Sunday, December 21, 2014
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
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 NDTVRatlam: 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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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.
VHP claims 're-conversion' of 200 Christians in Gujarat, Congress says it's unfortunate
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.
If people are converting voluntarily,there should be no problem, but if force is being used, State Govt should take action: Venkaiah Naidu
— ANI (@ANI_news) December 21, 2014
If opposition is really concerned, they should support the Govt for anti-conversion bill: Shahnawaz Hussain, BJP pic.twitter.com/U4WhIAoBw4
— ANI (@ANI_news) December 21, 2014
Coverage by Zee News. Link Here
Personally I have no problem on Anti Conversion Law because VHP and Bajrang Dal is doing just that. Conversion by force and inducement.
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) December 21, 2014
RSS wants Anti Conversion Law against conversion by force and inducement . Are they sure? Would they treat Ghar Vapsi as Conversion ?
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) December 21, 2014
Extreme Right Wing is flexing its Muscles.VHP/RSS through Hindutatva and their Organisations through rewriting History and Economic Policies
— digvijaya singh (@digvijaya_28) December 21, 2014
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
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.
Monday, December 15, 2014
DELHI CATHOLIC ARCHDIOCESE
9-10, BHAI VEER SINGH MARG
NEW DELHI, DECEMBER 15, 2014
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.
Fr. Savarimuthu Sankar
Spokesperson Delhi Catholic Archdiocese
Sunday, December 14, 2014
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, FAMILY INJURED
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.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
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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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."
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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