Friday, April 15, 2005

Christian Businessman in India Charged With Conversion

NEW DELHI, April 14 (Compass) -- An Indian court has charged a Christian businessman in southern Kerala state with attempted conversion.

"Mr. Vidya Sagaran, a businessman from Kayamkulam Taluka, in Kerala's Alappuzha district, was arrested by local police on March 30," defense attorney Ranjit George told Compass. “The Judicial First Class Magistrate of Kayamkulam granted him bail on the 31st.

"The complainant, Mr. Vishwanathan Pillai, accused Sagaran of inducing him to convert from the Nayar caste (a Hindu sect) to the Pentecostal faith.

"Sagaran was charged with Sections 447, 153A(1)(a), and 323 of the Indian Penal Code, for criminal trespass, promoting feelings of religious hatred, and causing grievous hurt," George said.

States that do not have an anti-conversion law can use Section 153A of the Penal Code to charge those accused of "forced" or "fraudulent" conversion.

Section 153A(1)(a) states, "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious groups, shall be punished with imprisonment which may extend to three years, or with fine, or both."

Pillai alleged that Sagaran lent him 1,000 rupees ($250), which he claimed was a bribe to encourage him to convert. According to Pillai, Sagaran later entered Pillai’s house and demanded the return of the money because Pillai had not converted to Christianity.

However, George explained that Sagaran, who is Pillai’s neighbor, was the mediator for a money transaction between Pillai and a third party. “It seems Sagaran took money from the third party and gave it to Pillai. Then when Sagaran went to ask for the money to be returned, Pillai accused him falsely."

George also said Hindu activists may have encouraged Pillai to file this complaint.

"The local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a radical Hindu group, was not happy with Sagaran because he accepted Christianity about four years ago from a Hindu background, and was attending the Emmanuel Mission church in Kayamkulam. He was allegedly being asked to return to Hinduism.

"I think the case will not even reach the stage of collecting evidence, as there is no basic case against my client. The case is fabricated," George added.

Christians account for almost 20 percent of Kerala’s population of 31.8 million. However, Kayamkulam is predominantly Hindu, with only three small churches -- including the Emmanuel Mission church attended by Sagaran.

In recent weeks, Hindu activists have objected to the work of Christian relief groups -- including Emmanuel Mission -- in tsunami-torn coastal areas of Kerala.

As Sajan K. George, national convenor of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Compass, "Emmanuel Mission is engaged in the rehabilitation of affected people with a proposal for an orphanage. However, the RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) are trying to discredit the rigorous work carried out by Christian organizations."

For example, "The Hindu group Aikyavedi recently objected to tsunami rehabilitation projects run by Christians in Kollam district," Sajan George said.

"Mr. Kummanam Rajshekhar, general secretary of the Aikyavedi, accused Fr. Rajesh Martin, director of the Kerala Catholic Youth Movement, and Fr. J. Francis, Latin Catholic president of Kerala ... of conversions."

Both of these Catholic priests were involved in large-scale rehabilitation work.

Varghese Thudian, state coordinator for Emmanuel Mission, confirmed to Compass, "The RSS is very strong in Kayamkulam district, and incidents of persecution are common."

Another local Christian worker who requested anonymity said Hindu activists physically attacked Pastor B. Monachan, the leader of a Pentecostal church in Kayamkulam, on March 28.
(Courtesy: Compass Direct)