Saturday, April 22, 2006

Violence mars Holy Week celebrations

The Holy Week was marred by violence against the minority Christian community in different parts of India. The vicious trend seemed to suggest a systematic campaign against Christians and their institutions by the Hindutva elements to further intimidate them so that millions of Dalits and Backward Classes would continue to remain in bondage.

Pastor injured in attack

In Karnataka, 30 Hindu extremists belonging to Bajrang Dal attacked a church at Mangalore on Easter Sunday, seriously injuring its Pastor VP Paulose. He had to be hospitalised, requiring emergency treatment. In Madhya Pradesh, two Christian women were arrested for "promoting conversion" in Jabalpur on Good Friday. In Maharashtra, two pastors suffered serious injuries when 50 Hindu extremists of Vishwa Hindu Parishad barged into a prayer meeting of 500 Christians and assaulted them with chains and iron rods on 11 April 2006.

In the attack in Mangalore district, the Pastor belonging to the Living Faith Ministry at Bantaguri received severe head injuries besides fracture in his hands. His wife also was severely beaten up. The attackers threatened to harm the Christians if they continued their prayer meetings.

"About 10 people carrying cricket bats came to the prayer hall earlier in the afternoon inspecting the whole area and went back," Austin Mark (70) said. When the prayer meeting was over and only women and children stayed back to attend a special programme, the extremists returned with another 20 people and started asking whether they were converting Hindus.

Then they went about ransacking the hall, damaging chairs, the sound system including amplifiers, tables, LCD projector and musical instruments. "The extremists waited till all the men had left the venue to barge into the hall," one of the believers said. "They later locked the hall from inside and threatened the women and children with dire consequences."

Two women held for distributing pamphlets

In Jabalpur, two women were arrested for "promoting conversion". The police arrested Mariamma Mathew (36) and B Godwil (65) for distributing Christian pamphlets. They seized the literature from them.

According to the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act, anyone promoting religion or organising religious functions must obtain permission from the district collector. Jabalpur Superintendent of Police D Srinivas Rao said the women had not sought permission from him.

Indira Iyengar, president of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association, questioned how the women could be accused of doing anything illegal. "These women were merely distributing literature, which is not a crime," she said. "The police and the government are misusing the law to harass Christians and implicate them in false cases."

Senior police officials said they had yet to determine whether the pamphlets seized contained anything objectionable. "Even before verifying the documents, how could they arrest the two women. Constant victimisation of the Christian community indicates that the government is cooperating with Hindu extremist groups. Since the BJP came to power, the minorities are insecure as the police have the support of the administration," she said.
Rev Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said the arrest of two women "seems to be another blatant act of intimidation of ordinary citizens of this country by those who are meant to protect their safety."

Church vandalized

In Mumbai, two pastors received serious injuries when about 50 Hindu extremists belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad barged into a prayer meeting of some 500 Christians and assaulted them. The extremists also desecrated the Bible.
The Christians belonging to Living Light Fellowship Church had gathered for the prayer meeting in Khopte village in Uran, a township on the outskirts of Mumbai. According to Pastor Rev Joseph, the men entered the hall at about 4 pm and video-taped the entire worship session for half an hour. Then they came onto the dais and snatched the microphone from his hand, grabbed the Bible and accused him of converting people to Christianity.
"They slapped me and then thrashed me with chains, iron rods and sticks," the Pastor said. "My right arm was fractured, my right ribs were broken and my head was bleeding profusely." They also attacked other pastors present on the dais.

Soon after, the extremists began pelting stones at the assembly and snatching copies of the Bible. Pastor T Shekhar, who received three stitches on the left side of his head, said the extremists used foul language and demanded to know their contacts for "conversion activities."

The pastors were then dragged to Shankar Mandir nearby, where the Hindu extremists attempted to force them to worship. When they resisted, they were beaten up.

Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, said, "If so many anti-Christian incidents took place during the holiest week of the year, I question the secular fabric of this nation," he said. "The police neither provide protection to Christian assemblies nor prevent such anti-Christian violence. They are in fact are sympathisers of the fundamentalist elements."

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