Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mumbai: Miscreants Damage the Building of 'Home for the Aged' at Vikramgarh

Mumbai, Jun 29: A Home for the Aged on Jhadpoli-Thapadpada road in Vikramgarh taluk of Thane district near here, which was under construction, was damaged by a group of unidentified miscreants during last week.

This Home for the Aged was being built by the nuns of congregation of St Joseph who have been rendering their selfless service in this remote area for the last 2 years while residing in the 'St Joseph's Home nearby. This mission station comes under Vikramgarh parish of Thane diocese. Sr Freddy (superior), Sr Damiya and Sr Sunita are rendering their service in the place.

Having understood the need of a home for the aged and clinic, the sisters undertook the construction of a new building just opposite to their present convent some time ago. Kenneth Remedius, an entrepreneur from Mumbai, donated the land for the new building. The work was almost getting over when group of miscreants with masks on their faces came over to the place, damaged the building and chased the workers with a stern warning that they will be killed by blasting crackers in their mouths, if they continue with the construction work. They were also heard of shouting "we won't allow Christians to pitch their tent in this Hindu-dominated area. If the nuns continue, they will be killed."

More than this the reply by the local MLA, MP, police, tahsildar, deputy commissioner and other top brass officials was simply shocking. Taking a stance in support of the miscreants they advised the nuns to vacate the place since a complaint had been filed against them that they have been indulging s in conversion activities.

Distressed but not depressed nuns brought the matter to the notice of Dr Abraham Mathai, the deputy working president of Minority Commission of Maharashtra government. He then succeeded in getting permission for the nuns to resume the construction work within a couple of days. He then visited the place at Thapadpada along with some journalists where the contractor of the building Kunal Sawant informed them that the miscreants were the members of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Maharashtra, RSS and Vishwa Hindu Parishat.

The same people had organized a rally "Vishal Hindu Sammelan" wherein more than 2,000 Hindu women had been grouped together. Some posters depicting that these nuns were influencing Sadhu Mahanta, Mahant Balaknath Baba and other Hindus to carry out conversion were displayed during the rally.

Bottom line: The miscreants needed more than 2,000 women to oppose the good work of only 3 women (nuns). This surely is the victory of the nuns over the fundamental forces who did not have the guts of disclosing their identity when they attacked the workers and damaged the building. They wore masks on their faces and came in the night to carry out their attack. This speaks about the calibre, dedication, and commitment of nuns who are carrying out humanitarian work.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Film theatres subtly campaigning against conversion?



VADODARA/AHMEDABAD: You are in the middle of the confounded wedding of Mr and Mrs Smith, floored by the ravishing Angelina Jolie and the goodlooking Brad Pitt, when a shot of two dogs fighting rudely interrupts your reverie.

The voice-over says, "You cannot change their nature". Then there is the picture of a cow quietly grazing, and the voice says, "You cannot make this cow a non-vegetarian".

Just when you wonder what's going on, the screen blanks out and the voice says, "So why attempt to change someone's religion?" This is followed by the text of the legal provisions that render forced religious conversions as illegal.

And this was not a campaign by the Gujarat government.

The audience watching this loaded message during the intermission of Mr and Mrs Smith at a late night show in a Vadodara multiplex, recently, seemed quite taken aback. Their discussion, for a while, veered into whether the state's anti-conversion Bill had come into force without much ado.

"This film was made by Mumbai based Indian Infotainment Media Corporation (IIMC). We are asked to play it in our theatres, and do not get a single penny from it," said Giri Sharma, marketing manager at Inox, Vadodara.

"IIMC sends us several films, based on social issues and we screen it in our multiplexes," said Deepa George PR manager at Inox.

"We produce several short films of social relevance. We have even tied up with about 600 theatres and multiplex all over India to screen these films," said Devendra Khandelwal CEO of IIMC, over the phone from Mumbai.

Asked about this particular film on conversion, he irritably said, "I have made a film based on the existing laws on conversion. I do not understand why people are making such a fuss when it is just repeating what the law says," he added.

When contacted, government officials at Gandhinagar were unaware of such a documentary and said they had not given any contract for such a film. The anti-conversion Bill passed in the assembly, is pending ratification, said sources.

Several NGOs in Mumbai have protested against the short film, but it was hardly noticed in Gujarat. Theatres in Ahmedabad do not even have any information about it. "We do screen several documentaries made by IIMC, yet I have not come across any one based on religious conversion," said Anand Vishal, manager at Fun Republic.

Khandelwal claimed that his film which is based on law aims at informing the people. "The film actually educates the audience about our own law.

Moreover, what I want to convey in the film is that religious conversion, from one religion to another, either by force or fraud is illegal and one can be punished, " said Khandelwal.

Hindu zealots killed Hyderabad pastors: police

HYDERABAD: In a breakthrough in the investigation of the murders of two Christian pastors here, police say religious fanaticism drove three Hindu rightwing activists to abduct the victims and kill them.

Cyberabad Police have arrested prime suspect Goverdhan and are looking out for two others, saying they carried out the murders to stop evangelical activity by the victims. All the three are activists of the Hindu Vahini organisation.

Hindu Vahini has, however, denied that it was involved in the murders and accused the police of torturing its activists.

The mutilated body of pastor K. Issac Raju, 45, was found at Golconda on the city outskirts June 2. He had been missing from his house in Raidurgam area May 24.

Earlier, pastor K. Daniel, 35, was found murdered at Shamshabad, also on the city outskirts May 20. He had been abducted from his house in Asifnagar a day earlier.

They were approached by unidentified people on the pretext of solemnising marriages, police said. Both were garrotted with a rope.

Though Cyberabad police have not made a formal announcement about the breakthrough in the case, police sources said auto-rickshaw driver Goverdhan had confessed to the crime.

He has been taken to Shamshabad and Golconda to reconstruct the sequence of the crimes. Police are looking out for Satyanarayana of Hyderabad and Ganesh of Karimnagar, who allegedly helped Goverdhan carry out the killings.

The three suspects were allegedly emboldened by an Orissa High Court order commuting the death sentence for Dara Singh who killed Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, police said.

Police are also investigating whether they were also involved in the murder of pastor Yesudas in Karimnagar. Yesudas was abducted and murdered April 17.

The killings had spread panic among the Christian community. Police had formed special teams to solve the cases and had interrogated many suspects belonging to Hindu rightwing groups.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Christian meet attacked in Rajasthan


A group of Hindu activists attacked a Christian gathering on 25 June 2005 at Jodhpur in Rajasthan, terming the meeting as a ploy to promote conversion to Christianity.

The incident happened at Parameswari Palace near St Andrew's Hall at Sardarpura in Jodhpur, where a youth festival was being organised. There were more than 60 youngsters who had come to take part in a session on peace and spirituality under the guidance of Fr Paul Matthew.

"I came from Bikaner to find the right path," said Mukesh Yadav, one of the participants.
He said he had paid a fee of Rs 150 for registration. "My father has already embraced Christianity. But I am yet to do so," he said.

According to him, more than 60 activists belonging to the Viswa Hindu Parishad, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal gatecrashed into the venue and chased the participants away. "One of us received minor injuries," he added.

Sources said there was some confusion over the name of Fr Matthew, the resource person. "One Thomas Matthew was responsible for conversion in Kota and they mistook Fr Matthew for him," the sources said.

Jodhpur Superintendent of Police Ravi Meharda said, "We cannot say anything at this juncture. We are investigating the matter and nothing much could be said before we reach a conclusion." The police already recorded the statements from ten participants.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Nun denied permission to become lawyer on religious grounds

Kerala nun fights Bar Council to become lawyer

George Iype in Kochi June 22, 2005 13:41 IST

Kerala may be God's own country, but its Bar Council has decided that a person of God -- in this case a Catholic nun who is a law graduate -- is not eligible to become a lawyer.

The state Bar Council's argument is that its rules do not allow persons like priests, nuns and sanyasis engaged in eligious activities to become advocates.

However, Sister Teena Jose is determined to legally fight the Bar Council of Kerala's decision, which she says "is discriminatory and arbitrary."

"I will fight it out. In India, every citizen has a right to take up any profession. I cannot be denied permission to become a lawyer only because I am a nun," Sister Jose, belonging to the Kerala-based Congregation of Mother Carmel, told

The nun's struggle for what she calls "professional justice" began when the Bar Council of Kerala rejected her enrolment application early this year, ruling that as a religious person, she is engaged in another profession and thus cannot enroll as a lawyer.

Sister Jose, a law graduate from the Mahatma Gandhi University in Kerala, argued before the Bar Council's enrolment committee that she was not engaged in a salaried job or profession, and that she was simply following a religious ifestyle.

Hurt by the Bar Council's decision, Sister Jose filed a petition in the Kerala high court asking it intervene in the matter, arguing that the Council's decision was "illegal, arbitrary and an infringement of the Constitution of India."

Justice K Balakrishnan Nair, who heard her plea, asked Sister Jose to implead the Bar Council of India also in the case. Following this, the nun forwarded her application to the Bar Council of India.

Her lawyer Wilson Urmese says it was shocking the Bar Council of Kerala has refused to allow the nun to become a lawyer.

"There are a number of priests and nuns across India who are enrolled as lawyers. Our case is very strong and I am sure the Bar Council of India will hear our plea," he said.

He said the Bar Council's Advocates Act or Rules do not impose restrictions on nuns or other religious persons becoming lawyers.

Bar Council of Kerala chairperson K B Mohandas said a selection and enrolment committee scrutinizes all applicants.

Asked if rules prohibit religious persons from becoming a lawyer, he said he would not comment on the matter as it was sub judice.

"Generally, all the rejected applications for enrolments are forwarded to the Bar Council of India for approval. Since the nun has filed a case, her case has also gone to the BCI," Mohandas added.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

HC directive on conversion in Orissa: Stop Illegal Conversions

Press Trust of India

Cuttack, June 21, 2005

The Orissa High Court has directed the state government to instruct district collectors and superintendents of police to take appropriate action against incidents of religious conversion through use of force, inducement or by fraudulent means.

Taking strong exception to reports of large-scale illegal conversions in the state, a bench of the court comprising Chief Justice Sujit Burman Roy and Justice MM Das asked the government to direct the collectors and SPs to inquire into such actions and take appropriate measure against perpetrators of such activities.

Acting upon a PIL in this connection filed by one Ananta Kumar Satrusalya and 268 others, the court issued notices to the state government returnable within two weeks.

The petitioners, belonging to 19 villages under Mohana police station of Gajapati district had alleged that Christian missionary organisations were engaged in forcible conversions in the area targeting the tribals and poor people.

Despite repeated complaints, the local administration and police remained non-committal about the matter, the petition said.

Directing the Gajapati administration to take action, the court instructed the local police to register cases under sections 3, 4 and 5 of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act (OFRA) and submit the chargesheet immediately.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pastor Beaten For Preaching Christ

A Gospel for Asia (GFA) pastor ministering in northern India where there are many anti-Christian groups is recovering from his injuries after being brutally beaten while on the way to a local market Friday, June 17.

Pastor Kiran, 28, was making a routine trip into the city to buy household items when he was attacked. "Walking down the city street, Kiran noticed a group of GFA Bible college graduates who were home for a week's vacation before beginning full-time ministry among the unreached," stated a report from GFA.

"Eager to see how they were doing, he approached and greeted them. What Kiran did not realize was that his friends were being interrogated by 12 youths who strongly opposed Christianity. When the youths saw Kiran and recognized him as a missionary in the area, they grew even more angry and began to raise their voices against Christianity and Christian work."

The five Bible college graduates managed to escape, but Kiran was trapped by the mob, now numbering about 75. They immediately threw him down and dragged him around. "For three hours they repeatedly beat and shoved Pastor Kiran," GFA reported. "Then they brought him to a public gathering place, intending to break his legs and hands with an iron rod. But they were unable to locate one."

The attack finally ended when the leader of an anti-Christian group intervened, asking the youths to leave him alone. Kiran lay on the ground unconscious for half an hour before coming to and boarding a bus to his village. While Kiran is recovering from injuries to his neck, elbow, leg and arm, he is faithfully continuing his ministry.

PS: This update though belonging to June 17th 2005, was received by us later.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Convent attacked, nuns held overnight

Bhiwadi (AsiaNews) - The Convent of the Franciscans Sisters of Our Lady of Grace, in Bhiwadi (Rajasthan) came under attack again last night. Three armed men burst into the religious house and held the resident nuns captive overnight.

This incident comes in the wake of two other violent attacks against women religious in two convents on June 9 in the State of Bihar.

Sister Deepti, Our Lady of Grace Superior, told AsiaNews what happened.

"Whilst we were fast asleep on the June 11, I heard a sound at around 1 am. I got up and knocked on the room next door to wake up the other nun who was staying in the convent. When I went to switch on the lights, I found that there was no electricity. I immediately tried to phone for help, but the phone was dead," she said. (They later discovered that the attackers had cut phone and power lines).

"We went to the main door to investigate the cause of the sounds ... we thought that, perhaps, someone had come to the convent for help," she added. Instead, in the darkness the nuns saw nothing until three masked, knife-wielding men came at them.

"They hit me on the shoulder and legs," Sister Deepti explained. "I was so frightened and began screaming for help [. . . ]. Unfortunately, there was no one in the vicinity to help us since most of our neighbours were away on holiday".

At once, the three attackers demanded 100,000 rupees (around US$ 1,900), threatening the frightened women with the knives and shouting at them: "You're nuns; you have lots of money from donations".

"I went to the locker and gave them all there was: 7,000 rupees. But this angered them further - they refused to believe that we did not have any more money."

The men then started ransacking the convent house looking for more money. They found another 1,000 rupees in one of the cabinets in my private room and this angered them further.

"They threatened to harm our domestic kitchen-girl [and] said they would sell her if we told any more lies about not having money," Sister Deepti said.

"This nightmare went on for more than three hours. At around 3 am, they tore the window curtains and bound our hands and feet together, tying up our mouths to prevent us from calling out for help. Then they opened the fridge, and ate and drank. Around 4 am, they finally left."

On the morning of 12th, when the nuns did not show up for mass in the parish church, the Priest sent his sacristan to the convent to find out why they had not come.

After finding the gate to the convent locked as the attackers had left it when they made their escape, the Sacristan jumped over and came into the building through a window. Inside he found the nuns bound and gagged and released them.

As soon as he was told of what happened, the parish priest rushed to the convent bringing the police with him so that they could take down the nuns' statements.

Sister Deepti told AsiaNews about her concerns since, as she put it, "this is not the first time that we are attacked. On the night of the 5th [of June], our Chapel was ransacked, and our Tabernacle was robbed. This is a very serious desecration. It is not a simple robbery, as every one is aware of the sacredness of the tabernacle."

"Mgr Ignatius Mendez, Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur, promised he would look into them matter since to date the police has failed to arrest anyone involved," she added.

"We need protection," Sister Deepti stressed, "because, in addition to being an attack against Christians, it is also an act of violence against women,"

The June 9 attacks were carried out against the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Sokho, in the diocese of Bhagalpur, and Notre Dame Convent in the diocese of Bettiah, where a gang of 15 men attacked the local nuns, leaving one of them - Sister Manjula - so badly bruised that she had to be hospitalized.

John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Union, said to AsiaNews: "We make a distinction between crime in general and religious crime in particular [...]. In India, religious places are taboo; no one unless demented would wilfully rob a temple or a mosque, but why are our convents and churches being robbed and desecrated? [...] We are extremely worried [...]. The Central Government must caution the State governments [so that they] protect the minority communities. They must send a positive signal to them."

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

BJP condemns church's move

Madurai, June 13: Former Union minister and BJP leader Pon Radhakrishnan today criticised the Catholic church for its attempts to convert a cemetery here into a Christian meditation hall and urged the officials to cancel the permission for it.

In a strongly worded statement, he said that corporation officials should not have permitted the conversion of the graveyard, housing the tombs of several great men of the Christian faith, into a meditation hall.

He pointed out that even a section of the Christians did not want the tombs of their forefathers to be demolished.

He warned of an agitation by BJP and Hindu organisations if the permission was not cancelled.

The corporation officials had demolished even 200-year-old temples in the city, though the High Court had ordered removal of encroachments, he alleged. (Agencies)

Christian shrine desecrated in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh

Jabalpur (AsiaNews) - In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Gerald Almeida, Bishop of Jabalpur in the state of Madya Pradesh (central India), said that anti - Christian activities by Hindu fundamentalists are on the rise and reaching areas hitherto spared such as his own diocese.

The fundamentalists' latest act of cowardly violence took place last Sunday, June 12, when "around midnight a bunch of miscreants entered the shrine of the Infant Jesus, which is inside the compound of the Holy Trinity Church, and desecrated it," Bishop Almeida said.

The mostly young attackers threw rotten eggs and blue coloured water against the shrine. When the guard saw them, they fled.

"Except for a few incidents, the fundamentalists had spared the area," he explained.

So far, no one has been arrested, but "[w]e have lodged a complaint with the police," the Bishop added. "[We] have notified the state authorities and asked for police protection from the administration."

The incident comes at a time when Christians are increasingly concerned about the sectarian violence visited upon them in states run by the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) like Madya Pradesh, Gujarat, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Bishop Almeida has urged the clergy and the religious to appease the resentment among local Christians and said that his response to this violence will be chain-fasting throughout the diocese of Jabalpur.

"We shall pray that God may transform the minds and hearts of these people who are attacking Christians," he stressed.

The BJP supports a fundamentalist version of Hinduism and is India's main opposition party. (NC)

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Four US nationals to be deported for violating visa rules

Mumbai, June. 13 (PTI): Four US nationals, who were assaulted by a group of people in western suburb of Malad on Saturday night on suspicion that they were Christian missionaries involved in conversion, would be deported for violating visa rules, police said today.

Police suspect that the four US nationals had come to Mumbai with some specific mission and "their visit to Malad to address a congregation did not appear to be as simple as it meets the eye".

The US nationals, Philip Allan, Clover Edward, Richard Jenal and an unidentified person, were questioned by the Special Branch sleuths today, before police decided to deport them for violation of visa rules.
The action came after the local police station in Malad submitted a report to the Special Branch.

"The four US nationals will be deported by the next available flight for violation of visa conditions," Additional Police Commissioner (Special Branch), Bipin Bihari, told PTI without elaborating further.

A Special Branch official said that Philip Allan, one of the four US nationals, has a multiple-entry visa and frequently visited India and neighbouring Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

"He is not a business traveller and therefore his frequent visits to India and adjoining countries raises suspicion in the backdrop of the Malad incident," the official said.

Police said the role of a school teacher from Malad, who had arranged the congregation in which the US nationals had participated, was also being probed.

Apart from these four US nationals, there were four more US nationals who were present at the congregation, police said adding that they, however, left India yesterday.

"We would have questioned them too, but laxity on the part of the local police helped them to leave the country," a Special Branch official said.

The official said that prima facie, it could not be substantiated whether the four US nationals belonged to any religious organisation or had visited Mumbai to propagate their religion.

"Yet, there is something fishy about their visit which needs to be probed further," the official said.

The US nationals were attending a congregation on Saturday night, when a group of people allegedly assaulted them. Two persons were arrested in this connection but were released by a local court later.

Special Branch officials, however, denied that VHP or Shiv Sena members were involved in the assault. "This appears to be a spontaneous reaction from the Malvani residents, who thought the congregation was meant for conversions," police said.

Pair of Convents Attacked in Bihar

BETTIAH, India, JUNE 13, 2005 (Zenit. org). - Two nuns were injured in apparent robbery attempts at two convents in the Indian state of Bihar.

The attack occurred around midnight last Thursday. An elderly nun was hospitalized with serious head injuries after a gang of 15 men attacked the Notre Dame convent at Raxual. The convent comes under the Diocese of Bettiah.

The same night, the convent of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth at Sokho in the Bhagalpur Diocese was attacked. No further details were available on that incident.

A Sister Manjula of Notre Dame was with two other nuns and their maid when the assailants entered the convent, breaking open the gate and doors.

"They asked for money," Father Henry Fernando of the Diocese of Bettiah told the newspaper Indian Catholic.

He said that the assailants beat the elderly nun so severely that they broke one of her ribs.

Bishop Victor Thakur of Bettiah visited the convent and the injured nun in the hospital, according to the priest.

Another woman religious sustained minor injuries, added Father Fernando.

Diocesan officials have filed a complaint with police. The attack on the convents is the latest in a series of assaults on priests and nuns working in Bihar.

Last April, Father Matthew Uzhuthal, 72, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Patna, was stabbed. He died of his wounds May 1.

Monday, June 13, 2005

US Missionaries attacked in Mumbai

Mumbai, India: June 12 2005:

Three US Nationals were attacked by a mob of about 40 people in Malavani, Malad (West), Mumbai.

According to police sources, the attack happened after the religious gathering where the missionaries had gathered was mistakened to be a conversion ceremony.

Philip Craig Allen (43) and Colver Steve Edwards (25) suffered minor injuries in the attack. Richard Wayne Jenel (45), who had been abducted by the mob was released later.

Police have booked a case of rioting and arrested Rajesh Keni and Bharat Koli, locals of the area. The duo were later released on bail by the court.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Saudi Arabia: 7 of jailed Christians released

Among these, 6 Indian Protestants arrested in the raid carried out by the Muttawa in Riyadh on May 28; among the released is also Samkutty Varghese, jailed since last March; 2 remain in prison for "further investigation". Renunciation to religious practice signed as condition for release.
Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Seven Christians who had been under arrest for their faith were freed this afternoon. The condition for their release was to sign a renunciation to religious practice, which they had been carrying out privately in their homes, as permitted by law.
Of the 7 released, 6 were part of the group of Protestants (8 in all) who had been arrested last May 28 in an extensive raid carried out by the Muttawa (religious police) in Riyadh. The other is Samkutty Varghese, another Indian Protestant, in jail since March: the police had used his address book to track down the other Christians.
According AsiaNews sources close to Mr Kumar, one of the released prisoners, their release took place today, June 8, around 3:30 p.m. local time, after having signed a document in which they renounced to the prayer sessions and religious practices that they had been carrying out for some time in their homes.
On May 28, the religious police raided a private prayer gathering of Protestant groups in the Batha area of the Saudi capital. Later that day, at 8 pm, the police arrived at Mr Kumar’s home and interrogated him and his wife. They then took away all religious material found in the residence, the family computers and Mr Kumar himself. More or less the same method was used to make the other arrests all in the same day.
Vijay Kumar has been in Saudi Arabia since 1994 working in production control for Al Salam Aircraft. His home has been a gathering place for Christians since 2002. In Saudi Arabia, freedom of expression is banned for all religions but Islam. Every public expression of other faiths (holding a Bible, wearing a cross or a rosary, praying) is outlawed. The religious police, which has a reputation for being uncompromising and violent, remorselessly enforces the ban. In the last few years, international pressures have forced the Saudi royal family to allow non-Muslim to practice their religion at least in the privacy of the home. None the less, the Muttawa continues to arrest, imprison and torture people who practice another faith even if privately.
Local sources refer to telephone calls from the prison according to which "the first 3 days were the worst" for the Christian prisoners, who were subjected to all kinds of abuse. Then, "when the 8 were divided into different cells, things went better." Two other Christians are still being held in jail by police for "further investigations."
Four of the released have been repatriated to India, while Kumar is waiting to know what the future holds for him and his family. The decision will be made by his employer, in agreement with Saudi authorities, by the end of the week. The hope is, according to the same sources close to Kumar, that he be allowed to stay in Riyadh: "There is nothing for him and his loved ones in India at the moment and finding a new job would not be easy."

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Three Indians arrested by the Saudi Arabian authorities relased

Dr. John Dayal of the AICC reported:

Three of seven Indians arrested by the Saudi Arabian religious police were been released yesterday. Here are the people that are released so far:

1).George Mathew. Passport Number: I 7881606.

2).Biju Thomas: Passport Number E 4201849.

3).Moothenpackal Mathai Thomas. Passport Number: E 2584732.

The international advocacy for release of other continues. Advocacy with government of India is also continuing to ensure that Indians are not harassed in Saudi Arabia from their religious beliefs, that those arrested have immediate Indian counselor attention, and that they are brought back to India before they are tortured.

Government of India is also being asked to urge Saudi Arabia government to be careful in handling holy books and religious artifacts such as crosses which its police seems to seize from Indian citizens.

Christians Feeling the heat of Persecution in Chattisgarh

By Vijayesh Lal
(Compass): Christians are feeling the heat of persecution in the state of Chattisgarh in India. There have been several reports of atrocities against Christians in the recent past. Some cases do show the liaison between the fundamentalists and the government machinery especially the police.


Chattisgarh is a state ruled by the BJP since their victory in the elections held in December last year. The BJP won 50 seats in the 90-member state assembly, while the (then) ruling Congress Party had to content itself with a mere 37 seats in a state where 35% of 20 million people are central Indian tribal members.

Christian leaders in Chattisgarh fears that they are heading towards tough time have started coming true. The Bishop Victor Kindo of Raigarh had said of the BJP victory, "The situation is not favorable. The Christian minority community in Chattisgarh is likely to face 'tough times'."

During the campaigning for the then coming elections, the BJP had stressed the conversion issue a lot. Advertisements had been placed in several local newspapers 'depicting a bishop forcibly converting a tribal member while a henchman stood guard over others encaged and waiting to be baptized by the pope's orders.'

The conversion issue had even found place in their election manifesto. The party had promised to ban conversions to Christianity if voted to power, a promise that the BJP is serious about.

A local newspaper, Dainik Bhaskar had reported in March 2005, "The state government has prepared a draft to amend the provisions of the Dharma Swatantraya Adhinayarn (Freedom of Religion) Act, making them more stringent to restrict conversions of poor tribals to Christianity," (See: India's Chhattisgarh State to Strengthen Anti - Conversion Law, March 28th 2005)

Reconversion is also high on the agenda of the BJP affiliates. The Hindu Jagran Manch, an activist group that is an ideological ally of the BJP claimed in April that hundreds of Christians were reconverted in a ceremony on April 2 in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh. During the reconversion ceremony, former cabinet minister from BJP Dilip Singh Judeo threatened Christian workers, saying, "If Christian missionaries don't stop converting people, we will take up arms." (See: Hindu Activists in India 'Reconvert' Christians, Threaten Missionaries, April 7th 2005)

Recent Incidents

5th June 2005:

Pastor Jaichand Dongre from Moti Chowk, Shankar Nagar, Durg, was having a Sunday service at his place with Church members and visiting believers, when around 11 am they were suddenly attacked by about 200 activists from the Bajrang Dal (Youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad).

The Bajrang Dal people were fully armed and came with a planned strategy. According to eye witnesses they even had two police constables with them.

The activists roughed up the Church members especially the pastor and looted the place, taking away Bibles, Christian literature and Musical instruments.

From there the Christians were taken to the police station where seven men and two women (all Christians) were arrested and charged falsely with disturbing the peace in the area.

According to reports received, they were charged with Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code which says, "Whoever knowingly joins or continues in any assembly of five or more persons likely to cause a disturbance of the public peace, after such assembly has been lawfully commanded to disperse, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine, or with both."

This charge was slapped on the Christians meeting peacefully for worship in full accordance with their fundamental right given in Article 19 and 25 of the Indian constitution. Articles 19 promises right to freedom of speech and expression, to assemble peaceably and without arms, while Article 25 provides for freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.

The Bajrang Dal had arranged for false witnesses and some women turned up who gave false witness that they were promised One Lakh rupees (About 2325 US Dollars) each by the Pastor. The Pastor denies even knowing the women.

According to reports received the Police station office Mr. Pandey slapped the Pastor several times and humiliated him. This beating was in addition to the one that the pastor got from the crowd that beat him up all the way to the police station.

When a representative of the minority commission of Madhya Pradesh, Patras Habil, contacted the police station, he was told blankly that the beatings and arrests were due to conversion activities carried on by the Christians and that they deserved it.

When the representative revealed his connection with the Minority Commission the tone of the police officer changed who then claimed to rescue the Christians from the mob who had gathered to kill them all.

Christians in the area met with the Superintendent of Police in the area who assured them of help, but still the Christians were arrested and put in prison for two days. The SP could not do anything because of the many charges leveled against the Christians.

Two days later they were released on Bail after paying a huge sum of money.

The situation in Shankar Nagar, continues to remain tense. The Bajrang Dal has mobilized people against the Christian community in the area. They are unable to take water out of the community hand pump and are also unable to buy food supplies as they face a mass social boycott.

3rd June 2005

Thirteen Christians in Hathod village, Balod, Distrist Durg were called by the Sarpanch (Village Head man) in consultation with the villagers for a meeting. During the meeting the Christians were told to renounce their faith or face the consequences. According the sources, Christians were threatened with grave consequences and were coerced to become Hindus.

According to reports received, the notable fact is that most of the Christians who were asked to renounce their faith have not accepted Christianity recently. They were Christians for quite some time, some of them are even involved in Christian service and having some sort of theological training.

Seven of the thirteen Christians declined the ruling of the Sarpanch and were taken to the police station and locked up in Balod jail. Sources have revealed that the police was hand in glove with the Sarpanch and Hindu fundamentalist leaders in the village. The Christians have been implicated under Sections 151, 107 and 116 of the Indian Penal Code.

Compass spoke to the lawyer of the Christians, Mr. Ram Kishore Sahu, who informed that this type of threatening is not new in the area. Two years ago Christians from the same area were implicated using identical tactics. They are still facing the consequence of choosing to stick to their faith as the case against them is still going on.

Mr. Sahu further said that these are tactics of harassment against simple Christians who are not well off economically to discourage them from following their faith. He did not rule out the influence and involvement of Hindu fundamentalist organizations like the RSS, VHP and the BJP.

Meanwhile the Christians still languish in prison. The orders for their bail have been given, but the Hindu fundamentalists made sure that they had a way of circumventing even this.

Mr. Sahu told Compass that the Bail orders explicitly say that the bail security of Rupees 10,000 for each person has to come from within the village Hathod and that outsiders are not allowed to provide security for bail.

Due to the influence of the Sarpanch and fundamentalists this is currently not possible, for no one wants to help the Christians and risk their status in the village.

At the time of the writing of this report efforts continue to bail the Christians out while the situation in the area remains tense.

Only 1.9 percent (401,035) of the total population (20,833,803) of Chattisgarh are Christians according to the 2001 Census.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Authorities to tear down 109 homes belonging to Christian Tribals in Orissa

Rourkela (AsiaNews) - Koraput district authorities in the state of Orissa (eastern India) have ordered the demolition of the homes of more than 100 Christian Tribals. This could further fuel inter-religious tensions in the city of Jeypore, where many fear a 'cleansing' campaign by Hindu fundamentalists.

Although district collector Shubha Sarma ordered the immediate demolition of 109 homes belonging to Christians, the victims of the decision are certain that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist paramilitary group, is behind it. Recently, the RSS set up a training camp in Jeypore that hosted Orissa Finance Minister Manmohan Samal and Water Resource Minister Rabi Nanda.

Local Christians believe that Nanda, backed by Samal, is responsible for the demolition - both, they fear, intend to 'cleanse' the town.

"It is a very, very tragic situation," said Mgr Alphonse Bilung, Bishop of Rourkela. "These houses are inland, in a semi-forested area, largely inhabited by very poor Tribal people."

"They are receptive to Christianity and this make the fundamentalists angry since the children of these Tribals like those of all faiths and caste now receive an education so they cannot be exploited to the extent they were exploited before," he explained.

As soon as the order was posted, Christians tried to delay the demolition but district collector Shubha Sarma rejected their request. Instead, he ordered the deployment of police forces given the rising tensions. He also refused to speak to press.

"Fundamentalists are continuously plotting schemes to instil terror in the minds of these poor folks, using psychological and economic intimidation," Bishop Bilung said.

Most Tribals are farm labourers who earn day wages and depend on the majority for their livelihood.

Representatives of the local Christian community have asked Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to "stop the inconsiderate expulsion of these poor people on the eve of the monsoon season".

The affected people are so poor, the Bishop points out, that they have very few possessions. "They barely possess a cupboard, and few kitchen utensils bought with much sweat and toil," he said.

"When their houses are destroyed, they will loose whatever they possess and they won't be able to afford a simple shelter against the [coming] rains."

Orissa is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist political party—until last year, it also controlled the Union government.

The RSS, a paramilitary group linked to the BJP, is dedicated to the violent promotion of the Hindutva (Hinduness), a nationalist ideology whose ultimate goal is the setting up a minority-free, Hindu-only state in India (Hindu Rashtra).

(Courtesy: Asia News)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Missing Pastor found dead in Andhra Pradesh

NEW DELHI, June 6 (Compass) -- Police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh found the body of Pastor Isaac Raju on June 2. Raju went missing on May 24. Just days earlier, on May 21, the body of Pastor K. Daniel was found with marks suggestive of an acid attack. Both Raju and Daniel pastored churches on the outskirts of the state capital, Hyderabad. A letter sent to a local newspaper claimed the murders were the work of an organization called the "Anti-Christian Forum." After the letter was received, police questioned 150 members of Hindu nationalist organizations but at press time, had no suspects. A reward has now been offered for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the murders.

Second Pastor Found Dead in Andhra Pradesh, India
'Anti-Christian Forum' claims responsibility for murders.

NEW DELHI, June 6 (Compass) -- On June 2, police in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh found the body of Pastor Isaac Raju, missing since May 24.

According to Sam Paul, national secretary of the All India Christian Council, the body was found wrapped in a jute bag that was dumped behind bushes in the Golconda area, just outside the state capital, Hyderabad.

Raju, who led an independent church on the outskirts of the city, is survived by his wife and 18-year-old son. His 15-year-old daughter died in a road accident in April.

This is the second case of mysterious disappearance and death of a Christian minister in Andhra Pradesh in recent weeks. On May 21, the body of K. Daniel, a preacher from Kummarvadi, also on the outskirts of Hyderabad, was found bearing marks suggestive of an acid attack.

"We don't know what's happening, but we are scared," Paul told Compass. "Someone called and told the police that [Raju's] body was lying there. At first the police could not find the body. Then another call came, giving precise directions, and the body was found.

"The same thing happened in Daniel’s case. They called to tell where the body was. It's a very planned way of terrorizing the Christian community," he added.

"The body was so badly decomposed that it could not be recognized. The police identified him from his belt and clothes."

A post mortem will be carried out to determine the cause of death, but Paul believes the murder was clearly "a religious crime."

According to sources, a man named Vinod called to see Raju a week before his disappearance and asked if he was available as a wedding celebrant. Raju's father answered yes. A week later, on May 24, Raju told his wife that Vinod had phoned and that he was going to meet him. When Raju failed to come home, the family reported him missing.

Following his disappearance, police launched a massive manhunt. The situation was particularly worrying, as K. Daniel had also been approached regarding a wedding ceremony before his disappearance, according to an Associated Press (AP) report on June 5.

The AP report also said police questioned at least 150 members of Hindu nationalist groups after an anonymous letter was sent to a local newspaper, claiming the murders were carried out by an organization called the "Anti-Christian Forum."

Paul confirmed to Compass that a state newspaper published a copy of the letter on May 31.

"The release said that [the Anti-Christian Forum] was responsible for Daniel's death and that they would repeat such killings. We didn't take it seriously at the time, thinking it was a ploy, but the police are now investigating who is behind this organization," said Paul.

Following the recovery of Raju's body, the state government formed a Special Investigation Team to find those responsible for the murders. The home minister has also offered protection to Christian missionaries living in the state.

"Pastors of larger churches are not scared, but others, those who live and work alone on the outskirts of the city, are really scared. There are at least 200 to 300 of them," Paul said.

There are approximately 1,500 churches in Hyderabad city, and the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y. Rajshekhar Reddy, "claims to be a Christian," according to Paul.

At press time, the Christian community in Hyderabad was planning a peace march. Christian leaders also planned to meet with Reddy to discuss security concerns.

Meanwhile, a notice in The Hindu on June 6 offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the killer or killers of Daniel and Raju.
(Courtesy: Compass Direct)

Church Attacked Again in Manipur, India

NEW DELHI, June 6 (Compass) -- The Believer's Church in Lamding, Thoubal district, Manipur state, suffered another attack on May 29.

Members of the church submitted a memorandum to Manipur Chief Minister O. Ibobi Singh on May 30 in protest.

Copies were also sent to the director general of police in Manipur; the deputy inspector general and the superintendent of police (S.P.) in Thoubal district.

The memo requested that Singh provide security for the church, and urged the return of a police security guard.

"Lamding Believer's Church and other victims of minority faiths approach your high office once again to seek protection from anti-people elements," the memo said. "In spite of repeated demands prompted by series of attacks and threats to the minority people, security measures are yet to be taken in this regard."

Unidentified gunmen opened fire on the church late on the night of May 29. One person was injured when he fell into a ditch in panic after hearing the gunshots. However, 30 church workers and missionaries who were on the grounds at the time of the attack remained unharmed.

The attack is the fourth on the Believer's Church. The first attack occurred on November 23, 2004, when a crowd of Hindus demolished the church while construction was underway.

A second attack took place on March 8, when about 20 people attacked the church and dismantled its boundary wall. The church was attacked again on April 19. (See Compass Direct, "Church Burned, Christians Attacked in Manipur, India," April 25, 2005.)

In the most recent attack, a number of Christians were gathered at the church when a Maruti Gypsy jeep drove slowly up to the premises at around 11 p.m. "When they turned on their torch lights to see who was in the vehicle, the people in the jeep opened fire," the Rev. S. Prim Vaiphei, pastor of the Believer's Church, told Compass.

"They fired as many as 40 rounds in the air and around the church, due to which there was panic and chaos in the church area. As a result, one of our workers, Mr. Jangkhogin Chongloi, fell into a ditch and received minor injuries," Vaiphei added.

Earlier that day, a Hindu villager who sympathized with Christians had warned Vaiphei by telephone that villagers were planning an attack on the church that night.

"I immediately called the superintendent of police and informed him about the warning," said Vaiphei. "One policeman, seemingly sent by the S.P., came in civil clothes at around 7 p.m. to view the situation around the church then left.

"Our workers and missionaries were afraid and could not sleep," Vaiphei explained. "In fact, they were watching over the church; which is why, as soon as they saw the jeep coming towards the church, they got suspicious and focused their torch lights on it."

Vaiphei said the Christians immediately reported the incident to the police, but police did not visit the church until 7 the following morning. When the church members went to the police station on the afternoon of May 30, the police refused to register a complaint.

"However, the office of the S.P. accepted their complaint the same afternoon," Vaiphei added.

The situation at Lamding has been tense since the previous attack on April 19. A "Committee Against the Construction of the Church at Lamding" (CACCL), formed by local villagers, has issued continual threats against the church members.

"On April 21, Mr. Nityai Meitei, convenor of the CACCL, told a local newspaper, the Sangai Express, that the Believer's Church should vacate the land or they would have to face the consequences," Vaiphei told Compass.

Compass also spoke to Sub-Inspector N. Manikant of the Thoubal Police Station, who claimed the attack was unplanned.

"The attackers were seemingly from a local extremist group called the 'Valley' because they were carrying sophisticated arms," Manikant said. "They opened fire only when two church missionaries focused their torch lights on them."

Manikant admitted there were no security personnel deployed near the church that night, despite the warning of a possible attack and a court injunction order, issued on February 3, directing local authorities to provide a security guard for the church.

Manikant denied the existence of the court injunction, VIDE No. 117 of 2004, claiming that the S.P. had voluntarily provided a "mobile team of policemen" to protect the church against any attack.

However, when Compass phoned Nikhit Kumar Ujwal, the S.P. of Thoubal district, he declined to comment.

Christians Believe India Still Deserves 'CPC' Status

Despite change in government, attacks on religious minorities continue.
Compass Feature

NEW DELHI, June 2 (Compass) -- The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in a report issued in May asked that India be removed from the list of "Countries of Particular Concern" (or CPCs), citing progress in religious freedom.

India was designated a CPC in 2004, due to a series of violent actions against Muslims and Christians that took place under the rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government, elected in 1998.

The USCIRF felt the BJP government had not adequately addressed the killing of up to 2,000 Muslims in Gujarat state riots in 2002, nor had it addressed a growing number of violent attacks on the Christian minority in many states.

Created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the USCIRF monitors freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief in countries outside the United States, and gives independent policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

While the USCIRF cannot implement sanctions, it can recommend the designation of a country as a CPC on the basis of systematic, ongoing and serious violations of religious freedom. The designation is then made by the U.S. State Department and followed by U.S. diplomatic and economic actions.

This year, the USCIRF said it would no longer recommend that India be designated as a CPC due to "significant developments affecting freedom of belief" over the past year.

One of the developments cited by the USCIRF was the defeat of the BJP party in last year's parliamentary elections. The USCIRF pointed out that the BJP was closely associated with a group of Hindu extremist organizations that operated freely under BJP rule.

However, Christian leaders have voiced concern and surprise at the removal of India from the list of CPCs. They say a climate of strong religious hostility is still evident despite the election of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the Indian National Congress Party, in May 2004.

Speaking to Compass, Dr. John Dayal, a prominent Christian and a member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, emphasized that the root cause of continuing religious violence was the fundamentalist ideology spread by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu extremist organization that had close ties with the BJP.

"The RSS is ... spreading hate among the tribals and buying its way into the bureaucracy and judiciary," Dayal said.

"The international community must fully and publicly investigate the RSS and all its sub-organizations, their funding, ideology and spread among the Indian diaspora in Asia-Pacific, Europe, the U.K., Canada, the U.S. and the Caribbean," he added.

Dayal also pointed to numerous incidents of anti-Christian violence during the past 12 months.

The BJP and its political allies still control state governments in Rajasthan, Orissa, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. Incidents of violence against Christians have reportedly increased in these states over the past year. Sporadic violence has also occurred in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Kerala, states ruled by the Congress Party.

For example, Hindu extremists violently attacked Bible students of the Emmanuel Mission in Kota district, Rajasthan, on February 19. State support of the attackers was clearly visible. (See Compass Direct, "Indian Hindus Attack Christian Students in Rajasthan," February 22, 2005.)

Extremists also assaulted several other Christians in the state, apparently with an agenda to push forward the enactment of anti-conversion laws in Rajasthan. (See Compass Direct, "Hindu Extremists in India Assault Rajasthan Christians," March 18, 2005.)

Numerous other incidents over the past year prompted a delegation of Christian leaders to present an unofficial white paper to the government in March 2005. The paper listed over 200 incidents in the first quarter of this year in which Christians had faced severe harassment or physical attacks.

In the 2005 "Annual Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom," the USCIRF stated that the new Congress-led government had "pledged to reject any kind of religious intolerance and return the country to its pluralistic traditions; proposed a law to halt and criminalize inter-religious violence; and taken immediate steps to remove the religiously intolerant portions of school textbooks issued by the BJP government."

However, the five states most susceptible to religious violence are still ruled by the BJP and its allies. Under terms of the Indian Constitution, the central government can do little to ensure the protection of religious minorities in those states.

Following their election to power, the UPA promised to enact a federal law against religious violence. However, a year after the election, no such law exists.

The USCIRF also said the Supreme Court had taken "significant steps designed to bring to justice those responsible for the anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002."

The Supreme Court has indeed reopened hundreds of cases connected with the Gujarat riots, which had been withdrawn by the Gujarat state administration.

However, the Gujarat state government, led by Narendra Modi -- a renowned Hindu fundamentalist -- has caused numerous delays in the judicial process, both for the Gujarat riot trials and the Best Bakery case in which 14 Muslims were killed in Mumbai, Maharashtra.

"The current central government has taken several healthy steps to reassure minorities," Dayal admits. “But as long as the killers of the Gujarat massacres remain free, and as long as Modi rules in Gujarat ... India cannot claim to have cleansed itself of the blood of innocent minority communities."


A Litany of Violence

Attacks or acts of discrimination against Christians*, reported by Compass Direct during the first half of 2005. (*Listed by dates of occurrence when possible.)

* January 19
Arsonists attacked and destroyed a Catholic school in the northeast state of Assam, accusing school staff of attempting to convert Hindu children. "The [Assam Tribune] newspaper exaggerated the incident by alleging that a mob of about 10,000 people attacked the school, whereas the mob was only 70 people strong," Vinay Masih of the Evangelical Fellowship of India told Compass. ("Arsonists Attack Christian School in Guwahati," January 26, 2005)

* February 11
Pastor Narayan, a 25-year-old Christian evangelist, was brutally murdered in Karnataka state. Christians claimed religious fundamentalists were behind the attack. ("Indian Evangelist’s Battered Body Found in Karnataka," February 22, 2005)

* February 14
Hindu cleric Sunil Ji Maharaj threatened 40 Catholic families in the village of Rajura, Maharashtra, insisting that the tribal Christians turn their church into a Hindu temple or face serious consequences. He also threatened the Christians with social ostracism or death if they did not "reconvert" to Hinduism. ("Hindu Cleric Bullies Catholic Villagers in Maharashtra," February 14, 2005.)

* February 19
Members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal beat and robbed 280 Christian students as they were traveling to a graduation ceremony for the Emmanuel Mission in Kota, Rajasthan. Afterward, local police rounded up the students, kept them in custody until the following evening and forced them to return home. None of the attackers were arrested. ("Hindus Attack Christian Students in Rajasthan," February 22, 2005).

* February 23
Members of a radical Hindu group broke up a Christian prayer meeting in a small Indian village in Seoni district, Madhya Pradesh, and left several Christians badly injured. Policemen assigned to guard the believers failed to protect them. Local Hindus have since pressured the Christians to drop their complaint, threatening them with "death and burning down of their houses." ("Hindus Attack Church While Police Take ‘Lunch Break,'" March 14, 2005.)

* March 11
A delegation of India’s top Christian leaders presented an unofficial “white paper” to Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, listing over 200 violent incidents against Christians occurring in the first 10 weeks of 2005. ("Hindus Attack Church While Police Take ‘Lunch Break,'" March 14, 2005)

* March 14
Kiran Kumar, an evangelist arrested on charges of attempting to convert Hindus in Orissa state, appealed his case to the Orissa High Court, accusing the police of negligence and torture. A group of Hindu extremists assaulted Kumar on February 27, tied him up and threatened to throw him into Chilika Lake. Police later arrived on the scene and arrested Kumar and beat him with bamboo rods. ("Evangelist’s Arrest Exposes Police Brutality," March 15, 2005.)

* March 18
Sources reported several attacks on Christians in Rajasthan. Members of the Bajrang Dal, a youth wing of the BJP, attacked eight members of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band on March 13 and falsely accused Pastor Arthur Joel, a Christian orphanage director, of child abuse in early March. Meanwhile in late February, Pastor Vaalu and his eight-month-pregnant wife were brutally assaulted on a public bus in Rajasthan. ("Hindu Extremists Assault Rajasthan Christians," March 18, 2005.)

* March 28
The government of Chhattisgarh announced plans to strengthen existing anti-conversion laws, following reports that the numbers of Christian converts in the state is increasing. Under existing provisions, those who convert without official approval may be imprisoned for up to two years and fined up to 10,000 rupees ($220). However, pending regulations call for imprisonment for up to four years and fines of 100,000 rupees ($2,175). ("Chhattisgarh State to Strengthen Anti-Conversion Law," March 28, 2005)

* March 30
Christian businessman Vidya Sagaran of Kerala state was arrested and charged with attempted forced conversion under the Indian Penal Code. Defense attorney Ranjit George said the charges were the result of a personal dispute between Sagaran and his neighbor. Meanwhile, Hindu activists in Kerala objected to the work of Christian relief groups in tsunami-torn coastal areas, accusing two Catholic priests of inducing tsunami victims to convert to Christianity by offering aid. ("Christian Businessman Charged With Conversion," April 14, 2005.)

* April 1
Hindu and Muslim villagers burned down a prayer hall and attacked three church members in Panamvilla village, Kerala. The attack came after 26 people were baptized in a discreet early morning ceremony. Two days later when Paul Ciniraj Mohammed, pastor of the church, spoke to some of the villagers about the assault, he and his assistant were also beaten severely. ("Villagers Beat Christians, Burn Down Prayer Hall," April 15, 2005.)

* April 2
The Hindu Jagran Manch held a "reconversion" ceremony in Dhamtari district, Chhattisgarh, in which they claimed 700 Christians had reconverted to Hinduism. During the reconversion ceremony, former cabinet minister Dilip Singh Judeo threatened Christian workers, saying, "If Christian missionaries don’t stop converting people, we will take up arms." ("Hindu Activists ‘Reconvert’ Christians," April 7, 2005.)

* April 11
Father Mathew, a priest in the east-Indian state of Bihar, was stabbed to death when he refused to pay extortion money to an ex-prisoner he had been counseling. "Gyan Das demanded 100,000 rupees ($2,325) from Father Mathew. ... There was a scuffle in which the father was stabbed four times in the neck and the chest," said Allen R. Johannes, press secretary for the Archdiocese of Patna. ("Catholic Priest Stabbed in Bihar," April 14, 2005.)

* April 19
A mob of 200 Hindus overpowered a police patrol and set fire to the Believer's Church in Thoubal district, Manipur. Following a similar attack in November 2004, authorities had ordered police protection for the church during reconstruction. Villagers have now asked church members to abandon the premises or "face the consequences." ("Church Burned, Christians Attacked in Manipur," April 25.)

* May 1
A crowd of nearly 500 Hindu villagers attacked a house church in Mangalwarapete village, Karnataka state. Assailants molested some of the women among the 60 people present at the Sunday service and burned Bibles and other Christian literature. The mob beat Pastor Paulraj Raju of King Jesus Church until he bled profusely. The attackers identified themselves as members of the Bajrang Dal and the BJP. ("Hindu Extremists Attack Church, Burn Bibles," May 4, 2005.)

* May 7
A Christian couple in Gujarat was attacked by Hindu extremists; Jamubhai Choudhary was slashed with an ax, while his wife Jathriben suffered a bone fracture. Jathriben was discharged from hospital on May 16, but her husband remains in the hospital. ("Christians Suffer Attacks in Southern India," May 20, 2005)

* May 12
RSS members attacked and beat eight students from the Beersheba Bible College at Maraman, Pathanamthitta. The students were making their way to a funeral when about 15 motor-cycle-mounted RSS members assaulted them with sharp weapons. Three of the students required hospitalization. ("Hindu Extremists Attack Bible College Students," May 16, 2005.)

* May 15
Hindu extremists physically attacked 11 Christian families from Jamanya village in Jalgaon district, Maharashtra. Village officials had summoned the families to a community court and asked them to renounce their faith. When the families refused, the men were beaten with heavy sticks and chased from the village. On the following day their wives and children were also assaulted. ("Christian Families Attacked in Maharasthra, India," May 20, 2005.)

* May 18
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in Orissa threatened to launch a campaign for the dismissal of Christian government officers in response to an order granting equal rights to tribal Christians. Before the order was passed, Christian members of Scheduled Tribes were denied access to education and employment quotas. "It seems to me that people were taking advantage of the [Christian] Santhals by depriving them of these privileges, and that is why people are now raising their voices," said Levinus Kindo, a Christian revenue officer who ordered the change in March before his retirement. ("World Hindu Council Opposes Rights for Tribal Christians," May 18, 2005.)

* May 20
Unknown assailants poured acid over the body of the Rev. K. Daniel in Hyderabad, Andra Pradesh, resulting in his death. The Christian community in the state was shaken by the attack. Law enforcement officials deny the attack was religiously motivated. However Sam Paul of the All India Christian Council told Compass that Daniel had been "threatened many times by the local Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh." (“Christians Suffer Attacks in Southern India,” May 20, 2005.)

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Catholic priest arrested for pedophilia in a Hindu fundamentalist plot

Amravati (AsiaNews) - The arrest of a Catholic priest for alleged child molestation is being used by Hindu fundamentalist to tarnish the reputation of the Catholic Church. Whilst this is happening the central government remains indifferent.

The alleged incident is said to have occurred in Amravati, Maharashtra state, but the local Bishop has defended the priest, saying that the accusations are false. Instead, he has charged Hindu extremists with setting up the Catholic clergyman in an attempt to stop Tribals (Adivasi) from getting a Catholic education.

In talking about the case of Fr Gervas Fernandes, Mgr Edwin Colaco, Bishop of Amravati, described to AsiaNews what happened.

On May 20, Father Fernandes was arrested after the parents of an 11-year-old boy accused the priest of sexually molesting their son - the boy had been living in a hostel managed by the Church inside the compound of the local Cathedral.

The previous day Father Fernandes was preparing to go to his new mission station when he asked the boy to accompany him. Hence, he asked him to change from his home clothes into something more appropriate for travelling outside the village.

The boy's father told the police that the priest then called his son to his room and coerced the boy into giving him a body massage.

Following standard procedure in such cases, the police sent the priest and the boy for medical examinations. But the results have not been released yet. Through it all, Father Fernandes maintains his innocence.

For Bishop Colaco, the arrest is based on false accusations instigated by Hindu fundamentalists to discredit the educational and development activities of the Church among local Tribals.

"The boy's family later tried to retract the complaint but was forced to retain it under pressure from Hindu radicals, who would like to exploit the situation." Bishop Colaco said. "The family came to me later and said they regretted their complaint, which they did in a fit of rage," he added.

On May 21, about 100 young militants from the Bharatiya Janata Party (a party linked to Hindu fundamentalists) demonstrated in front of the Bishop's House, demanding action against a priest accused of pedophilia.

On May 22, Father Fernandes was released on bail, but chose to stay from the Cathedral to avoid violent actions by extremists. He will be tried under India's Penal Code for unnatural offences that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Bishop Colaco is concerned with the situation of the local Church and Christian Tribals, especially since Father Fernandes's case is not an isolated one. "These false allegations of child molestation are a tragedy. The clergy and nuns in the diocese of Amravati give their lives for these poor illiterate people," he said.

As far he is concerned, Hindu fundamentalists want to stop young Tribals from receiving an education in Church-run colleges even if it is against the interests of the people. "The living conditions of these children are pitiful. Were it not for the vocations and vision of our priests, they would grow up uneducated, malnourished and without dignity," he stressed.

What is worse, Father Fernandes's case is being used by Hindu fundamentalists to mount a meticulous campaign against the Catholic presence in the region by staging demonstrations, making threats and thanks to media complicity.

A local BJP worker said that "[e]veryone must know what happened. We are not going to leave this issue so easily." But although the accused priest is Indian, the he said his people would not allow "firangi padri" (foreign priests) to destroy "our culture."

According to Bishop Colaco, the local press has covered the case superficially and irresponsibly, one paper going as far as carrying a headline that read: "Bishop of Amravati arrested for paedophilia." The report claimed that police had arrested a "42-year-old bishop" in "connection with a pedophilia allegation."

The situation is made worse by the indifference of local and central authorities. The Bishop wrote to Maharashtra's Home Minister and Chief Minister to complain about the defamatory press coverage of the case and about the arrest itself which was done without any evidence and in the absence of an attorney.

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Catholic Union, said that several times he complained to the Congress Party about the violence perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists. "I would like to hope the central government will wake up. This is causing great distress in predominantly Tribal areas. Such episodes are the seed of a great tragedy," he warned.

In the past, the diocese of Amravati was the scene of other violent incidents instigated by Hindu fundamentalists. Back in February, they threatened 250 Catholics in one village, demanding they stop practicing their faith and organising 'ceremonies of conversion back to Hinduism".

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Christian Mission in India Accused of Forced Conversions

NEW DELHI, May 31 (Compass) -- Police are currently investigating seven staff members of a Christian mission, the Atmik Vikas Trust (AVT), in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh. A group of disgruntled trainees have accused the staff of "running a gang to convert poor Hindus" by promising them employment.

The complainants in the case lost their jobs in November 2004.

The former employees claim they each gave the mission 20,000 rupees ($465) when they signed up for a training program. They also allege that the Christians had "converted" them under the guise of finding them jobs.

Following the termination of their employment with a Christian company, the plaintiffs allege, they were beaten and threatened with death when they went to the mission and asked that their money be returned.

The seven accused are Pastor Yashwant Paul and his wife Monica of the Evangelical Church of God (ECOG); Squadron Leader (retired) M.M. Philip and ex-civil servant Mr. Lalchhuangliana, both AVT trustees; Dr. Raju Abraham, director of Kachawa Christian Hospital in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh; Lieutenant Colonel Arun Kumar (retired) and Mr. Gurpreet Singh.

AVT is a registered trust formed for the purpose of providing religious instruction and social development.

Pastor Paul denies the charges. "My wife and I are involved in running a church, and we have not accepted any amount from anyone. Nor have we lured anyone into Christianity," he told Compass.

Paul and his wife were asked to vacate their rented house after two national dailies, the Amar Ujala and the Dainik Jagran, carried stories about the allegations against them.

Squadron Leader Philip told Compass, "This is simply an _expression of frustration by our ex-employees.

"We provide Biblical teachings and focus on the personal transformation of a trainee, but some come in with false expectations. They think they will get a job and money, and when such expectations are not met, they think they have been wronged.

"These employees were laid off because we could not see any transformation in their lives," he explained. "But I suspect that some Hindu fundamentalist organization is using the situation to harass us."

The seven Hindu plaintiffs submitted affidavits to the Judicial Magistrate of Hapur Taluka in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh on January 31.

Based on the affidavits, the court ordered local police to investigate the AVT mission under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The police then registered a complaint against the accused for criminal breach of trust, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

If convicted, the AVT defendants could face imprisonment of up to seven years, a fine or both.

The seven plaintiffs have identified themselves in the affidavits as poor and unemployed Hindus who were lured into Christianity.

"The AVT and the ECOG is a gang which is involved in an illegal work of luring poor and unemployed people like us into Christianity by promising good, permanent jobs," the affidavits stated. "All the [accused] are Indians, but in reality, they are agents of foreign countries, and are openly working towards making India a slave to foreigners."

The affidavits further claimed that AVT had demanded a refundable security deposit of 20,000 rupees from each of the complainants, in return for arranging permanent jobs with a salary of 10,000 rupees per month.

"I borrowed the amount and gave it to them on April 5, 2002, in the office of the ECOG. There were several witnesses with me," said Ramesh Chandra, one of the plaintiffs.

"On August 12, 2002, I, along with 14 others, was sent to the city of Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, and we were trained in Christianity until September 2. We were told that we would be given jobs in factories belonging to Christians, and therefore we needed the Christian training."

Chandra complained that when he and others came back from the training, they were given laborers' work at a salary of 2,000 rupees per month.

"They also asked us to be baptized, saying we would not get jobs otherwise," Chandra alleged.

"I and others were laid off by the AVT on November 28, 2004. But our security deposit was not returned to us. And when we went to the AVT office on January 24, 2005, to ask for the money, the accused and their goons beat us and threatened us with false accusation and death," he said.

When Compass spoke with Paul, he said the village chief and other villagers had signed a statement saying that the plaintiffs never came to the village to demand money and that no beatings had taken place. Paul also said the mission had not asked for security deposits from participants in the program.

The case has not yet gone to court.

Uttar Pradesh has one of the smallest populations of Christians in India, with only 212,000 Christians in a total population of 166 million, according to 2001 census figures.

Eight Protestant leaders arrested in Riyadh

Riyadh (AsiaNews) - Vijay Kumar, a 45-year-old Indian national from the state of Tamil Nadu, and seven other Protestant leaders were arrested by the Muttawa, Saudi Arabia's religious police.
Relatives and friends in Riyadh have had no news about the fate of their loved ones, nor do they know where they are detained.
AsiaNews sources in the country said that Mr Kumar was taken in by police on May 28. His arrest came in the wake of that of another Indian, Samkutty Varghese, an Evangelical Christian who had entered the country on January 26 on a tourist visa.
The Muttawa detained Mr Varghese, who was waiting for his visa to be extended, on March 9. They found him in possession of a Hindi Bible and some phone numbers, which they used to carry out other arrests.
On May 28, the religious police raided a private prayer gathering of Protestant groups in the Batha area of the Saudi capital.
Later that day, at 8 pm, the police arrived at Mr Kumar's home. They interrogated him and his wife Christy Vijay Kumar till 3 am and then took away all religious material found in the residence, the family computers and Mr Kumar himself.
All those arrested belong to Assembly of God Evangelical groups.
Ms Kumar works as a catechist and normally teaches 40 Christian children from India and Muscat in her home.
Vijay Kumar has been in Saudi Arabia since 1994 working for Al Salam Aircraft. His home has been a gathering place for Christians since 2002.
His Saudi colleagues consider him a good person and are worried for his fate. And his employer has asked the police for information about his disappearance, thus far with little success.
In Saudi Arabia, freedom of expression is banned for all religions but Islam. Every public expression of other faiths (holding a Bible, wearing a cross or a rosary, praying) are outlawed.
The religious police, which has a reputation for being uncompromising and violent, remorselessly enforces the ban.
In the last few years, international pressures have forced the Saudi royal family to relent a bit and allow non Muslim to practice their religion at least in the privacy of the home. None the less, the Muttawa continues to arrest, imprison and torture people who practice another faith. For instance, on April 23, they arrested 40 Pakistani Christians who were worshiping at home.
Saudi Arabia’s economy heavily depends on foreigners, but although they are allowed to work, they are not allowed to profess their faith.
Out of a population of some 21.6 million people, foreigners are around 8 million.
Muslims represent 97.3 per cent of the total, whilst Christians constitute 3.7 per cent, almost all from India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Egypt. Catholics number some 900,000.
In its 2004 report, the US Commission on religious freedom in the world said the Saudi kingdom was a country of particular concern.
Courtesy: Asia News

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

More Trishul Diksha programmes planned in Orissa

Encouraged by Naveen Patnaik administration's u-turn on the issue, the VHP-Bajrang Dal combine is now reportedly planning more 'Trishul Diksha' programmes in the state.

The two Sangh Parivar members launched their programme at the coastal town of Nimapara in Puri district last week with distribution of 'Trishuls' to nearly 400 youths from the state for protection of the Hindu religion.

They are contemplating to begin their second round of the programme in the Assembly constituencies of prominent state Congress leaders. If Sangh Parivar sources are to be believed, a programme will be organised at Anandapur in tribal-dominated Keonjhar district in the last week of June when nearly a thousand youths from the area will be presented with Trishuls. Anandapur is the constituency of PCC president Jayadev Jena.

The Congress-led Opposition in the state has been strongly protesting the VHP Bajrang Dal's decision. "The Hindus do not need Trishul Diksha programmes to protect their religion. This type of communal activity is only aimed at disturbing and destabilishing the society", said leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly and former chief minister J B Patnaik.

The Opposition leaders are also extremely critical of the state administration's "reversal attitude" towards the programme. "The recent statement of chief minister Mr Patnaik on the issue is not only condemnable but also dangerous for the state", said Bijoy Mohapatra, president of the Orissa Gana Parishad (OGP).

Last year, the VHP had planned a Trishul Diksha programme in the state in presence of Praveen Togadia. The programme, however, was cancelled in the last moment because of the hard stand taken by the Naveen Patnaik administration.

But this time, the administration seems to have gone soft on the issue. "We have no knowledge of any law and order problem because of the VHP's programme. If there will be any law and order problem we will definitely take action", the chief minister has said.