Saturday, September 24, 2005

Christians attacked in Jhabua again

Christians attacked and beaten up: Charged with hurting religious sentiments of Hindus.

Victims of the Shiv Idol Installation Drive

By Vijayesh Lal

22nd September 2005: Christians were beaten up and threatened in Loharia, Hira Khadan Village in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh following allegations of hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus and desecrating their idol. At the time of writing of this report, one man was admitted in the hospital with grave injuries while another is detained in the Kalyanpura police station for more than 32 hours.

According to reports received, Prakash Ninama, a Hindu by birth who also attended Christian worship in the past, was working in his field when a stray bull trespassed his boundary. He threw a stone at the animal in order to drive it away but because Prakash Ninama was drunk, he missed his aim and his stone ended up at the Hindu idol of Nandi (Shiva's Bullock), breaking one of the idol bullock's horn.

The Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad has been carrying out a Shiva idol installation drive in the Jhabua area, in order to Hinduise the tribal population in the region and in the course of this many Shiva idols had been installed in the Village Hira Khadan too. One of these idols was placed right next to the field of Prakash Ninama and this was the idol that he hit by mistake.

Even though Prakash Ninama apologized for his mistake, the Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad made a communal issue out of it, citing his Christian past. Soon the police was brought in from the Kalyanpura Police station and Christians were interrogated by the police and activists of VKP.

According to reports received many Christians were also beaten up mercilessly. Hawa Ninama is one such innocent man.

He was working in his field when police constables came and summoned him, saying that the police inspector was calling him. As soon as he reached the spot, he found activists of the VKP waiting along with the police inspector of the area. They questioned him about the stoning incident.

When Hawa Ninama denied knowledge of it, they started beating him and hurling abuses. The police inspector motioned for him to get into the police jeep which he did and was taken to the police station where he was beaten again, this time by the police. He is hospitalized now, with grievous wounds.

For two days he was lying outside the hospital with drips being given to him, but no room or a bed was assigned to him, till some Christian leaders turned up at the spot and helped him secure a room.

When we spoke to Hawa Ninama he told us that the VKP activists kept pressurizing the police to beat him, saying, "If you do not beat him, we will have to do it." He informed us that about 150 activists of the VKP and its affiliates had descended in the village in no time in order to interrogate and threaten Christians.

We spoke to the TI (Thana In charge or the Inspector) of the Kalyanpura police station, Mr. Bhuria about the incident and he at first denied any knowledge of the incident. It was only when we supplied him with some information that we knew about the case that he accepted that there was an incident like this.

Mr. Bhuria clearly said that the VKP had communalized the issue and politicized it. He said that the Christian community was not at fault in this and that the incident was a mistake caused by a drunken man. Still the religious sentiments were hurt, he commented.

When we questioned him about Prakash Ninama’s detention in the police station for more than 32 hours, which is illegal for the law provides that the accused be placed before a Magistrate within 24 hours, he denied it and provided us with the information that Prakash Ninama is already in Jhabua jail after being presented to a magistrate yesterday i.e. 23rd September 2005. The Christians in Hira Khadan however deny this, saying that Prakash is still in detention at the Kalyanpura police station.

Mr. Bhuria also denied having any knowledge of attacks against Christians and at first said that he did not know any such incident with a person called Hawa Ninama. It was only later when we pressed him for the facts that he acknowledged that Hawa had been jostled with and that there was no injury. He denied any knowledge of Hawa Ninama being in the hospital, where he is for the past two days and that too in a serious condition.

We were informed by Mr. Bhuraia that Prakash Ninama had been charged under IPC 295, which states, "Whoever destroys, damages or defiles any place of worship, or any object held sacred by any class of persons with the intention of thereby insulting the religion of any class of persons or with the knowledge that any class of persons is likely to consider such destruction, damage or defilement as an insult to their religion, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both." IPC 295 is a non bailable offense, which means that there can be no bail available for the accused as long as the case against him goes on.

We managed to speak to Christian leaders in the area and one of them reported that the incident has succeeded in communally dividing the tribal community, which is animistic in the first place.

He said that the repercussion for the Christian community is already showing. Today i.e. 24th September 2005, six people belonging to the VKP threatened a Christian prayer meeting with dire consequences if they continued their prayers and worship services in the region. The attackers allegedly issued a threat to all the Christians in the region to stop all Churches and worship services in the region.

Situation is tense in the area and more violence against Christians is expected tomorrow which is a Sunday as many Christians will gather together for worship services despite warnings against it.

Jhabua district has been in focus for the crimes against the minority Christian community since 1997. The region has also been in the news following the controversial Narendra Prasad Committee report which cited census data from 1991 – 2000 and showing that the Christian population in the district had registered an 80 % growth. The report blamed Christian missionaries and government laxity for the huge numbers of conversions besides blaming Christian missionaries for last year’s confrontation between Christians and Hindu Fundamentalist groups opposing conversions in the district of Jhabua. There have been reports that the Madhya Pradesh government is considering strengthening the Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (Freedom of Religion) Act of 1968.

Christians account for just 170,381 of 60.3 million residents in Madhya Pradesh according to the 2001 census.