Saturday, January 28, 2006

Christian leaders locked up on false charges at Jabalpur on Republic day

By Vijayesh Lal

Three Christian leaders belonging to the Church of Nazrene were arrested Thursday the 26th January 2006 at Jabalpur on grounds of indulging in forced conversion of tribals.

According to sources, in a well-planned move by the local unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh affiliated Dharama Raksha Manch (or Religion Defence Platform) two Christian leaders residing in the Civil Lines area of Jabalpur and one Christian leader from Dindori, close to Jabalpur, were falsely accused by the Hindu fundamentalists of forcibly converting and attempting to forcibly convert 23 tribals from Dindori.

The local police acting on the directions of Sudhir Agarwal of Dharam Raksha Samiti conducted a raid on the Gurudev lodge in Madan Mahal area of Jabalpur in order to scare the tribals who had voluntarily put up at the lodge to spend the night while on their way to attend a Christian convention organized by the Church of Nazarene at Nagpur city in Maharashtra. The tribals were going to participate in the convention by their own free will from 27th January 2006 onwards.

After conducting the raid at the lodge, the police under the leadership of City Police-Inspector Siddarth Chaudhary arrested the three Christian leaders namely Pravin Pawar, Sanat Pawar and Maclin Masih. They were arrested and put into custodial lock-up where they were till the writing of this report.

The three Christians have been accused and booked under Section 420 and Article 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Ordinance. The police have also confiscated Christian literature, documents related to the Church of Nazrene and 35 passenger tickets of a private bus agency.

Anti-Christian reports appearing in the regional media have made the situation critical as it may lead to a flare up in the situation leading to further attacks on the Christian community. According to these completely one-sided and biased reports investigations have revealed that 23 tribals were being taken from Dindori district to Nagpur to forcibly make them participate in a convention of the Christian community in order to convert them forcefully. False allegations of enticing the tribals to Christianity by lure of money and under the pretext of taking them for sight-seeing have been levied by the police on the falsely accused Christians.

When we spoke to the Police Inspector Mr. Siddharth Chaudary, he maintained that the Christians arrested had conspired to convert the poor tribals by luring them for sightseeing and promising them physical healing through prayer during the convention.

Mrs. Indira Iyengar, member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minority Commission spoke to us where in she informed that she too had spoken to the police officials in Jabalpur and they had appeared biased against the Christians. When Mrs. Iyengar questioned a senior police official as to why the Christians had been arrested when the tribals were going to Nagpur of their own free will, she did not receive an answer. The police also kept mum when Mrs. Iyengar questioned them as to how three Christians can force 23 tribals to travel to a place they did not want to go?

As the misinformation against Christians was spread by the Hindu fundamentalists among Hindus living in and around the Gurudev lodge, a large mob of Hindus, mostly mobilized by the Dharma Raksha Samiti, gathered together and beat the Christians black and blue. They continued to thrash the Christians even as the police tried to register a case against the Christians. Activists belonging to the militant wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak sangh shouted anti-Christian slogans while all this was going on and tried to incite communal frenzy.

However when we spoke to Mr. Chaudhary, he denied reports that the Christians had been beaten up even though this was reported in the local media.

The situation in Jabalpur continues to be volatile and the Christians are fearful that this wave of anti-Christian violence against them may increase in the days to come.