By Vijayesh Lal
26th October 2005: According to reports received activists of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have been attacking Christians in the Banswara District of Rajasthan since a fortnight. The violent incidents against Christians have increased since the Tribal Christian welfare Society organized a Christian festival from the 25th October 2005. At the time of writing of this report physical violence against Christians coming to attend the Christian festival were still on. It is reported that nearly 50 incidents of beatings have occurred in the past 24 hours.
25th October 2005, Banswara - The Tribal Christian Welfare Society, an organization representing the tribal Christians in the Banswara (Waghad) Belt had organized revival meetings for Christians in the area. The meetings are held every year and are focused mainly on Christians as the emphasis is on revival. Usually the meetings are heavily attended with attendance escalating up to 15000 people. A few non Christians also attend the meeting in the hope of healing and miracles, which do take place.
This year too the Society after taking due permission from the administration had organized the meetings from the 25th – 27th October 2005. Pastor Benjamin a member of the society informed us, "The permission had been given and all the necessary paper work was done, but the RSS knowing that a Christian meeting was taking place issued a call for one of its own meeting just a week or two before this event in the same town."
"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." Pastor Benjamin said.
When we spoke to the Superintendent of Police Mr. Sanjeev Kumar Narjari, he confirmed the information saying that the RSS and its affiliates had alleged 'forcible conversions' in the meeting and had asked the government to intervene and stop the meeting.
"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." Mr. Narjari further informed us. He also told us that "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."
But in spite of all this the RSS and its affiliates were not satisfied. They started targeting the participants coming for the meetings. According to information received they placed their activists on all approach roads to the venue and whenever participants for the meeting came the Hindutva activists would beat them up and send them back. Within 24 hours nearly 50 incidents of violence against Christians have been reported from Banswara and reports are still trickling in.
This affected the participation in the meetings and only 3500 people could arrive the first day which was very less than anticipated according to the organizers. "The RSS people are everywhere, blocking roads, staging protests and beating up our people. 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." Pastor Benjamin told us.
He further added, "The RSS is checking baggage of all persons arriving in Sagwa (venue of the meetings) forcibly. If a Bible is found in their baggage they are beaten up and sent back. A team from Dahod (Gujarat) was coming to attend the meeting but the conductor of the State Transport bus, in which they were traveling, informed the RSS about the group. They were then dragged out of the bus and beaten up and sent back forcibly. The police are present at each place where our people are being beaten up, but they do nothing to stop the RSS people. Even if we plead with them, they ignore us"
When we spoke about this situation to the SP, Mr. Nirjari, he acknowledged the violence against Christians after much hesitation, but maintained that these were small incidents and that the police was able to handle these.
But the ground reality is far removed from this. After the beating many participants tried to contact the nearest police station to register their complaints but they were all turned away. The situation as one Committee member of the Tribal Christian Welfare Society says "is quite hopeless. We are safe in the venue for security arrangements are good here. But the RSS had a different game plan. Since the police had to protect us at the venue they gave the RSS a free hand on the approach roads to the venue. The aim of all of this is to spell trouble for Christians, one way or the other."
As the RSS was busy beating up the participants in Sagwa Village, else where in the Kushalgarh Subdivision also in Banswara District, five Catholic nuns were attacked and beaten up. They were attacked by VHP workers while they were waiting to board a bus for Udaipur.
A young person from a Hindutva run institution spotted the Nuns waiting at the bus stop. He soon left and arrived with a dozen more youths who were all carrying lathis (bamboo poles). By this time the Nuns had boarded their bus, but the young Hindutva brigade dragged them out of the bus and beat them severely. The most severely beaten up was Sister Rosario, 68 years old. The attackers fled when the passengers agitatedly objected to the nuns being beaten up. The Collector of area Gayatri Rathore said that 'the attacks were seemingly provoked by a notion that Christian groups were holding programmes to convert Adivasis (Tribals).' "Various Christian groups have now given it in writing that conversions are not on their agenda." she added.
Banswara District in Rajasthan has always been a place of turmoil for the Christians. Whether it be declarations by the VHP's General Secretary Mr. Giriraj Kishore of "declaring Banswara Christian free in three years time" on April 27th 1997 as recorded by the newspaper Asian Age; or incidents of physical violence against Christians where in Christian worshippers were forced to bow down and worship Hindu Idols (as recorded by the PUCL, India), life has never been easy for the Christian community there.
A new chapter of violence is being written now as this report is being drafted. It all started on October 16th 2005 as the Sangh Parivar organizations namely the VHP and the Bajrang Dal objected to a program organized by the Catholic Church in Rajasthan to mark the end of the Eucharist year celebrations, saying that the program was meant instead for Conversion purposes.
The Hindutva activists once again blocked the roads leading to the venue and beat up the participants who were on their way to attend the program. Even the Catholic Bishop of the Udaipur diocese, Joseph Pathalil was not spared and his vehicle was forcibly stopped and stoned.
27th October 2005: The tribal Christian welfare society was ordered by the administration to cancel its meeting late on the 26th October 2005. This was done as situation was getting worse as far as law and order were concerned.
So even after having all the necessary permissions the Christian community had to cancel their program. According to reports received, the Christians held a brief prayer on the 27th October morning for the victims of the attacks and closed the meeting. The participants are now returning back. The meetings which used to gather crowds to the capacity of 15 – 20 thousands could only manage 5000 this time, because of the successful implementation of the RSS strategy that could rightly be called aided by the police and the administration.