Christmas day as detailed in government circulars sent to educational institutions throughout the country to organise compulsory events on a day that is holy to us, Members of the Union Council of Ministers have called for national laws against conversion, and a Common Civil Code, politically targeting the Christian and Muslim communities without saying it in so many words.
What is more dangerous, and threat to national peace and harmony, is the well thought out campaign in the name of Ghar Wapsi, which is organised  not just by fringe elements, but by senior members of Parliament belonging to the ruling party. Their pronouncements question the identity and patriotism of India’s several religious minorities. The fact that people are being offered  Below Poverty Line Cards and other privileges within the domain of government adds to our fear that these elements enjoy official patronage.
It is being made clear to the minorities that while the Government won its mandate on a platform of “development and good governance’, the radical groups see it is an endorsement of their programme of hate and religious nationalism which they call Hindu Rashtra. This is a blatant attempt to sabotage the Constitution of India that guarantees freedom of faith, adhering to the United Nations Bill of Rights. Article 25 (i) assures the freedom to every citizen of India to profess, practice and propagate one’s religion and beliefs. This was the result of a great debate that took place in the Constituent Assembly.
With its wonderful diversity and ancient cultural, linguistic and ethnic identity, the State maintains equal respect for all faiths, and for people who profess no faith. In a secular and democratic India, there is no place for a state religion. India is not a theocracy. Religion has no place in the national political discourse.
In the states where dubious and ironically named Freedom of Religion Acts have been used against minorities, their overwhelming powers have allowed the police and bureaucracy to harass, arrest and punish clergy, religious workers and institutions. If that was not enough, the non State actors and members of religious-political groups have felt empowered to coerce and terrorise the people, often settling personal scores or indulging in land grab.
The media may already be aware but, we would like to highlight some of the recent incidents of targeted violence and attacks on Christians in the country which we have already conveyed to the Prime Minister and Union Home Minister in our memorandum:
On Sunday, 30th November 2014, two house churches in Annupur district of Madhya Pradesh were attacked. Chhattisgarh has particularly witnessed regular and repeated attacks on the fundamental rights of the minority Christian community. Most recently, according to the media and local sources, local Hindutva groups such as the VHP are pressurising local Catholic missionaries to put up pictures of Goddess Saraswati in their educational institutions. The Catholic schools are also under pressure to rename the principals in their schools, as “Pracharya”, or “Up-pracharya”, instead of the term “Father”, which is usually used.
Some of the other incidents briefly outlined below are representative of the hostility and discrimination being faced by Christians across India.
1.     Social Boycott
·       The entry of and propaganda by non-Hindu missionaries, especially Christians, is banned in more than 50 villages of Chhattisgarh’s Bastar region by the local gram panchayats since late May.

·       In Deggarh district, Odisha several tribal Christian families were excommunicated on 28 April allegedly at the behest of Hindu extremists. The three Christian families were excommunicated and deprived from enjoying common facilities of the village road, water and forest land because of their faith in Christ. The well commonly used by the Christians was polluted by adding filth to it. And the Christians have been forbidden to mix or talk to anybody, to take part in any social functions or walk on the main road.  The extremists also threatened to snatch away the Govt. land allotted to the Christians, to cancel their BPL Cards and demolish their houses if they do not renounce Christ.

2.     Physical Assaults
·       On 16 June, a mob of religious extremists brutally beat up Christians and 10 believers including two women who were later rushed to the hospital in Sirisguda, Bastar town, Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh. About 100 Christians who were denied rations for two months for their faith in Christ were beaten up by a mob.  At about 1 pm, Christians from 52 families came together before the district Food Inspector office when the mob rushed in and started to beat the Christians indiscriminately. The mob beat up the Christians with sticks, kicked and punched them and hurled stones at those who were trying to escape from the scene. Two women were pulled to the ground while the perpetrators stood on them and hit their genital organs.  No FIR was registered against members of the mob.

·       Religious-political extremists locked up a church on June 5 after they beat up a Christian family in Balwanazir, Kaliyanganj, Bihar. The mob comprising of Hindu extremists beat up Sadanandan Singh and his family for their faith in Christ in May and June and finally locked up the church of the Indian Evangelical Team.  Singh and his family were dragged on the road and the entire family including two minor girls were beaten up mercilessly. The extremists have locked up the church and told Singh that he is not allowed to pray in the future in the village.

3.     Desecration of and Restrictions on House Churches or Building Churches.
·       Local religious political groups threatened to harm Pastor Bhikanlal Dhurvey several times for conducting prayer meetings in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. However, the pastor continued to conduct worship services and later started to build a prayer hall in his land. Subsequently, the extremists filed a police complaint against the pastor of illegal construction. The construction has since been stopped and prayers are now being conducted in the homes of local Christians

·        On 18th May in Kundupur, Karnataka the properties of two churches were allegedly damaged by unidentified miscreants.  An ornamental pot at the entrance of the Holy Rosary church was broken and a signpost leading to St. Antony Church in Koteshwar also was uprooted.

·       On 29 April, three chapels in Irinjalakuda diocese were damaged after allegedly police cleared the way for the "Way of the Cross' procession of the Saint Anthony's Catholic Church. Earlier, on 11 April, extremists had blocked the procession of St Antony's Catholic Church. The police intervened and cleared the passage for the procession as this was the traditional practise for several years and the local temple administration has given permission for the same.
India is a land where different religious faiths have long since flourished and our founding fathers made special efforts to ensure that the rights of all are safeguarded irrespective of our religious beliefs, gender or caste. India is committed to secularism and any attempt to weaken the socio-religious fabric of the nation must be dealt with swiftly and effectively.
We hope and pray that such discrimination and targeted violence will be ended by strong political will and administrative action. We the Christians who are a small religious community need assurance from the government that we are protected and secure and safe in our motherland.

We pray for our fellow citizens and wish them great joy as we greet them this Christmas.
God bless India.

1.     Archbishop Anil Couto, Archbishop of Delhi
2.     Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara, Bishop of the Faridabad Syro-Malabar Catholic Eparchy
3.     Bishop Jacob Barnabas, Syro-Malankara Catholic church
4.     Archbishop Youhanon Mar Demetros, Malankara Orthodox Church of India
5.     Bishop Abraham Mar Paulus, Bishop of Marthoma Church
6.     Bishop Subodh Mondal, Bishop of Methodist Church of India
7.     Bishop Samantroy, Moderator, CNI
8.     Bishop Simon John, Bishop of Believers Church
9.     Dr. John Dayal, former National President, all India catholic Union, Member, NIC
10.  Rev. Richard Howell, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India and secretary of National United Christian Forum
11.  Rev Vijayesh Lal, Director Religious Liberty Commission, EFI

Monday, December 15, 2014

Press Statement by the Delhi Archbishop over controversy regarding Christmas day

NEW DELHI-110001



Delhi Archbishop Anil J.T. Couto has expressed his deep concern and anguish at reports of asking CBSE affiliated schools to organize events and competitions on Christmas Day as to mark it as ‘Good Governance Day’ and the surrounding controversies on the same.

The Archbishop also strongly condemns the conversion drives planned by the Hindu groups on Christmas Day and said “it is a violation of Constitutional rights and guarantees to citizens of India such as the Freedom of Faith and the freedom of movement, expression and association”.

Dharam Jagran Samiti plans to convert 5000 Christians into Hinduism on Christmas Day. This move by the above group who are now greatly encouraged, is a grave assault on the fundamental rights of individuals. It is nothing but hate campaign against the Christian community and the Christian faith, the Archbishop said. In the past, large scale violence against the Christian community had been preceded by such hate campaigns.

“Christmas Day is a day to celebrate and pray for peace and harmony in the country and world at large”, the Archbishop said.

Archbishop Anil Couto called for an immediate end to such malicious hate campaigns and intervention of both the State and Central government in the matter.

The community reserves its right to take legal action and approach the courts for stopping these conversion drives and hate campaigns as they violate the fundamental rights of every citizen of this country as enshrined in the Constitution of India.

Issued By:
Fr. Savarimuthu Sankar
Spokesperson Delhi Catholic Archdiocese

Sunday, December 14, 2014

India Christians Injured In Pre-Christmas Attacks

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- Persecution of minority Christians in India is escalating ahead of Christmas with attacks reported in several areas including in southern regions and the capital New Delhi.
In one of the latest known incidents Saturday, December 13, evangelical Christians were attacked and beaten by Hindu militants for singing Christmas carols in India's southern city of Hyderabad, seriously injuring a pastor and four others, rights activists told BosNewsLife.

The violence occurred while Pastor Bhim Nayak of Banjara Baptist Church and fifteen church members sang Christmas carols and visited Christian families in the city's Singareny Colony. Local Christians said some thirty "Hindu radicals" attacked the Christians and a vehicle they had hired for the evening festivities.

The Hindu mob was seen surrounding the vehicle, with several shouting that believers were trying to "forcefully convert people to Christianity" by singing Christmas carols.

Angry Hindus soon smashed the vehicle's windows and dragged the Christians out into the street where they were beaten severely, witnesses said.

Pastor Nayak and four others, including his wife and son, were reportedly severely injured after being hit by sticks and clubs.

The pastor, who was said to be the focal point of the radicals' rage, collapsed, unconscious, covered in blood, Christians said. Nayak was reportedly rushed to a local clinic where he received first aid and was transferred to a Hyderabad hospital where he, his wife and son receive intensive care.

It was no isolated incident, with massive Hindu-led "reconversion campaigns" taking place all across the northern India and reports of forced conversions and violence against Christians, according to advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), which supports the pastor.

Violence has also been reported in New Delhi where Christians have demanded justice after a church was torched earlier this month.

Though no one was inside the targeted St. Sebastian’s Church in the capital's Dilshad Garden area, regional Archbishop Anil Couto said the entire interior was “reduced to ashes”.

The December 1 attack prompted Christians to demonstrate near police headquarters.

In published renarks, the president of aid and advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), Sajan K George, warned that “the holy season of Advent is always targeted by anti-social elements."

He said, "They want to breed suspicion, discord and disharmony between religious communities”.

Yet in an unprecedented move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi apologized for a parliamentarian's insulting comments comments towards non-Hindu minorities, including Christians, saying that they were unacceptable.

He said however that Niranjan Jyoti has apologised for her remarks and that “she is a first-time member
and comes from a rural background”.

The opposition reportedly demanded a resolution to condemn her “revolting” remarks. Prime Minister Modi's Hindu nationalist BJP party enjoys a comfortable majority, after winning the May 2014 election.

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christian event in Ratlam stopped on alleged charges of “conversion”

A Pentecostal convention in Ratlam came to an abrupt end Friday after a group of right-wing activists brought the administration and police to the venue after accusing the organisers of converting tribals by offering money and other allurements.

Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) activists alleged that illiterate tribals from Bajna and Sailana were brought to a venue on Power House Road in Ratlam town with a promise to cure their ailments and promised jobs and money.

Called Changai Sabha’, the meet was organised by the local body and addressed by preachers from Kerala and Bhopal. The HJM said the organisers had arranged for food and accommodation of the tribals and told the potential converts that only Christianity can ensure salvation, not their old religion.

CSP P S Ranawat told The Indian Express that no evidence about the alleged conversions, forced or otherwise, was found in the initial probe by the police. He said the police had spoken to a few tribals but none confirmed the allegation. He said the police could not take statements of the organisers because there was tension in the air.

After the police assured them of action, the Manch said its activists would wait till Saturday for a case to be registered against the organisers or decide the next course of action after the deadline was over.

Ranawat said between 100 and 150 tribals participated in the convention addressed by five preachers. When told about the deadline given by the HJM, the CSP chose not to speak about it.

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Bearing the cross of insecurity

Rising incidents of violence and harassment have the Christian community anxious about its rights

Vikram Verma, a Class XII student of a convent school in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, is worried about a 'whip' that has been issued instructing students to stop addressing the school principal as "father". Instead, they are supposed to call the Christian priest "sir", "pracharya" (Hindi for principal) or "up-pracharya". "I have always addressed the principal as 'father', how can I suddenly start calling him pracharya?" asks Verma (name changed). The instruction came after a written agreement between the Jagdalpur Catholic Diocese and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Following the agreement, believed to be the first of its kind in the country, the over two dozen Catholic schools that the diocese manages in the region will also have to put up photographs of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge.
Barely a week after this news, which was received by the Christian community with concern, St Sebastian's Church in East Delhi's Dilshad Garden was gutted in a fire. A special investigation team is now probing what the church alleges was arson. Already apprehensive, the community has been further alarmed by recent reports that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, plans to convert at least 4,000 Christian families, on Christmas no less, as part of what it terms as the ghar wapsi (returning home) programme to be held in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh. Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Yogi Adityanath will reportedly participate in the event that will be followed by similar events in Agra, Fatehpur Sikri, Mathura, Ferozabad, Etah, Meerut, Mainpuri and Uttarakhand.
"After the attack on the church in Delhi particularly, people feel very alarmed," says P K Samantaroy, moderator of the Church of North India and bishop of the church's Diocese of Amritsar. The Church of North India is the biggest Protestant organisation with churches across India except in the southern states. "If this can happen in Delhi, it can happen anywhere." Incidents of attacks and coercion, the community believes, have been on the increase. Praveen Davar, a member of the National Commission for Minorities, says while he would not like to comment on the politics of it all, "We are equally concerned. A lot of incidents have come to our notice in the last few months." The commission has sought a "factual report" from the Uttar Pradesh government about the conversions that took place in Agra recently. "If we are not convinced with the report, we will send our fact-finding team," says Davar. He adds that more incidents are being reported from western Uttar Pradesh, "but that is also because western Uttar Pradesh borders Delhi and hence, the incidents come to our notice. Cases happening in remote areas of the country often go unreported." Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have been other vulnerable areas. In September, for example, a church was set ablaze by some unidentified people in Madhya Pradesh's Mandla district.
Denying that VHP or any Hindu organisation had a role in this, Surendra Singh, VHP's man in charge of Madhya Bharat, says, "We do not buy the idea of damaging even an unattended property, let alone a religious place. VHP believes in 'rashtra', that is 'country first'." He alleges that certain forces are trying to stonewall a "rashtrawadi" (nationalist) government through such propaganda. "I can firmly say that VHP and Bajrang Dal cannot undertake any task that will tarnish their image."
Intimidation tactics
Christians, meanwhile, say they are also being harassed with false cases. "In my own diocese, cases have been fabricated against church officials," says Samantaroy. Adds Anand Muttungal, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh: "In the last 100 days, as many as 500 cases have been registered against members of the Christian community for one reason or the other, particularly in the tribal belt of Barwani and Sendhwa in western Madhya Pradesh."
Such cases, says Makarand Deuskar, deputy inspector general of police, Jabalpur, are investigated under Section 295 (A) of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to hurting religious sentiments, and Section 153 (A), which deals with creating tension between communities. "We always try to allay the fears in the minority communities," he claims.
In Gujarat, there is anxiety that 'intelligence groups' are on the prowl gathering information about the activities of Christian organisations, some of which have also been directly asked to furnish details about their activities. "This is a well thought-out strategy to intimidate us," says Cedric Prakash, Ahmedabad-based Jesuit priest and human rights activist. "It is no coincidence that the incidents (in Uttar Pradesh) are taking place in December, close to Christmas," adds Samson Christian, national executive member and general secretary of the All India Christian Council. "We are being vigilant in Gujarat too."
If the need arises, the community will appeal to the state or the central government or even file a petition in the Supreme Court against actions that violate its right to practise and profess its beliefs. "We have faith that the judiciary will ensure miscreants do not disrupt law and order," says Christian.
A society polarised
In Uttar Pradesh, after the Delhi church was burnt, Christians held a silent protest march under the banner of UP Masihi Association (UPMA). The association has also sought appointments with the governor and the chief minister to seek security, says Rakesh Chattree, UPMA secretary and principal of Christ Church College, Lucknow. "Sporadic incidents of vandalism have also been occurring in the churches of some backward districts of Gonda, Basti and Bahraich," he says, adding that they are being targeted for alleged induced conversions. "We are against forced conversions," he says. As another member of the community wonders, if churches in India have been engaging in forced conversions, how is it that the Christian population has remained a low 2 per cent for so many years? (According to the 2011 Census of India, Christians account for 2.3 per cent of India's population). Chattree says while he is confident that the BJP leadership and RSS believed in peaceful coexistence, the local small-time leaders needed to be reined in.
The 4,000 Christian families identified for conversion in Aligarh belong to the Valmiki samaj, a Dalit sect of Hinduism. "The Valmiki samaj is the feet of the Hindu society. We are incomplete without them," said RSS regional pracharak Rajeshwar Singh in an interview to The Economic Times. And that is where the Hindu bodies intend to bring these poor people - back to the lowest strata of society, fumes P L Punia, chairman of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. "Through these conversions, they will once again be reduced to a life of indignity where they won't even be allowed to enter the temples of the higher castes," he says.
By raising such hate issues, an attempt is being made to divide people, create an identity crisis and get every Hindu to start thinking like the Hindutva brigade, says Roop Rekha Verma, former vice-chancellor of Lucknow University who runs Saajhi Duniya that works for communal harmony in Uttar Pradesh.
Back in Bastar, a section of the Christian community feels that the agreement between the Catholic schools and VHP was made under duress. Arun Pannalal, general secretary of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, fears the agreement will set a precedent and VHP will raise the same demands elsewhere. But, says VHP leader Suresh Yadav, "We raised some issues and the Christian community agreed without any reservation." The state authorities have decided not to interfere. "It is between VHP and the diocese. We have no role to play in it," says Brajesh Vajpayee, an education department official.
Meanwhile, there is a sense of insecurity in Odisha too. Conversion is a sticky issue in the state, says the pastor of a church in Bhubaneswar, requesting anonymity. The Odisha Freedom of Religion Act, which has existed for decades, lays down rules and procedures for a person to change his or her faith. "So no one can be converted forcibly or through allurement," reasons the pastor. But this argument is strongly contested. Says Ramakant Rath, state coordinator, Bajrang Dal, "While few have been officially converted under the Act, lakhs have been lured illegally into Christianity, particularly in the tribals areas through the offer of money, education or health services." He says in many cases, they have stopped such "conversion programmes, but in remote areas, where our organisation cannot reach, people sometimes take the law into their own hands, leading to violence, to vent their anger against conversion".
The Christians are looking to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to send out a strong message that will allay their fears. "Look at how the administrative machinery swung into action when the Prime Minister launched the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan," says Samantaroy. "The administration is bound to act on the Prime Minister's directive. But so far there has been no strong statement from him."

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