Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Christian Women Beaten, Humiliated for Refusing to Deny Christ

(Compass) -- Christian women from Orissa state, India, suffered beatings and public humiliation for refusing to give up their faith. According to media reports, a group of Hindu extremists dragged eight women, including two 15-year-old girls, out of their homes on February 6 while their male family members were at work. Attackers beat the women severely with sticks and sandals. When they attempted to resist, their clothes were torn from them and they were forced to walk naked through the village.

The extremists tried to persuade the women to renounce Christianity. When they refused, their attackers forcibly shaved the crown of their heads.

The act of "tonsuring," or shaving the crown of the head, is a religious ritual normally reserved for priests and monks.

None of the women from the surrounding houses came to their rescue, even though the Christian women called for help.

When the attackers made further threats against them, the women and their families fled from the villages of Kilipala and Kanimul, in the Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa. About 20 people, including two infants, took shelter in an evangelical church in the capital city of Bhubaneshwar.

New Delhi Television recently found the families in the church and interviewed the women. Despite the humiliation they had suffered, the women insisted that their faith in Christ remained firm and they would not re-convert to Hinduism.

"The villagers tortured and humiliated me before forcibly tonsuring my head. They didn't even spare my daughter," said Sanjukta Kandi, one of the victims.

According to the women, the mob that attacked them contained about 45 villagers, some of whom were their own relatives.

Tensions have flared over the incident, and family members of the victims are still afraid to return home. The women are receiving pastoral care and support from the church in Bhubaneshwar. However, the pastor is reluctant to discuss his involvement, fearing Hindu reprisals against the church.

Local police have talked to victims and witnesses, but have not followed correct legal procedure. For example, there was no female constable present during the investigation, contrary to legal requirements.

There was also a considerable delay before the women were allowed to file a First Information Report (FIR), in which they named 35 people responsible for the attack.

Some of the attackers named in the FIR were Hindu relatives of the victims.

Dayal Gangwar, the district superintendent of police, said the women had converted to Christianity only recently, after contact with a village resident who had been a Christian for nine years. According to Gangwar, there was no attempt to forcibly convert the families. Regular visits and prayer had convinced them to believe in Christ, he said.

Christian workers from Bhubaneshwar told Compass that Hindu extremists are actively working in the area to "create awareness about the evils of Christianity" among the villagers. Representatives of Hindu organizations such as the Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad have been appointed in each village to report any signs of missionary or evangelistic activity.

Orissa is already notorious for its violence against Christians. It was in this state in January 1999 that Hindu extremists murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons.

There have also been a number of reports in the past few years of women in various parts of the state being stripped and having their heads shaved after being branded as "witches."

The district administration has promised to take legal action over the recent attack. However, at press time no arrests had been made.