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.