NEW DELHI, October 18 (Compass) - Hindu extremists stormed the annual convention of a church in Raipur on Saturday, October 15, alleging that organizers had kidnapped tribal people for conversion. Returning the next day, they manhandled Christians and shouted anti-Christian slogans.
The attackers belong to the Dharam Sena (Army of Religion), an offshoot of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) formed by Dileep Singh Judeo, a local leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Dharam Sena had earlier attacked two other churches in Raipur, the capital of Chattisgarh state, on September 11.
The October 15-16 attacks took place during the last two days of the "Gospel and Revival Convention" of the Church of God in Raipur’s Raja Talab area. About 150 people were attending the convention, held from October 11 to 16.
The Church of God has been organizing its annual convention for the last 47 years. The church was established in 1948.
"A group of extremists from the Dharam Sena broke into the hall at about 1:30 p.m. on October 15 when prayers were being offered for the sick," said Arun Pannalal, an eye witness and a local Christian leader belonging to the Church of North India. "As soon as they entered, they accused the organizers of kidnapping tribal people to forcibly convert them to Christianity."
Tribal people are India's original and most impoverished inhabitants.
"As soon as the police arrived on the scene, the miscreants pointed towards three women on the stage alleging that they were kidnapped by the Christians for conversion," said Pannalal. When the organizers asked the police to register their complaint, they replied that the complaint would be registered only after the three women were interrogated.
Police took the three women to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) for their statements. "The SDM videotaped the interrogation of the three women," he said, "but the women clearly denied that they were under duress or that they were lured by the organizers."
Nevertheless, on Sunday about 70 extremists returned to the convention at about 11 a.m. and again shouted anti-Christian slogans at the gate of the church, Pannalal said, charging that two more persons were kidnapped by the Christians for conversion.
"They also beat up an unidentified man who fled from there – we don't even know if he was a Christian," he said. "They also slapped and manhandled several Christians using abusive language, but no one has been hurt."
Seeing that the extremists were not listening to the police, the SDM ordered them not to gather at the church. "However, instead of arresting the miscreants, the police asked them to sit in a bus and took them to Moti Bagh, a place the district administration has designated for demonstrations and protests," said Pannalal.
The police had not filed charges against the extremists at press time.
Kaviraj Lal, a local member of the Christian Legal Association of India, said state home minister Ram Vichar Netam told media that no charges will be filed before police investigate.
"It is unfortunate that, although the local newspapers have carried the story about the disruption of a peaceful Christian meeting and manhandling of Christians on their front pages, the administration has not even registered a formal complaint yet," Lal said.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI (M), denounced the attack on the church, accusing the ruling BJP of causing division through its affiliates, reported Hari Bhoomi, a local daily in Hindi, on October 18.
The CPI (M) also said that Christians and other religious minorities in Chattisgarh were not safe under BJP rule, while the religious extremists were gaining ground.
Christians in Raipur organized a rally in September to protest increased attacks on churches in the state. The rally came in the wake of the September 11 attacks on two churches in Raipur in which extremists destroyed property and struck worshipers (See Compass Direct, "Christians Protest Church Attacks in Chattisgarh, India," September 20).
A delegation of local Christians has submitted a memorandum of protest to the state home minister, who gave assurances that he would promptly look into the complaints of Christians.