by Vijayesh Lal
NEW DELHI, September 27 (Compass) – Hindu extremists on September 22 attacked and threatened several Christians in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh state, accusing them of desecrating a Hindu idol.
One Christian was admitted to hospital with grave injuries following the incident, while another was detained at the Kalyanpura police station for over 32 hours.
An extremist Hindu group, the Vanavasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP), had been carrying out a Shiva idol installation drive in the Jhabua area to reinforce the status of Hinduism. One of these idols was placed next to Prakash Ninama’s field in the village of Hira Khadan.
According to Compass sources, Ninama was working in his field when a bull strayed onto his property. He threw a stone in order to drive it away – but because he was drunk, he missed the animal and hit the Hindu idol of Nandi (Shiva's Bullock) at the edge of his field. The impact broke one of the idol’s horns.
Ninama is a Hindu, although he had attended Christian worship services from time to time.
He apologized for his mistake, but the VKP took issue over it, citing his "Christian" past. The police arrived and interrogated several Christians – who were then beaten mercilessly by the VKP activists.
One of those beaten was Hawa Ninama, who was also working in his field when several policemen approached him and said the chief inspector wanted to talk with him. When he reached the roadside, VKP activists were waiting along with the police inspector.
When Hawa Ninama denied breaking the idol, the VKP activists struck him and verbally insulted him. The police inspector then motioned for him to get into the police jeep. He was taken to the police station where he was beaten again, this time by the police.
Later that day, Hawa Ninama was taken to hospital with serious injuries. He was put on an intravenous drip and was left in a corridor for two days, until fellow Christians arrived and helped him to secure a room.
When Compass spoke with the victim at the hospital, he said members of the VKP had repeatedly asked the police to beat him, saying, “If you don’t beat him, we’ll have to do it.” He also claimed that about 150 VKP members had descended on the village with the police, interrogating and threatening Christians following the damage done to the Shiva idol.
The inspector in charge of the Kalyanpura police station initially denied any knowledge of the incident. When Compass supplied evidence, however, he admitted that the VKP had politicized the issue and that the Christian community was not at fault.
By this time, Prakash Ninama been held at the police station for over 32 hours. The law requires the accused to be placed before a magistrate within 24 hours or released. When confronted with this fact, Kalyanpura police replied that Ninama had been presented to a magistrate on September 23 and was already in Jhabua district jail.
Officials said Prakash Ninama had been charged under the Indian Penal Code, Section 295, for defiling an object of worship. Offenses under Section 295 are non-bailable, meaning that bail cannot be secured for Ninama while the case is pending.
Christian leaders in the area said the incident had divided the tribal community along religious lines. On September 24, six VKP members threatened Christians who were holding a prayer meeting in Jhabua district. The extremist group told believers to stop meeting together or face dire consequences. The attackers allegedly extended the threat to all other churches in the district.
Several attacks against Christians have occurred in Jhabua district since 1997. Tensions were further highlighted following the release of the controversial Narendra Prasad Committee report in May. (See Compass Direct, "Indian State To Tighten Control on Conversions," July 26.)
Prasad's report claimed the Christian population in Madhya Pradesh had grown by 80 percent from 1991 to 2000. Prasad blamed Christian missionaries and government laxity for the "huge" numbers of conversions.
The Madhya Pradesh government is revising the Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (Freedom of Religion) Act of 1968, in an attempt to stem conversions in the state.
Christians account for just 170,381 of 60.3 million residents in Madhya Pradesh, according to 2001 census figures.