Thursday, March 31, 2005

Hindu fundamentalists injure Christians during screening of 'The Passion of the Christ'

Hindu extremist ideology penetrates the ranks of secular Congress Party. The state of Maharashtra is on its way to adopting an anti-conversion law.

Kochi (AsiaNews) – A gaggle of Hindu fundamentalists assaulted Christians who were watching a screening of The Passion of the Christ inside the Kanai Church, the oldest church in the state of Kerala (south-western India). One Christian was seriously wounded and scores of others were beaten and injured, including women and children.
The incident occurred on Easter Eve in Chalakud Taluna when 25 militants from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the paramilitary wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—disrupted the viewing of Mel Gibson’s movie and started attacking the spectators, one of whom George Kutty, was seriously hurt. Kanai Church members are followers of Canai Thoma, who reached Kerala from Persia in 425 AD.
Speaking to AsiaNews, John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, said that “these anti-Christian attacks are probably designed to discredit the Congress Party” which currently rules Kerala. The Chief Minister, Oomen Chandy, is Christian.
Concern is also growing among Christians and the Church in Maharashtra, the most secular Indian state and under a Congress Party administration, where State Home Affairs Minister Sidharam Mhetre presented an anti-conversion law. It follows the main lines of a similar bill already presented in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Should it become law, the bill would, among other things, require anyone changing religion to submit an affidavit to the authorities.
Human rights activists have often said that anti-conversion laws are used by Hindu fundamentalists to persecute non Hindus.
In Tamil Nadu the anti-conversion bill has been withdrawn after a prolonged campaign by opponents.
Dolphy D'Souza, president of the Bombay (Mumbai) Catholic Sabha (assembly), said the proposal by Congress-led Maharashtra was shameful.
"The Bombay Catholic Sabha is anguished and pained at the response of Mr Sidharam Mhetre," Ms D'Souza said.

She added that "if the government thinks it can pass a law against the people, we can tell him that we and other organisations shall launch a campaign" against the anti-conversion law.
Maharashtra's Chief Minister had already publicly stated that such a law was not necessary. (NC-LF)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Evangelists Beaten up in Balaghat District of Madhya Pradesh

Two local Evangelists by the name of Suresh Routh and John Das Shinde from Katangi, Balaghat were beaten mercilessly by the village Sarpanch. They were later on handed over to the police where they were kept locked for a few days before getting released on bail.

28th March 2005: Suresh Routh and John Das Shinde were praying in Katangi, Balaghat in Madhya Pradesh with some local Christians. Little did they know that their prayer meeting was going to be disrupted very soon.

The village Sarpanch, who is also the son of the local BJP MLA, came storming in the house with a mob, where the meeting was going on and started to beat the two Evangelists whose only fault was preaching about the teachings of Jesus Christ to fellow Christians in Katangi.

They were beaten mercilessly, so much that their bodies continue to bear the marks of the beatings even today. When the local Christians objected, they too were beaten up and threatened. The beatings were not enough for the Sarpanch. He took the two and locked them up in a house till morning all the while threatening them of dire consequences.

In the morning he took them both to the Katangi police station and filed a false report against them under IPC 153 C. With great difficulties the local Christians managed to secure a bail for them. The police’s conduct in the case was one sided and was clearly biased.

The two were sent to Nagpur a few days after they got bail where they had to go through trauma counseling by Christian leaders. It was only after much prayer and encouragement that they could muster the courage to return to Katangi again. Fear had so much overtaken them that they decided not to file any complaint against the Sarpanch or against the inaction of the police. Once again the victim has been made the accused as the case against them goes on.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Hindu Extremists in India Assault Rajasthan Christians

State government declares it will enact anti-conversion law.
Courtesy: Compass Direct (

DELHI, March 18 (Compass) -- Hindu extremists have violently assaulted several Christians in Rajasthan, India, over the past two weeks. Local observers say the attacks are a strategy to push forward the enactment of anti-conversion laws in the state.

The Rajasthan government announced on February 23 that it would enact a new law to prevent the conversion of poor and illiterate people.

In one recent incident, volunteers from the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal attacked eight members of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band during a prayer meeting on March 13. Several injured missionaries were taken to hospital. Pastor Johnson and his wife, at whose home the prayer meeting was held, were locked into a room while their attackers circled the house with weapons.

Earlier, Hindu extremists brutally beat a pastor and his pregnant wife and demanded the closure of numerous Christian institutions across the state.

'Anti-Christian elements continue to attack us,' Bishop M.A. Thomas, the director of Emmanuel Mission, confirmed to Compass a few days ago.

'For example, Pastor Arthur Joel, the warden of our orphanage in Baran district, was falsely accused of causing serious hurt and restraining a boy in the orphanage. He was arrested on March 1 and kept in custody for four days.'

Thomas explained that some of the older children from the orphanage attended a day school run by the Hindu fundamentalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), since there was no other school in the area catering to their age group. The RSS school staff encouraged one of the boys, Ram Dev Belwa, to rebel against orphanage authorities.

When Pastor Joel took disciplinary action, spanking Belwa twice with a stick, the RSS filed a police complaint.

'Pastor Joel was charged under Section 327, a stringent, non-bailable section, punishable with 10 years of imprisonment for causing hurt that can lead to death,' Thomas explained. 'He was also charged under Sections 324 and 341 of the Indian Penal Code.'

'He was initially refused bail in court due to Section 327. However he was finally released on bail on March 5, after the Sub-Divisional Magistrate said there were no grounds for Section 327 in his case.'

A local newspaper, the Bahara Jalvad Bhaskar, had published an article on February 27 titled, We will not allow children to be converted. The article demanded that the orphanage be closed or it would meet the same fate as the Emmanuel Mission school in Kota, where students were viciously attacked on February 19. (See Compass Direct, “Indian Hindus Attack Christian Students in Rajasthan,” February 22, 2005.)

Hindu extremists also attacked two Emmanuel Mission workers, Pastor Vaalu and his eight-month-pregnant wife, while they were traveling on a bus in Kota district on February 23.

“They beat Pastor Vaalu until he started bleeding from his nose and mouth,” Thomas said. “His wife was thrown down from the bus seat and forcibly pulled out of the bus. She pleaded the attackers to spare her for the sake of the child in her womb, but they said, ‘This child is going to be a Christian, so why should we spare you?’”

“After the attack, Vaalu was taken to a police station where he was confined for the whole day. The attackers filed a complaint against him, saying he was an anti-social element and a terrorist who was disrupting peace,” Thomas added.

According to Thomas, extremists had targeted several Emmanuel Mission schools, orphanages, churches and Bible institutes in Rajasthan over the past two weeks. “Anti-Christian elements led processions against them, demanding their closure and threatening their workers,” he said.

In 1994, Hindu extremists accused Thomas of urinating on the Hanuman Chalisa, a Hindu scripture, in front of Bible students at the institute in Kota.

The vilification campaign continued. In 2001, extremists accused Thomas of picking up children from the streets and raising them so that he could sell the girls as prostitutes and sell various human organs forcibly procured from the boys. Thomas denied both accusations.

Sources told Compass that Rajasthan’s Social Welfare Minister, Madan Dilwar, has a strong dislike of Thomas and the activities of Emmanuel Mission. In 2001, Dilwar vehemently opposed the conferment of a prestigious national award, the Padma Shri, to Thomas for his service to orphans and lepers.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria declared on February 23 that Rajasthan’s state government will soon enact an anti-conversion law. “We will not allow anyone to convert poor and illiterate people,” Kataria told reporters from The Hindu.

Anti-conversion laws, which seek to ban conversion by force or fraudulent means, currently exist in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

The southern state of Tamil Nadu repealed its anti-conversion law in May 2004 after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party was defeated in the April 2004 general elections.

Christians throughout India have lobbied for the repeal of all other anti-conversion laws, saying they restrict basic rights and facilitate false accusations against Christians.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Indian Evangelist's Arrest Exposes Police Brutality

Orissa High Court petition charges officials with bias against Christians.
Courtesy: Compass Direct (

DELHI, March 15 (Compass) -- The defense attorney for a Christian evangelist arrested on charges of attempting to convert Hindus in India’s Orissa state appealed his client’s case to the Orissa High Court yesterday. The appeal exposes police negligence in protecting Kiran Kumar from attack by a group of Hindu extremists and charges officers with torturing the evangelist while in police custody.

“I filed a writ petition in the High Court demanding that the accusation filed against Kiran Kumar, an evangelist of the Life in Christ Mission, be quashed and the inquiry into the incident be conducted by an independent body,” attorney B.D. Das told Compass.

The case relates to a February 27 incident in which nine persons allegedly belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) tried to throw 30-year-old Kumar into a lake in Orissa’s Khurda district.

When police arrived on the scene, instead of protecting the evangelist, they arrested Kumar and charged him with preaching Christianity to Hindus in order to convert them, an activity prohibited by Orissa’s draconian anti-conversion laws.

A local court granted Kumar bail on March 8 and police registered a First Investigation Report against the nine assailants. The suspects were then charged under sections of the Indian Penal Code for causing hurt, criminal trespass and intimidation.

At press time, police had not arrested any of the nine accused, who reportedly disappeared from the village.

“The lower judiciary, the police, and the medical examination department, all have failed in doing their duty,” Das said.

“When Kumar submitted a complaint against the VHP activists, the police tore it and did not register a First Information Report, whereas they acted promptly on the accusations of the VHP.”

According to Kumar, he and his associate Bijay Pradhan were invited to the house of a Hindu seeker, Mr. Dasarathi Behera, for prayer on the evening of February 27 when the nine assailants stopped them. “They asked us why we were going to a Hindu house if we were Christians. ‘Have you come to convert all the people of this village?’ they asked.”

Kumar said one of the villagers, Kumar Behera, tied him with a rope. The group then threatened to throw him in the nearby Chilika Lake. “Let’s see how Jesus will save him,” they said.

The nine slapped Kumar several times and abused him with obscenities until 11:30 p.m. when a police vehicle came and arrested him.

“In the Balugaon police station, the police officer in charge, Patra Babu, asked me to squat for 100 times with my hands holding my ears. In fear, I obeyed his command, but after I finished, he said you have not done a hundred so repeat it again.

“After doing it again for a long time, I got tired and sat down. Then Patra Babu started beating me mercilessly with a bamboo stick and asked me to call Jesus to save me.

“And then another police official, Pradhan Babu, started beating me up with a bamboo stick in my legs and back. In excruciating pain and thirst, I spent the whole night at the police station.”

The two police officers beat Kumar again the following morning.

“While worshipping idols of Hindu gods, Patra Babu suddenly got angry and said I was [an] anti-religious Christian preacher and started beating me up yet again,” Kumar said “Pradhan Babu also joined in later. Lastly, an assistant sub-inspector, Sethi Babu, came to me and started kicking me in my knees with his shoes until I started bleeding.”

Das said that, in addition to the brutal treatment, police abused Kumar’s civil rights by denying him due process of the law. Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Code requires a police officer to send the accused to the nearest magistrate when the investigation into the accusation against him cannot be completed within 24 hours.

“Although the police arrested Kumar on February 27, they produced him before the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate in Banapur on March 1, which was more than 24 hours and therefore illegal,” Das said.

“Further, when the magistrate noticed marks of injuries on the evangelist’s body, she ordered his medical examination. But the medical examiner wrote a false report saying the injuries on Kumar’s body were three to seven days old, suggesting he had the injuries before he was brought to the police station.”

“When I went to the doctor,” Kumar said, “constable Panda Babu told him, ‘Sir, this man is a preacher who has come to convert everyone to Christianity. When we stopped him from doing so, he complained to the magistrate.’ As a result, the doctor also got angry with me.

“Later [after the initial court appearance], they took me to that doctor for a medical checkup. The doctor did not even examine me this time but gave a report to Panda Babu.

“While I was being transferred to the Khurda jail, Panda Babu asked me to keep quiet before the jail authorities or else I would be beaten up again,” Kumar said.

Dasarathi Behera, the Hindu seeker Kumar was intending to visit on February 27, was accused and arrested along with the evangelist. Behera reportedly testified before the police that he believed in Jesus Christ without any fear or pressure induced by anyone.

His testimony should have absolved Kumar of any charges of “forced conversion” under the ‘Orissa Freedom of Religion Act,’ Orissa’s 1967 anti-conversion law. Evidently Babu and his fellow police officers have chosen to ignore Behera’s statement.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Anti-conversion Bill: Christians see trouble

Anti-conversion Bill: Christians see trouble

Christian religious leaders have said that a move by the Rajasthan government to bring into force an anti-conversion legislation in the state would be used as a tool by fundamentalists to harass minorities.

Three bishops and a Christian organisation have submitted memoranda to Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje urging her not to implement the proposed legislation.

"The existing provisions are sufficient to deal with malpractices in religious conversions," Bishop Ignatius Menezes of Catholic Diocese of Ajmer-Jaipur said.

"The proposed law would become a tool in the hands of fundamentalists to harass minority institutions," secretary of Udaipur Christian Fellowship J C Biswas said.

Bishop Joseph Pathalil of Catholic Diocese of Udaipur said the chief minister should discuss the issue with minority leaders before drafting the Bill.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Persecution Reaches GFA Students Across India

Following the severe beating of six Gospel for Asia seminary students, a wave of persecution is testing GFA missionaries. On February 26 and 27, two groups of GFA students in two different states were beaten while on outreach.

In the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, two Bible school students in their first year of studies were doing weekend outreach among a tribe of tent dwellers on February 26. The young men were distributing tracts, praying for the sick and sharing their testimonies when a group of six villagers began questioning them. The students tried to calm them but the situation quickly escalated, and the six men began kicking and punching them. A hit on the head gave one brother a lump "the size of a baseball," and the other brother had intense pain in his back and legs. Initially neither one was able to walk or sit upright, but by God's grace neither suffered permanent injuries.

In Uttaranchal state, five third-year Bible college students had been doing outreach in their area since January and had already established a fellowship, Sunday school and after school tutoring program for children. After a worship service Sunday, February 27th, they were giving out literature when two men on motorbikes confronted them.

After showing the missionaries their police badges, the two men beat the students, accused them of being thieves and forcing conversions, and took them to the police station. Three days later, GFA leaders received news they were released, but only after enduring multiple beatings and being warned never to come back.

Despite the persecution, each student remained strong in their call and determined not to give up. The two students from Jammu and Kashmir said on Sunday that they were both encouraged in their spirits and glad the Lord chose them to be witnesses for Him.

"Our bodies are hurting like anything," one of the five students from Uttaranchal said, "but we are happy to be beaten for Jesus." He continued, "We are ready to do more work for Jesus. We are not afraid."

Bhojan mantra made compulsory in Rajasthan hostels

The Hindu
March 10, 2005
Bhojan mantra made compulsory in Rajasthan hostels
Jaipur, March 10. (PTI):
Ignoring all opposition, the recitation ofvedic mantra before meals Bhojan mantra has been formallyintroduced in all hostels run by the social welfare department of the Rajasthan Government.The recitation of the mantra by the hostel inmates has been madecompulsory under new rules issued recently by the social welfare department, official sources said here today.
The rules were issuedafter panchayat polls last month, sources said.There was a hue and cry when Social Welfare Minister Madan Dilawarannounced last year that recitation of bhojan mantra would be madecompulsory for inmates of the hostels run by his department. Although no formal orders were issued last year, the mantra was madecompulsory in the hostels informally.
Now the mantra has been introduced formally, sources said.Several human rights and Left organisations, including People's Union for Civil Liberties had opposed the move on the ground that itsaffronised the hostel environment.


9th March 2005
The YMEF team that was doing the outreach work in Lingsur village in Sirpur taluk of Raichur district in Karnataka was attacked by the fundamentalists around 12:00 noon. They were forcibly taken toa temple and were forced to go through certain rituals.
(More Details are awaited)

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Falsely accused priest arrested in Gujarat

9 March, 2005
Hindu fundamentalists persuade a woman to press charges against a Jesuit priest. Two months ago the same woman had cleared him of the same charges.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – An Indian Jesuit was arrested and jailed in Gujarat (western India) on the basis of false accusations made by a woman who claimed he tried to convert and have sex with her.
Christian leaders have called on the Gujarat state government to immediately intervene and secure the unconditional release of the Fr Prasad Gonsalves, who was arrested “only because he is a missionary”.
Fr Gonsalves was sent to jail on March 7 by a court in Radhanpur after the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) convinced Shanteben Gulabbhai from Jawaharnagar village to press charges against him.
Two months ago Ms Gulabbhai had asked Father Gonsalves for help in finding a place to live in her district, which is located some 300 km from the Banaskantha district (northern Gujarat) where the Jesuit priest is a trustee of the local Catholic Ashram, which runs a low-cost housing project for the poor and disadvantaged.
The clergyman had told the woman that he could not help given the great distance between them. After being turned down she went to the police to press charges against him only to change her mind later saying that she just wanted to get back at the Jesuit. Father Gonsalves eventually said he would try to do something to help the woman.
The case seemed closed till March 5 when a Hindu newspaper in the city of Patan picked up and ran with the story, repeating the accusations.
Pressured by Hindu groups a court summoned Father Gonsalves and placed him under judicial custody on the basis of the Atrocity Act on the basis of Ms Gulabbhai’s testimony. However, she is not a credible witness. Her own brother, Ishwarbhai Ramsinhbhai Rana, in a written statement alleged that over the years she has acquired the reputation of being an extortionist, literally terrorising her neighbours.
Local Christian leaders and groups have strongly denounced Father Gonsalves. Dolphy D’Souza, Vice-President of the All India Catholic Union, condemned the arbitrary detention of the clergyman, which in his view was only motivated by the fact that he “is a missionary doing good for the people”.
Mr D’Souza has called on the Gujarat government to secure Father Gonsalves’s immediate release and punish all those who engage in vile acts against minorities.
Gujarat’s state government is led by the Hindu nationalist Baharatiya Janata Party (BJP), well-known for its support for Hindu fundamentalism and opposition to religious minorities, especially Christians.
Fr Cedric Prakash, director of Prashant, a Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace, pointed the finger against Hindu fundamentalist groups “who resort to using criminals to slander the Church”. (LF)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
RAJASTHAN, INDIA (ANS) -- Pastor Mathew has been preaching the Gospel and planting churches for almost 30 years in Rajasthan, India.One night around midnight recently Mathew called Dr. Joseph Chavady of to report that 10 Hindu fundamentalists interrupted a worship service at the prayer hall and severely beat eight ministry workers.
There were no permanent injuries, but the men were very shaken up, he said.Last week an orthodox priest, who is known in the village for his kindnessto the poor, visited pastor Mathew's house. On the way home, three extremists attacked him from behind with bicycle chains. He was admitted to the hospital with a broken skull and severe head wounds.Shortly after this incident, several Hindu fundamentalists came to pastor Mathew's house when he was absent, and questioned his wife about his whereabouts.This is the first time that persecution has come so close to Mathew's home, even though the Hindu fundamentalist government was ousted a year ago in India.
Pastor Mathew is asking for urgent prayer for protection for him, his family (his wife, one daughter and one son) and all the workers involved. All of these servants of the Lord are putting themselves and their families in extreme danger on day-to-day basis.The vision of the Asia Focus Ministry is to reach the unreached people of Asia with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through training and supporting native missionaries.The region has one billion people, with more than 4,000 people groups, 17 major languages, and hundreds of dialects. Just about every imaginable religion is represented, with relatively few Christians.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Anti-Christian Violence Fails to Halt Celebration.
By: John M. Lindner
Special to ASSIST News Service

KOTA, RAJASTHAN (ANS) -- Emmanuel Ministries of Kota, Rajasthan, today graduated 5,000 Bible school students, much to the chagrin of hard-line Hindus.Most of the graduates are from the Dalit community and have already accepted assignments among the Dalit--or “untouchable”--villages throughout India. According to Dr. Samuel Thomas, President and International Director for Emmanuel Ministries International (EMI), they will bring the message of Christ to the outcasts of India, transforming them into vibrant communities of faith, and prompting even more young men and women to joyously enter the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

His father, Dr. M.A. Thomas, came originally from Kerala to Rajasthan after graduating from Hindustan Bible College in 1960 and pioneered a work in Kota, then a city virtually without a witness for Christ. Enduring much hardship, persecution, the martyrdom of several coworkers, and the death of his beloved wife in 1995, Thomas persevered, counting it a privilege to suffer for the Lord Jesus. Today, he and those he has trained and sent out have planted 11,113 churches throughout India.

The secret of his success was to gladly accept the offscouring of the world—the orphans and children of lepers—and train them to be missionaries. His goal is to take in a million orphans—and he has already received a government permit to do so—and transform them into an army of messengers of the gospel. EMI so far operates 87 children’s homes caring for some 8,900 children, including 2,200 in Kota. Some are true orphans, but most of these are semi-orphans, whose mother or father has died or abandoned or rejected them. Others are children of leprous parents who have gladly surrendered them to Thomas to raise in his children’s homes so they will not contract the disease by remaining in the community of lepers. These will be transformed into vibrant messengers of the gospel and healthy participants in Indian society.

That is what disturbs the right-wing, hard-line Hindus. Members of the RSS (Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh, meaning National Volunteer Movement), a radical anti-Christian Hindu organization, did their best to halt or hinder the grandiose celebration here this weekend.

S.M.J. Rao, EMI Secretary, told ANS members of the RSS met a train at the Kota railway station on February 19, and took about 270 pastors, believers and Bible students coming for the meeting to a Hindu temple. There they were interrogated, beaten and told, “Leave here, or we will kill you.”

According to Rao, the Christians were then taken to the police station where they were beaten with iron rods and bicycle chains. M.A. Thomas and members of the EMI staff were forbidden to see the captives or bring them food.

After being held hostage for 18 hours they were put back onto a train headed south and told to go back to where they came from. However, nine hours into the return journey, railway officials forced them off the train because they did not have tickets. EMI was making alternate arrangements to help the stranded believers.

Next, a band of 60 to 70 demonstrators from the Bajrang Dal tried to stop busloads of 600 believers from reaching the convention site. The Bajrang Dal is believed to have been the group behind the burning alive of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons in Orissa State in 1999. The police escorting the buses did nothing to halt the demonstrations until some protestors began hurling rocks at the police. Then the police charged the demonstrators with their night sticks and disbursed the crowd.

Meanwhile, Samuel Thomas contacted officials in Delhi to bring order to the situation. Finally, after the federal authorities intervened, those traveling to the meeting were allowed to complete their journey unmolested, and the meetings were held without further incident.

Meeting with authorities, M.A. Thomas gave assurance that no “conversions” (i.e. baptisms) would take place, and he agreed with demands by the RSS that American visitors, who numbered about 100, would not preach at the religious gathering. They did, however, speak encouraging words to the graduates.

Though about 5,000 graduates received their diplomas and certificates Saturday night, Dr. Thomas said as many as 6,000 would have been there had not some turned back because of the violence.

At the commissioning service Sunday morning, Dr. Thomas told the graduates that natural children are not born without pain or tribulation, and said if they wanted spiritual children, they must be willing to bear pain and suffering of childbirth, and even martyrdom. Virtually every student stood and shouted “hallelujah!”


Monday, February 28, 2005

- anti-conversion laws for BJP-ruled Rajasthan; federal Congress to re-enact historic Dandi march.

By Elizabeth Kendal
World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
Special to ASSIST News Service

AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- India's Sangh Parivar (body of Hindu nationalist organisations) continues to aggressively pursue its agenda of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). The Sangh Parivar's political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), continues to agitate for anti-conversion laws. Likewise the Sangh Parivar's religious/cultural wing, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP – World Hindu Council), continues its "re-conversion" campaign enlisting the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – Hindu paramilitary) and Bajrang Dal (Hindu youth militia) to forcefully and violently "re-convert" tribal Christians to Hinduism.In a recent report, Sankshipt Karyavrat-2004, the VHP claimed that 2004 was a successful year for its re-conversion campaign, with 12,857 members of the minority communities (3,727 Muslims and 9,130 Christians) being "re-converted" to Hinduism. Bishop Menezes of Ajmer-Jaipur dismisses such claims. "These are highly inflated figures," he told AsiaNews, confirming however that "Hindu fundamentalists operate with terror tactics especially among the poor defenceless Tribals and Adivasi". According to the VHP report, the leading states for re-conversion have been Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa. (Links 1)In Rajasthan (north-west India) the ruling BJP is moving to introduce laws to outlaw conversions to Christianity. Meanwhile, the Congress-led federal government is heading to neighbouring Gujarat where they will use the 75th anniversary of Mahatma Ghandi's historic Dandi march to remind Indians that Mahatma Ghandi's legacy of social and religious peace, tolerance and unity is both relevant and Indian, and as such, the Sangh Parivar's legacy of divisive, militant Hindutva may be rejected.


For 30 years Emmanuel Mission has held its annual graduation ceremony at its headquarters in Kota, outside Jiapur the capital of Rajasthan. Compass Direct reports, "Emmanuel Mission organizes its five-day graduation ceremony every year in February. Attended by students from the 98 mission centers all over India, the event draws 5,000 people to Emmanuel headquarters in Kota as students collect their diplomas after completing their education." (CD 23 Feb)

This year however, Hindutva activists in Rajasthan had other ideas. On 19 February, some 200 activists of the RSS, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal ambushed a group of more than 250 young Christian students from Andhra Pradesh as they arrived at the Kota railway station in the early hours of the morning en route to the Emmanuel Mission graduation. The students were beaten and robbed before being rounded up by local police and held in custody until the following evening. The police claimed to have taken statements from the visitors who "confessed" that they were Hindus who had been lured to Kota with offers of gifts and money. The police say the visitors then returned home. The Chairman of Emmanuel Mission said the students were forced to leave and the "statements" were police fabrications. Bishop Samuel Thomas, president of Emmanuel Ministries International (EMI) told AsiaNews that it was a "violent and unprovoked attack".

Subsequently Bajrang Dal activists held up some 600 students arriving from Kerala on buses. After three hours, with activists still refusing to let the buses pass, police arrested around 70 Bajrang Dal for breach of the peace.

The VHP accused the Mission of offering inducements to lure the young tribals to Kota in order to forcibly convert them to Christianity, and is now using this disinformation to fuel its push for anti-conversion laws.

On Wednesday 23 February the BJP government in Rajasthan announced to the state assembly that it would introduce an anti-conversion bill in either this sitting or the next. The government was particularly vexed by the fact that some 60 foreigners were attending the graduation function on tourist visas that they said did not give them the right to participate in such events. (Link 2)

NDTV (Indian service from New Delhi, Link 3) reported from Jaipur, "An announcement by the Rajasthan government [BJP] that it will come up with an anti-conversion bill has created a furore in the state assembly. The opposition [Congress] alleges the government is using the incident in Kota as an excuse to implement its saffron agenda. 'It is clear that the Home Minister is mouthing the line of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal and by bringing about such laws they want to harass the minorities,' says C S Baid, Congress leader."On 24 February the VHP and Bajrang Dal suspended their violent protests against the Emmanuel Mission graduation event after receiving a guarantee from EMI president Dr Samuel Thomas that no conversions or baptisms would take place during the five-day graduation event. Mission authorities invited VHP and government representatives to attend the graduation function and monitor it themselves. So representatives of the BJP and VHP attended and monitored the 23-27 February Emmanuel Mission graduation ceremony for conversions and baptisms, and the graduation proceeded under police guard. CONGRESS MARCHES FOR PEACE

On 12 March 1930 Mahatma Gandhi and 78 Congress volunteers set off on their historic "Dandi march" (or Salt march) in protest of Britain's salt tax. Mahatma Ghandi's stand for fairness and justice appealed to and united Indians across all social, ethnic and religious lines.

On 12 March 2005, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of that event, Congress will lead a re-enactment of the Dandi march. Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and senior Congress leaders will all march in the inaugural leg. The march will follow Mahatma Ghandi's footsteps from Ahmedabad (commencing 12 March) to Dandi (concluding 6 April).

The re-enactment is extremely strategic and significant, especially as it takes place in sectarian riot-ravaged BJP-led Gujarat state, home of Hindutva icon Narendra Modi. Congress is aiming to use the march to consolidate secular forces, counter the divisive politics and legacy of the BJP, re-ignite a passion for true Indian unity, reclaim Mahatama Gandhi's legacy of socio-religious tolerance and peace, and deal a blow to the Hindu nationalists.