Saturday, March 18, 2006

Tensions Mount over Attacks on EMI Work in India

Hindu extremists offer bounty for the heads of Emmanuel Mission officials.

NEW DELHI, March 15 (Compass) - A concerted attack on Emmanuel Mission International (EMI) orphanages, schools and other ministries in Rajasthan intensified this week when the state welfare minister, Madan Dilawar, said he should be stoned to death if his government effort to take over EMI's properties failed.

The statement came less than a month after the state unduly revoked the licenses of an EMI Bible institute, orphanage, school, hospital and church in the northern state. According to the Hindi daily Rajasthan Patrika, Dilawar on Monday (March 13) said also that he should be stoned if he is unable to "take action" against EMI's founder, Archbishop M.A. Thomas, and his son, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Thomas.

Hindu extremists on March 3 offered a reward of $26,000 each for the heads of Archbishop Thomas and his son. The same day, M.S. Kala, additional director of the Department of Social Welfare of Rajasthan, ordered district collectors to take over EMI institutions and froze their banks accounts, according to Rajasthan Patrika.

The next day, however, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje stepped in to halt the attempted takeover.

A representative of EMI in Delhi who requested anonymity told Compass that the Registrar of Societies gave a three-day notice before revoking the registrations of their institutions on February 20 "on the pretext of violation of procedures required by the laws related to societies."

After EMI officials responded to the allegations, they were told that their reply was unsatisfactory and all their licenses were revoked.

EMI operates under five registered societies: Emmanuel Bible Institute Samiti, Emmanuel Anath Ashram (Orphanage), Emmanuel School Society, Emmanuel Chikitsalaya (Hospital) Samiti, and Emmanuel Believers Fellowship. EMI leads a native church movement receiving aid from Columbus, Georgia-based Hopegivers International for humanitarian and educational work with over 10,000 children.

One Child Dead

Authorities have taken some measures to protect EMI institutions.

"The state administration has now deployed police at all the institutes of the mission to ensure the protection of their workers," Jacob Matthew, administrator of the Emmanuel hospital, told Compass.

Matthew also said that Kota District Collector Niranjan Arya today (March 15) gave him assurances that he would not allow the patients in the hospital, and the 2,500 children at the Kota orphanage, to suffer due to the tensions. The Emmanuel Hope Home in Kota is funded by Hopegivers International.

On February 2, a mob of Hindu extremists attacked an EMI orphanage in Tindole, resulting in the death of one child and the stoning and beatings of children, staff and local clergy. On February 10 in Ramganjmandi, a Hindu mob burned to the ground an EMI school and orphanage. According to mission officials, local police warned the head of the EMI school and orphanage in advance that they would not stop the violence.

Also on February 10, police in Kota notified Emmanuel Seminary that they would not provide security for the graduation ceremony of 10,250 students and advised Archbishop Thomas to cancel or postpone it. More than 8,100 students relocated their graduation ceremonies to cities in southern India.

After the license of EMI's Kota orphanage was revoked, a gas agency had stopped providing fuel at subsidized rates. Emmanuel Hospital administrator Matthew said Arya, the Kota district collector, assured him that the supply of gas for the orphanage would be provided at the lower price as before.

Hindu extremists on February 25 called for a boycott of the orphanage, ending legal aid from lawyers and food from merchants for the children. EMI officials said that on Febrary 27, building inspectors were being recruited to find fault with the orphanages, schools and church buildings in order to have them condemned and torn down and replaced with yoga centers and Hindu temples.

Tensions began on January 25, when Archbishop Thomas and his son received anonymous death threats warning them not to hold the annual graduation ceremony for hundreds of orphans and Dalit Christian students scheduled for February 25. The ceremony was postponed in the wake of the threats and attacks.

On February 20, V.S. Thomas, officer in charge of the Hope Center Orphanage in Raipura, and R.S. Nair, mission chief operating officer, were detained without charges. During the arrests, police stood by as an accuser beat one of the men, according to Hope International.

In Sanganer on Febraury 22, extremists vandalized a mission school, closing it as elementary school children tearfully ran home, according to Hope International. Two days later in Jaipur, Hindu extremists desecrated and vandalized the Jhotwara Emmanuel Secondary School and Church building, the organization said.

Systematic Campaign

A visit from a fact-finding delegation of parliamentary members from the Communist Party of India (Marxist) may result in the return of EMI bank accounts. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on Monday (March 13) gave assurances to the delegation that he would take steps to revive the bank accounts of EMI frozen by the Rajasthan government.

Archbishop Thomas and his son, meantime, have gone underground after non-bailable warrants were issued against them for being the alleged distributors of a book called Haqeeqat (The Truth, or Reality), which the Hindu outfits alleged denigrates their religion and deities.

Under Indian law, hurting religious sentiments of any religious community is punishable offense. Moreover, according to a Supreme Court ruling, truth is not a defense under this law, Section 153(a) of the Indian Penal Code.

Archbishop Thomas' attorney, Mohammad Akram, told Compass that EMI had nothing to do with the controversial book, written by attorney M.J. Matthew in the southern state of Kerala. "A few books were kept at the Emmanuel Mission center at Kota for sale, and no one had read the book - otherwise they wouldn't have kept it at their center," Akram said.

The Sangh Parivar, a family of organizations affiliated with the extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, is using the controversial book as a pretext for carrying out a systematic campaign against minority groups, Suresh Kurup, head of the parliamentary delegation told Indian Catholic News Service.

Kurup told the news service that the attacks seemed to be "a planned operation," as the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Sangh Parivar aimed to close EMI institutions permanently.