Thursday, September 08, 2005

India's first Christian University vandalised, worshippers attacked

From our correspondent

India's first Christian university in Uttar Pradesh remains closedafter 15 Hindu militants attacked worshippers on its campus on 4September 2005, injuring several Christians and damaging more than Rs10 million worth property.

The management of the Allahabad Agricultural Institute in Allahabad,a 95-year-old Christian institute of higher learning, said theuniversity would "remain closed for an unlimited time till normalcyis restored."

"On September 4 when the Sunday worship began, there were more than7,000 believers gathered," Mani Jacob, general secretary of the AllIndia Association for Christian Higher Education, said. "As soon asthe worship began, about 15 outsiders suddenly trespassed into theworship place, mounted the platform where the leader of the worshipwas praying and started destroying the objects on the platformespecially the Holy Cross and musical instruments among otherthings," he added.

Mani Jacob said several worshippers were injured in the attack andproperty worth Rs 10 million (about US$ 229,000) was damaged. Theattackers also burnt down one ambulance and one jeep belonging to theuniversity.

During the attack, the militants shouted anti-Christian slogans andbegan attacking worshipers who tried to restrain the attackers fromdestroying sacred objects on the stage. "It is difficult to say howmany worshipers were injured, as there was a total chaos at the timeof the attack, following which all returned to their homes. However,one person fainted after he was attacked. He was later taken to anearby hospital," Jacob added.

Ironically the police arrived at the venue and arrested Christianbelievers for the attack. "The police filed charges against theleaders of the worship service," RB Lal, Vice Chancellor of theuniversity, said. Lal accused the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremistgroup, of organising the attack and misguiding the police.

The Hindu group and the police had not yet reacted to the claims.However human rights activists said the Institute had been attackedby "anti-Christian forces" ever since it started organising worshipservices in 1998 amid accusations of converting people toChristianity. "There is no question of conversion here. We are merelysharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ as He has commanded us. People getpeace in life and are healed of their diseases when they listen tothe Gospel," Lal explained.

However the protestors, including violent mobs had attacked theuniversity property, destroyed vehicles, looted the hostels andattacked the staff members and even exploded bombs on the campussince 2000. "This is an attack on religious freedom of the minoritiesand all secular values upheld by the citizens of India. If suchattacks on the Holy Cross, the Bible and worship services are allowedto go unpunished and if the police take no action against theoffenders, great damage will be done to the secular frame work of thecountry," Lal cautioned.

According to university officials, the latest attack was apparentlylaunched by a violent mob from outside the university campus.Referring to the protests held by some students demanding that theuniversity's courses secure recognition of the All India Council forTechnical Education (AICTE), they said," The Institute recognised in2000 as "a Deemed University" by the Indian Government does notrequire any approval from the AICTE to start Technical Degree/Diplomaprogramme. As a Deemed University the Institute enjoys all powers andprivileges of a university, including the right to frame and startnew courses and award degrees of its own."

Lal appealed to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the UnionHome Minister "to take immediate action to apprehend the culprits andensure confidence and security to the Christian community ofAllahabad and also the campus community of the Deemed University."

The Institute was established by the Missionary Sam Higginbottom in1910 in Uttar Pradesh's Allahabad city to "feed the hungry, save theland." Thousands of agricultural scientists of several generationsand innovators have emerged from the first Christian university inthe country.

In keeping with the motto of the institute, Lal and his colleaguesstarted the "Yeshu Darbar" (The Court of Jesus) university programmeseven years ago. Under the programme, religious worship is organisedevery day on the campus and especially on Sundays attended bystudents, teachers, staff families and people living nearby.