NEW DELHI, October 27 (Compass) – For nearly two weeks, Hindu extremists have been attacking Christians in the Banswara district of Rajasthan state, resulting in the cancellation today of the last day of a revival festival.
The violence accelerated on Tuesday (October 25), when the Tribal Christian Welfare Society's Christian revival meetings began in Sagwa village. At least 50 incidences of beatings have occurred since then. Late yesterday, government officials ordered the Society to cancel the remainder of the three-day festival because of escalating violence.
The Society annually organizes the festival, known for miraculous healings, with as many as 15,000 people usually in attendance. Only 5,000 managed to attend this year, as the Christians closed the festival this morning with a prayer for victims of the attacks.
In anticipation of the festival, the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) issued a call for a meeting of its own in the same area, according to a Society official.
"They then went on to bring many volunteers from different places and tried to disrupt the meeting by pleading to authorities to cancel the event as they were alleging conversions," he said.
Superintendent of Police Sanjeev Kumar Narjari confirmed the RSS activities, saying the group and its affiliates had alleged "forcible conversions" and had asked the government to stop the festival.
"At the behest of the RSS and its affiliates, the government authorities had demanded in writing from the Christian leaders that no 'forcible conversions' would take place in the meetings, and that the Christian leaders had given this to the authorities in writing." Narjari said. "The police would be videotaping the whole meeting to make sure that the people are not influenced in the 'wrong way' so that they may be converted by the Christians."
Nonetheless, the RSS and its affiliates targeted participants going to the festival, placing members on all approach roads to the venue, beating them, and sending them back.
As a result, only 3,500 people arrived the first day of the festival.
"The RSS people are everywhere, blocking roads, staging protests and beating up our people," said the Society official. "Many teams coming from distant areas have been beaten up and forced to turn back. Our only contact with the teams coming now is through phones, as the RSS is inflicting heavy violence."
He added that the RSS is rummaging through the baggage of all persons arriving in Sagwa. If RSS members find a Bible, they beat the owners of the baggage and order them back.
A team from Dahod (Gujarat) was en route to attend the meeting, but the conductor of the state-owned bus in which they were traveling informed the RSS. The Christians were dragged from the bus, beaten, and forced back.
"The police are present at each place where our people are being beaten up, but they do nothing to stop the RSS people," the Society official said. "Even if we plead with them, they ignore us."
Asked about the police's inaction, after much hesitation Superintendent Narjari acknowledged the violence against Christians but maintained that these were small incidents.
After the beatings, many participants tried to contact the nearest police station but were turned away. One committee member of the Society said the situation is "is quite hopeless."
"Since the police had to protect us at the venue, they gave the RSS a free hand on the approach roads to the venue," he said. "The aim of all of this is to spell trouble for Christians, one way or the other."
The latest spate of violence began on October 16, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, objected to a Roman Catholic program in Rajasthan to mark the end of the Eucharist year celebrations. The Hindu extremist groups said the program was meant instead for conversion purposes.
The activists blocked roads and beat participants on their way to the program. The Catholic Bishop of the Udaipur diocese, Joseph Pathalil was not spared, as the extremists stopped and stoned his vehicle.
Elsewhere in Banswara District, VHP workers in Kushalgarh subdivision severely beat five Catholic nuns after boarding a bus for Udaipur.
A young man from the Sangh Parivar, a Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) institution, spotted the nuns waiting at the bus stop. He left and returned with a dozen more youths, all carrying bamboo poles. By this time the nuns had boarded their bus, but the Hindutva group dragged them out of the bus and beat them.
The most severely beaten was a 68-year-old nun known as Sister Rosario. The attackers fled when bus passengers intervened.
An official from Gayatri Rathore area said that the youths apparently believed that Christian groups were holding events to convert tribal peoples. "Various Christian groups have now given it in writing that conversions are not on their agenda," she added.
Banswara District in Rajasthan has long been a place of turmoil for Christians. In April 1997, VHP General Secretary Giriraj Kishore threatened to make Banswara "Christian-free" within three years, according to Asian Age newspaper. In other incidents, Christian worshippers were forced to bow down and worship Hindu idols.
Source: Compass Direct