Sunday, May 08, 2005

Christians arrested in Betul District of Madhya Pradesh

Christians arrested in Betul District of Madhya Pradesh on Charges of hurting religious sentiment of Hindus
By Vijayesh Lal

Three Christians (Two women and a man) from Mizoram in North East India were arrested in Betul district of Madhya Pradesh for allegedly offending Hindu Sensibilities. At the time of this report they are still in prison waiting for the court to consider their bail application.

On 4th May Thangkhuma, age 33, Lalbhang Pui , age 25 years, and Babywan Lalopuri, age 19 years, were distributing tracks in Goladongri, Betul district, Madhya Pradesh when some RSS activists complained about the content of the tracts. The charge leveled against them was that the tracts encouraged the people to kill cows and bulls and eat their meat, which is considered to be against the Hindu religion. The tracts are produced by the Bible Society of India, Madhya Pradesh.

Soon a mob formed and started to question the three who were distributing the tracts. It is reported that the mob also tried to physically assault them, this, despite the fact that two of them i.e. Lalbhang Pui and Babywan Lalopuri are girls.

They were taken to Betul, which is the district headquarter for Goladongri block and a certain Mr. Kapoor from Goladongri filed a complaint against them in the Betul Police Station. They were charged with 153 A under the Indian Penal Code.

Sections 153 A and B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) are applicable to offences for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, language etc and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony or prejudicial to national integration. Section 153 A is a non – bailable offence. That means that while the trial goes on the defendant cannot be let out on bail.

As soon as the news of their beating and arrest got out to local Christians, some of them came to help and employed a local lawyer to represent them in the case. K T Paulus, a local Christian from Goladongri even accompanied them to the police station and tried to reason things out with the police but in vain. The three were taken into police custody.

The next day they were produced before the Magistrate, Mr. D K Dubela, who rejected their bail application.

Compass spoke to the lawyer Mr. Prashant Garg and he told Compass that the three accused do not even know how to speak or read Hindi which is the local language, so how could they hurt or offend the sentiments of the majority community? He admitted however that the tracts being distributed were debatable and the RSS, VHP and its allies can easily misinterpret it even though it does not mean any harm or encourages Hindus to eat cow meat.

He informed Compass that an application for bail will now be put up in the session’s court of Betul on the coming Monday and was hopeful for their release.

The three accused are from Mizoram and are working with an organization called Soul Seekers, which is based in Aizawl in the North East India. The organization has also its office in Madhya Pradesh in a place called Burhanpur, which is about 250 kilometers away from Betul.

At the time of the incident they were visiting Betul for the purpose of meeting local Christians. During their visit they distributed some tracts too, which invoked strong reactions from the local branch of the RSS and the VHP, who then organized local people into a mob and caused the beating and arrest of the three.

This incident has resulted in tension in the area and suspicion against local Christians. Dr. Victor Choudhrie, who lives in Padhar, close to Betul, has reported that the police are now questioning even local Christians, which is causing distress to them.