Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Uttarakhand cabinet approves draft bill to make forced religious conversions a non-bailable offence

The Uttarakhand state cabinet has approved the draft bill called ‘Dharm Swatantrata Adhiniyam’ under which forced and illegal conversions will be a non-bailable offence. The state government is aiming to curb the incidences of religious conversions by means of force, bribes or incentives and duping. Under this bill, a person, if caught with being involved in such practice will have to face a jail term from one year to five years. The minimum jail term will be two years if the victims belong to SC or ST category.

According to reports, if a person wants to convert voluntarily, he/she will have to submit an affidavit with the respective District Magistrate one month prior, in order to clarify that the conversion is voluntary and not forced.

Any conversions, if found not to have followed the above will be invalidated and considered illegal by the government. If a person wants to convert for the purpose of marriage, he/she will also have to submit the same affidavit.

The Trivendra Singh Rawat led state cabinet convened for four hours
on different issues on Monday in the state assembly. Under this bill,
even organised events for religious conversions will be illegal if not
notified to the government one month prior.

The government’s decision is in line with the order of the Uttarakhand High Court in November last year when the bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma had suggested that the state government should formulate the Freedom of Religion Act to check the practice of religious conversion for the sole purpose of facilitating a marriage. The HC had asked the state government to legislate a law on the analogy of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act 1968 and the Himachal Freedom of religion act

A bench headed by Justice Rajiv Sharma had said, “It needs to be mentioned that the court has come across a number of cases where inter-religion marriages are being organised.

However, in few instances, the conversion from one religion to another religion is a sham conversion only to facilitate the process of
marriage. In order to curb this tendency, the state government is
expected to legislate the Freedom of Religion Act on the analogy of
Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 1968 as well as Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, 2006, without hurting the religious sentiments of citizens.”

Under the bill, the immediate family members of the concerned person who has been converted can register a case.

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Police asked not to interfere in the civil rights of a pastor in Tamil Nadu

The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court on Friday directed the Tirunelveli police not to interfere with the civil rights of a pastor who moved the court seeking to restrain the police from questioning members of a church in the name of enquiry.

Justice P. Rajamanickam directed that civil rights should not be interfered with and no questioning be conducted in the name of enquiry.

The petitioner, Soundarapandian, a pastor at the Church of South India (CSI) church in Athisiyapuram, Palayamkottai, said a prayer hall was constructed in 2017 with permission from the Executive Officer of the panchayat. Prayers were held on Fridays and Sundays without causing any hindrance to the public, he said.

However, a few villagers had complained to the V. K. Pudur police that prayers were being held without permission. Following the complaint, the police had been visiting the church in the name of enquiry and questioning its members, he complained.

The petitioner said his freedom of conscience, free profession, practice and propagation of religion guaranteed under the Constitution were affected and sought to restrain the police from conducting such enquiries at the prayer hall.

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Indian policeman joins 50-strong Hindu mob’s attack on churches

A Hindu mob raided five churches in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu yesterday (11 March), attacking and abusing Christians as they worshipped. Several women were stripped and beaten.

The attackers, who according to witnesses were accompanied by a state-provided police officer, were part of Hindu Munnani, a Tamil Nadu-based organisation formed to defend Hinduism.

The Hindu Munnani District Secretary, Thangam Venkatesh, led the mob, which began its raids early in the morning.

“At about 9am, Venkatesh went to the prayer hall and abused the pastor, Ravi Jacob. He used extremely vulgar language, and then turned on his wife, Persis,” John J.Y. Arul, Chairman of Madurai District Pastors’ Fellowship, told World Watch Monitor.

“The extremists were aggressive and uncontrollable. In front of children and others in the church, they savagely beat up Jacob and Persis. They removed Persis’ saree and repeatedly kicked her in the face,” Arul said.

“I can’t repeat the words they used against Persis. We were shocked by their inhuman behaviour.

“When Persis was crying for help, the police guard with the Munnani leader asked her to ‘prostrate herself at the feet of Thangam Venkatesh and plead for his forgiveness’.

“Persis’ face was swollen and she had to be rushed to hospital.”

The mob also burnt Christian literature, including Bibles.

“The same Hindu Munnani men went to four other churches in the district,” Arul said.

At about 10am the mob went to the Bethesda Worship Centre, where they stripped and attacked three women. Two of the women, Maariyammal, 40, and Annal, 51, were sexually assaulted. A third, Bava Dhaarani, 23, was slapped and punched. Maariyammal tried to lodge a complaint with the police, but she was told police could “only take one complaint per church” and the church pastor had already made a complaint.

The mob told Bethseda’s pastor, Jerome Jagatheesan, “you will be brutally murdered in five days”.

“Their language was filthy,” Jagatheesan told World Watch Monitor. “They called me a woman, saying if I was a man I would not serve Christ. They bullied me, calling me pottai, pottai. It is an offensive word in the Tamil language, used against transgender people and homosexuals.”

Activists in the mob said to Jagatheesan: “If you are a man, why did you convert? Why did you change your god? You are a homosexual who gives his wife to adultery.”

Jagatheesan said: “Their words were brutish. Had I uttered a single word they would have attacked us the same way sister Persis was attacked. They showed no mercy.”

The activists also said to Jagatheesan: “If you want to serve Jesus Christ, go to Bethlehem or the Vatican. Worship him there. Why do you want to make India impure?”

At the church the mob shouted threats to a 19-year-old named James, whose father, Emmanuel, leads another church. The activists called out: “If we continue gathering for Sunday worship and prayers, it will be my dad’s turn next,” James said.

“[Hindu nationalists] are ruling in the centre, it is their government. We Christians are helpless,” he added.

Another pastor, Sagi Sugathia, said the mob “are at least 25 in number and very violent. Our church services had to be stopped because of Thangam Venkatesh and his men”.

Complaints to the police

Later in the day complaints were made at Koodal Pudur and Alanganallur police stations, but police refused to register the case. Koodal Pudur police issued a Community Service Register (CSR) receipt in which they did not reveal the identity of Thangam Venkatesh and the Hindu Munnani workers.

The CSR receipt, filed on the complaint made by Jerome Jagatheesan, said: “Twenty-five unknown miscreants or unidentified people have attacked the Christians.”

Some 200 pastors later demanded that a First Information Report (a victim or witness statement made to police to trigger further investigation) was filed against the Hindu Munnani activists.

A Facebook account in the name of Thangam Venkatesh posted updates on yesterday’s attacks, including a video of Venkatesh shouting abuse at Jagatheesan.

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

Hindu Extremists in Eastern India Attack Christians Coming Off Bus

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – Christians on their way to a recent Christian camp in eastern India shared the purpose of their trip with fellow bus passengers, not realizing one of them was a Hindu extremist.

He began to argue about conversion with the Christians, mostly women and children, including a native missionary from a ministry based in India. Soon the hard-line Hindu began cursing and accusing the Christians of “always converting innocent and poor villagers.”

When they arrived at the bus station in Bettiah, Bihar state, on Feb. 26, after the 60-kilometer (38-mile) trip from Bagaha, 60 to 70 angry Hindu extremists were waiting for them. The hard-line Hindu had made phone calls to Hindu nationalist groups.

The mob separated out the native missionary for the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS), D. Joseph, as well as another Christian, Baldev Singh, and assaulted them, said the Rev. Mariosh Joseph, coordinator of GEMS in Bihar.

He said D. Joseph sustained several internal injuries and was hospitalized in a state of deep shock, and that Singh also was hospitalized with multiple injuries, including internal damage to his ear that caused some loss of hearing.

“It was evident from the mob that it was a pre-planned attack,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph told Morning Star News. “There was a media person present to record and publish the entire episode in the media, along with the Hindu extremist mob.”

The Hindu mob interrogated the Christians, asking them the purpose of their visit, said the GEMS zonal superintendent, identified only as Pastor Palanivelu.

“They told the Christians that they were visiting to lure the innocent and poor villagers with money and benefits and fool them into becoming Christians,” Pastor Palanivelu said.

Native missionary D. Joseph told the mob about the camp and denied their allegations, and the Hindu nationalists began to use foul language as they threatened the Christians, Pastor Palanivelu said.

“Even being in a public place, no one came to their rescue, and passersby were mere spectators as the mob beat both the Christians mercilessly, while the other Christian teammates cried for help,” he told Morning Star News.

Traffic officers heard the commotion and tried to rescue the Christians, but they were overpowered by the mob, he said. Additional police were called to get the situation under control.

“Some of the women got so frightened that they fled the site and returned home from the bus station itself without attending the camp,” he said, adding that at least 11 women from the bus went on to the camp.

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said the mob was trained in the ways of Hindu nationalist violence.
“The right-wing groups are specially instructed to hit in a way that they do not bleed anyone externally, but cause gruesome injuries internally,” he told Morning Star News.

Police Bias

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said police initially told him that they were investigating a complaint of forcible/fraudulent conversion, and that the superintendent of police later told him they were treating it as a case of human trafficking.

“The police in most of the cases are biased and try to see how they can frame the victims, rather than doing the other way around,” he said.

Police recorded the statements of D. Joseph and Singh but refused to file a First Information Report, though a Medico-Legal Case was filed against unknown persons, he said.

The camp took place as planned on Feb. 26-28, Pastor Mariosh Joseph said.

“Though such an incident of violence against the Christian believers happened, the meeting continued, and the people were blessed and inspired by the Word of God,” he said.

GEMS reported 12 incidents of persecution against its native missionaries last year, and since January three such cases have already been reported. GEMS works in five states in India, primarily Bihar.

“Of late there have been a lot of incidents that have been happening against Christian believers,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph said. “Even if there is a disagreement, violence is not a way.”

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

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Christians Seriously Injured after Attempted Burial in Eastern India

DELHI, March 5, 2018 (Morning Star News) – Tribal animists upset that Christians tried to bury one of their dead in a village in eastern India seriously injured a 13-year-old girl and others who tried to protect a Christian woman the villagers threatened to burn alive.

On Feb. 26 Christians in Chitrangapalli, Tamguda village, were about to bury the body of a 3-year-old girl who had died of natural causes in Odisha’s state’s Malkangiri District, when villagers reached the field where they were performing last rites. The mob insisted they would not allow a Christian to be buried in their village, even though the burial site was on land owned by one of the Christians, area sources said.

They demanded that the Christians take the body outside the village for burial. After the land owner argued that he was free to bury his dead on his land, the villagers left, only to return at midnight with weapons.

About 20 to 25 villagers carrying wooden sticks surrounded the houses of the three Christian families in the village of nearly 35 families and ordered them to come out. The mob was shouting loudly, reviling them for changing their faith.

Some Christians came out of their houses, and the villagers told them to renounce Christianity. When they refused, the attackers entered their homes, dragged the rest of their family members out and beat them, area residents told Morning Star News.

Savagely beating 45-year-old Nandi Madkami, an aunt of the girl who had died, the assailants threatened to burn her with gasoline they were carrying.

“As they were attempting to burn her, Nandi’s 13-year-old daughter ran to her rescue,” Enka Pusham, a Christian from a neighboring village who gave refuge to the Christian families after they spent the night hiding in the forest, told Morning Star News.

Mob beat Deba Madkami when he tried to rescue his daughter. (Morning Star News)

Mob beat Deba Madkami when he tried to rescue his daughter. (Morning Star News)

The villagers began to beat Madkami’s daughter, Savita Madkami, with wooden sticks, leaving her bleeding from head wounds. Savita’s father, Deba Madkami, was beaten when he came to his daughter’s rescue, as was his father, Ganga Madkami, and brother, Jaga Madkami. The elderly Ganga Madkami sustained a broken right hand.

The attackers proceeded to burn the houses of the Christians, destroying a roof.

“The mob also looted 10,000 rupees (US$153) from Jaga Madkami’s house and destroyed his cycle,” Pusham said.

The Christians ran to the jungle to save their lives and spent the night there. One badly injured Christian who could not run was secretly taken in by some kind villagers and kept safe.

The next morning Pusham, from nearby Kalimela village, and other Christians went in search of the Christians hiding in the forest.

“News reached our village that the villagers assaulting the Christians had actually burnt Nandi alive, and we were horrified,” Pusham told Morning Star News. “We started to send messages for help and prayer support on social media.”

Pusham and the others rescued the displaced Christians, who have now taken refuge at an undisclosed location.

That day (Feb. 27) the Christians went to a local police station to file a complaint but were refused, as officers told them to contact the main police station in Kalimela. Police did not help them obtain medical treatment as they customarily would, Pusham said.

“Anti-tetanus injections were all that the Christians were given in the name of first aid,” she said.

After the Christians filed a complaint on Wednesday (Feb. 28) at the Kalimela police station, officers took the wounded to a hospital.

Savita, Ganga Madkami and Jaga Madkami are still receiving hospital treatment. Nandi Madkam, who was threatened with being burned alive, sustained injuries on her legs and back, while Deba Madkami and Jaga Madkami have injuries on their legs, face and back. Savita has a severe wound on her head.

“The police had assured us that they would arrest the attackers, but we have not heard from them since,” said Pusham.

Christian leaders from Malkangiri approached police, resulting in a First Information Report being filed against the assailants.

Those assaulted are members of the Indian Missionary Society Church in Pulimtla village, six kilometers (less than four miles) from their home.

After the attack, the villagers are not allowing the Christians to return to their homes or enter the village.

“We had sent a known person to the Tamguda village to assess the situation there,” Pusham said. “He returned to report that the villagers are waiting to attack these families if they try to return to their homes.”

The three families had already been boycotted in their village, she said.

“They were not allowed to fetch water nor associate with the other villagers,” she said. “In September of last year, animals belonging to the Christian families were taken away and were slaughtered. But they have stood strong in their faith.”

On Friday (March 2), Christian leaders from Malkangiri area, along with the police, arranged for a peace meeting between the leaders of the attackers and the Christians. It may be possible for the Christians to return to their houses soon, but at this writing the area remains tense, and the assaulted Christians are still waiting to return home.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Blog Update

Dear Reader: The blog has not been updated for the last almost one year. 

This is because of several reasons but the biggest one is the lack of time and hands. Also now there are many other agencies covering the news of Christian persecution in India now and hence we are seriously thinking whether to continue this blog and its associated group, Facebook page and twitter page.

At one point of time, this used to be one of the few places where Christian persecution news from India used to be highlighted. It might have served its purpose. We will keep you informed.

In the meanwhile, please find a report from Evangelical Fellowship of India. They have released their annual report on persecution of Christians in India. Please click on this LINK to access the report. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas violence and arrests shake Indian Christians

There has been a surge in anti-Christian attacks following the election of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government

Story by Guardian. Click on the link to go to original post. 

The strains of Hindi carols have rung out in the Aligarh Church of Ascension every Christmas since 1858. Armed police on the grounds is a more recent tradition.

This year the officers will be out in force. On Thursday night in the north Indian city, Rahul Chauhan was playing tabla drums while the rest of his Seventh–Day Adventist choir sang Christmas songs in the home of a follower.

Outside, a small group of men had gathered. One forced his way into the room. “He kicked the musical instruments before trying to attack my brother with a knife,” said Jitesh Chauhan, a singer in the group.

He claims the men cast anti-Christian slurs and damaged the instruments. Rahul and the 30 carollers were unharmed but shaken.

A group of carol singers perform in a Christian locality in Aligarh the day after a carol group was attacked with knife by a suspected Hindu activist in Aligarh.

Days earlier in Aligarh, hardline Hindu activists distributed letters warning Christian schools in the city against involving Hindu students in Christmas activities. In nearby Mathura, seven Christians were arrested by police while praying inside a home. In Satna, Madhya Pradesh state, an entire choir was detained while going door to door.

Worries about religious persecution in India usually centre on the country’s 180 million Muslims. Lynchings of Muslim dairy and cattle traders by “cow protection” vigilantes have become increasingly frequent. Hindu groups including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) openly lobby to stop Muslims buying property in Hindu neighbourhoods.

The series of Christmas incidents has turned the spotlight on another minority. More quietly, Indian Christians are also feeling the walls close in, says John Dayal, the secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, following a surge in attacks last year. “Anything that impacts the Muslims in a different way impacts the Christians,” he says.

In 2014, Indians elected a Hindu nationalist government in a landslide. Its leader, Narendra Modi, is a lifelong adherent of “Hindutva”, the conviction that India’s culture and institutions ought to reflect an inherent Hindu nature. Religious minorities – regarded as Hindus led astray by foreign influence – are tolerated, provided they acknowledge Hindu hegemony.

Modi has repeatedly emphasised his government will promote “complete freedom of faith”, but his elevation has been a green light for radical Hindutva groups, says Dhirendra K Jha, an author whose latest book studied these “shadow armies”.

“After Modi became prime minister, these groups started thinking they have assumed power, it is their government,” Jha says. “So they have gone amok. They don’t fear law and order or any democratic institution. They are on a rampage.”

A “perfect parallel”, he says, is the growing boldness of white nationalist groups in the US under Donald Trump.

“Modi would never come out and openly help them,” Jha says. “But he rarely criticises them. Because of his silence, the message goes to the state machinery that they don’t have to take action against them.”

One popular calumny is that Muslim men are trying to woo Hindu women as part of a “love jihad”. The fear is regularly fanned by senior BJP leaders. Two weeks ago, a Rajasthan state man, Shambhu Lal Raigar, raved about love jihad as he used a pick-axe to murder Mohammed Afzarul, a migrant labourer, in an attack filmed and posted online.

For Christians the primary charge is of “forced conversions”. “It means putting pressure on people to convert, sometimes physically,” says Dayal. “But according to [Hindutva groups] it could mean anything from praying for Jesus to heal you, to offering to put you in a Christian hospital or school, to paying a person American dollars or British pounds.”

In practice, any kind of public prayer in the presence of Hindus – particularly the downtrodden Dalits, formerly “Untouchables”, whose leaders regularly threaten to abandon Hinduism – can attract police attention.

One morning in October, a group including Hindus and Muslims arrived at the Faith Assemblies of God Church for a workshop on accessing government welfare. The crowd piqued the suspicion of neighbours, who tipped off local hardliners.

“Around 20 or 30 people of this group came into the church and started threatening people,” says Joel R George, who assists his disabled father to run the ministry.

Police arrived in their wake and detained several people including George, releasing them after it was clear no religious ceremony had taken place.

“The men made videos and interrogated people,” George says. “They asked: are they giving money to you? Are they converting you?”

The roots of Christianity on the subcontinent stretch as far back as AD52, writes the historian William Dalrymple. For centuries, western wanderers in south India returned with tales of Christians who traced their origins to the arrival of Saint Thomas in Kerala state nearly two decades after Jesus’ death.

The seeds of the contemporary backlash were sown centuries later, when British preachers fanned out across colonial India to win souls for Christ, prompting several princely states to institute laws limiting conversions.

In recent decades, Hindutva ire has focused on evangelical crusades such as the AD2000 project, which sought to flood north India with American missionaries and money, aimed especially at Dalits trying to shed the burden of their caste.

Critics such as Arun Shourie, a journalist and former BJP politician, say such efforts mostly produced “rice Christians” – shallow converts swayed by offers of food and welfare. “They join out of necessity, and when necessity compels them they will join something else,” Shourie says.

Today, at least eight Indian states prohibit conversion by force, fraud or inducement, with BJP leaders repeatedly pushing to take the bans nationwide.

India’s largest international donor, the Christian charity Compassion International, was forced to cease its Indian operations in March after the government cut off its foreign funding over concerns it was using the money for proselytisation.

In contrast, Hindutva groups freely conduct mass conversions of Muslims and Christians in ceremonies they call ghar wapsi, or “homecoming”.

In this charged atmosphere, pastors and priests in Aligarh assiduously avoid the C-word. “We don’t convert. We make disciples for Jesus,” George says.

“I haven’t converted anyone in five years,” says Rev Jonathan Lal. “People come to us, sometimes they’re non-Christians, and I pray for them.”

“People see the miracles, they see the healing,” says an elder at the Ascension Church, Vincent Joel, his voice rising. “They want to come. What should we do? Chase them away?”

However many new adherents can be persuaded to file past the police for Christmas mass on Monday, Christian numbers in India will remain small.

The faith has relatively few adherents to show for its two millennia on the subcontinent, and the millions of dollars and hours its champions have spent trying to sway Indian hearts.

“Our population in India is only 2.3%,” says Joel, in the church courtyard. “If we did so many conversions we should be increasing. But we are shrinking.”

Not so, says Dayal. Worshipping “sometimes in the dead of night”, rarely registering new converts with the state, flocks in the Indian hinterland are holding steady, he says.

“Christians will survive, even as an underground church,” he adds. “We have survived here for 2,000 years.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Church calls for Jharkhand CM's ouster

New Delhi, Sept. 13: The apex body of Roman Catholic Christians in India today appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "curb the spread of hatred by CM Raghubar Das" a month after the Jharkhand government passed a bill restricting religious conversions on August 12.

In his strongly worded letter, Catholic Bishops Council of India (CBCI) secretary-general Theodore Mascarenhas said he was compelled to write to Modi as he was disturbed over the politics of hate unleashed in Jharkhand.

Mascarenhas said Modi had personally campaigned before elections in Jharkhand in 2014 on the inclusive plank of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas that "made Raghubar Das the chief minister of the state", but Das had begun "vitriolic attacks against the Christian community".

"If the chief minister is unable to control his ideological hatred, then it is time for him to go," he said.

Calling last week's effigy burning of Ranchi archbishop Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo by Hindu Jagran Manch his trigger for the letter today, Mascarenhas expressed apprehension that this hatred being spread against Christians could soon "turn into physical violence".

He reminded the Prime Minister that the whole nation "applauded" him when on Independence Day this year he said violence couldn't be allowed in the name of faith.

"Mr Raghubar Das and his advisors at least in the past few months have not shown affiliation to the ideology you are proclaiming. I appeal to you, honourable Prime Minister, with trust and hope to intervene and curb the spread of hate created by the chief minister of Jharkhand. Jharkhandis and Jharkhand deserves better," the senior cleric said.

Referring to full-page government advertisements released in papers a month ago before the anti-conversion bill - which hands out stiff prison terms and cash penalty to organisations and individuals forcing conversions - was passed by the state Assembly, Mascarenhas said it contained "a spurious quote of Mahatma Gandhi without naming the source to vilify the Christian community".

Calling it a first for any chief minister, the cleric said the state government ad accused Christian missionaries of converting poor Dalits and tribals who are described as "simple and mute as cows", and sarcastically asked if the Das government had come into power with votes from these simple creatures. The ad, in Hindi, also called Christian adivasis "rice Christians", he said.

The senior cleric wrote that the church had not responded to the provocations of the chief minister not because it was afraid or weak.

"We are not speaking about ourselves, we are speaking about the people of Jharkhand," he said, wondering why so much money was spent on full-page ads sowing hate when healthcare for children in the state lay in a shambles.

Mascarenhas also questioned if there was any hidden logic behind Jharkhand's new land acquisition amendment bill that was passed with the religion bill on the same day "in record time, practically without discussion".

"One wonders if the hatred-filled advertisement and the Freedom of Religion Bill were smokescreens for the real act of the amendment to land acquisition Act. Is there something more than meets the eye, especially since the governor had earlier refused to sign amendments to the CNT and SPT Acts," he asked.

Jharkhand is the eighth Indian state to pass a bill to restrict the conversion of a citizen's religion.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why Jharkhand’s anti-conversion bill is against Constitution and not necessary

It is a difficult time to be a part of the minority community in India today with threats of various sorts coming from different quarters. But a new assault on them is the approval by the Jharkhand Cabinet of a stringent anti-conversion law, titled in characteristic double-speak, as the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017. It contains stiff jail sentences and fines for converting people through “allurement” or “coercion”. 

A day before this Cabinet decision, residents of Jharkhand awoke to front-page advertisements with pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, and a toxic quote attributed to him attacking conversions by Christian missionaries. As a columnist wrote in an online publication, the words were pulled out of context and distorted. Gandhi must not be appropriated by an ideology that is violently opposed to all he stood far: An India with full religious freedom and equal rights. And it is intensely worrying that taxpayers’ money is used to foment hatred against a segment of people of the state.

Christians constitute a small 4.3% of the population of Jharkhand. The same tribal family may have adherents of the animist Sarna faith (comprising nearly 13% of the population), Christians and persons who identify themselves as Hindus. Left to themselves, tribal families and communities live with peace with this diversity of faith practices. But the propaganda of the Right-wing, now backed by the state government, aggravated by the draconian anti-conversion law, will tear apart these families and communities. 

The proposed anti-conversion law in Jharkhand has fostered enormous disquiet among Christians everywhere in India. The ultra Right-wing regards Islam and Christianity to be a “foreign” religion, and therefore requires its adherents to respect “Hindu” culture and practices. But to advance its political juggernaut objectives, it has built alliances with Christian community leaders in some parts of India, such as Kerala and north-eastern states. However, particularly in large tribal states of central India like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, the political strategy of choice has been to target, defame and intimidate Christians, with violence against their shrines, priests, nuns and women, and with laws that criminalise conversions to Christianity.

But it must be stressed that Jharkhand will not be the first government to pass an anti-conversion law if this is voted for by the state assembly. Anti-conversion laws were passed in Orissa in 1967 under a Swatantra Party government; in Madhya Pradesh in 1968 under the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition (which included the Jan Sangh); and in Gujarat in 2003 and Chhattisgarh in 2006 under BJP governments. The Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu passed the law in 2002 but repealed it in two years after its passage in 2004. The only Congress government to pass such a law was in Himachal Pradesh in 2006. Rajasthan passed an anti-conversion law in 2006, but the governor refused to sign the law. Arunachal Pradesh passed such a law in 1978 under the People’s Party of Arunachal, but it was never enforced as rules have not been framed to date.

Members of the Constituent Assembly took great care to uphold the freedom of religious belief in India’s Constitution. After extended debate, it decided that this freedom should not just be to practise and profess one’s faith, but also to propagate it. KM Munshi declared that “under freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees, it will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith”.

However, organisations like the RSS never reconciled to this fundamental guarantee of the Constitution. They rail against the “menace” of Christian conversions allegedly funded by big foreign money. It matters little that the facts don’t bear out their claims. Christians constituted 2.5% of India’s population in 1981, and 2.3% in 1991, 2001 and 2011. If large-scale conversions were indeed occurring, their numbers would have swelled. This sustained misinformation has resulted in profound and sometimes violent schisms between Christian and other tribal people.

In this divisive competition for the religious allegiance of India’s poorest and most vulnerable people, marked by stridency and hate, it is important to recall the gentle counsel of one of the world’s tallest public figures, the Dalai Lama: “It does not matter which God you worship, or even if you worship no God. What is important is to be a compassionate human being”.

Harsh Mander is author, Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India

The views expressed are personal

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Friday, June 30, 2017

Christian accused falsely of insulting Hindu religion in Madhya Pradesh

Four Christians including a Pastor have been charged with insulting the Hindu religion in Sidhi in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh last month. They have been accused of defiling Hindu idols and treating them with disrespect. The accused completely denies the charges and calls it an “evidence planted story”.

Pastor Geeta Dixit

Pastor Geeta Dixit, 46, Rajpal Gharwaar, his wife Asha Gharwaar and another Christian Ruby Toppo have been falsely blamed of the act according to Pastor Geeta Dixit.

All four have been booked under Indian Penal Code 295 (Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 294 (obscene acts or words in public), 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation) 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).

A first information report (FIR) was filed against the four in the month of April, wherein Rajpal Gharwaar was detained by the police for two days before he was bailed out. 

This is the second time in the end of last month that another FIR has been filed against the four with Geeta Dixit named as the main accused. Both the times, the complainants were Rajpal Gharwaar’s mother, elder brother and his wife and younger brother. “They all live next door to Rajpal’s house,” said Geeta Dixit while narrating the complete story to Global Christian News.

Asha and her husband come from a Hindu ‘Rajput’ family. Asha became a follower of Christ 10-years ago after she started to visit Geeta’s church along with her ailing sister, who was also the wife of Rajpal’s elder brother, in the year 1993. Asha and her sister committed their life to Christ and faced opposition from their families. Unfortunately, Asha’s sister passed away after two years and Rajpal’s brother remarried. 

“Rajpal’s younger brother was at the verge of dying, when he was carried to my Church on a stretcher. He was prayed-upon by the Church members and God healed him completely. Rajpal’s mother and other family members have been coming to Church occasionally, whenever they were facing difficult times and wanted prayers.

“Asha’s husband Rajpal regularly got his wife to Church but never entered the Church himself until two months ago, when he saw a dream one night that Jesus descended from the sky and Asha and his children were lifted up above the ground and carried by Jesus and Rajpal was left all alone. He also saw Jesus raise a dead man to life.

“Rajpal woke very restless and wanted answers. He spoke to Asha and then to me about his dream. I advised him to repent for his sins and explained him the meaning of his dream,” narrated Geeta.

It was when Rajpal took baptism early April that his mother and brothers started to raise questions and registered a false case against Geeta, Ruby, their own son Rajpal and Asha.

“They got a Hindu idol and putting mire on it, presented it as a witness to the police, blaming me and the others of disrespecting Hindu gods,” said Geeta.

Geeta denying the allegations said, “It is completely a fabricated story. We have not desecrated the idols.”

Geeta, who is a widow and has three daughters, feels harassed and mentally traumatized because of the false case that she has to fight along with the three others.”

Geeta and the others have to appear for their first court hearing on 17 August, 2017.

The Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act) prohibits religious conversion through force, allurement and fraudulent means. Changing one’s religion without informing the authorities is also punishable under the Act.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the five states in India besides Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh which has enforced the anti-conversion laws. 

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