Sunday, September 24, 2006

Christian forum cries foul over attack

HT Correspondent

Bhopal, September 22, 2006

THE CHRISTIANS in the state are facing increasing persecution with even indoor prayer assemblies not safe from attack of fundamentalist organisations, Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh Christian Forum alleged on Friday.

Citing two recent incidents, the forum Chairperson Indira Iyengar alleged that innocent Christians are being targeted and implicated in false cases. A widow and a pastor, who claimed to be victims of alleged police excesses in Balghat and Seoni recently, narrated their plight at a press conference here.

The Forum earlier submitted a memorandum to the Governor in this regard. Iyengar alleged that Bajrang Dal activists stormed into the house of Rekha, resident of Balaghat, who had invited pastors for prayer on September 10.

"The Bajrang Dal activists had brought idol of Goddess Durga with them and smashed it in the house and later charged the pastors of converting Hindus", she said.

Rekha was forced to sign on blank papers by police. The pastors have been denied bail ever since. "I was threatened that they would kill my child, set my house ablaze and lock me up if I did not sign on blank papers", said Rekha, a Hindu, who insisted that they were never coerced for conversion.

She said her husband used to call pastors for prayer but the family was never offered any money or enticed for conversion. The other incident occurred the same day in Seoni. Harun Jonathan, a pastor, alleged that they were praying in a house in Barghat (Seoni) with other Christians when the police conducted a raid at night on the pretext of 'information regarding conversion activity'.

"The activists of an organisation Jagran Dharam Seva were with the police and they beat those in the assembly, abused all and dragged us to the police station where we were asked to leave the place immediately", said Harun, who has been living in Barghat since 22 years. "A false case was registered against us and we were forced to sign on the papers", he alleged.

"However, no action was taken on our complaint against the Jagran Dharam Seva activists", he further said. Vijayesh Lal, Associate Coordinator, Centre for Human Rights, Evangelical Fellowship of India, charged the police with openly supporting the Bajrang Dal. He said even the lawyers and notaries associated with Bajrang Dal tried not to let the victim, Rekha, present her affidavit regarding the incident.

The forum memorandum to the Governor Dr Balram Jakhar alleged atrocities on Christians in the state. "The hate-ideology has permeated deep in the system", said Indira Iyengar, who demanded urgent action to stop such actions.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gujarat Anti-conversion amendment

Amendment to Gujarat Anti-Conversion Act passed

Gandhinagar, Sept. 19 (PTI): A bill to amend Gujarat's anti-conversion law to allow conversions between different sects of the same faith as well as between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism was today passed in the state assembly by a voice vote amidst protests by the opposition Congress.

The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 also clarified the meaning of "forced conversion" and to whom the anti-conversion law should apply.

The amendement said "to convert means to make one person renounce one religion and adopt another; but does not include one who renounces one denomination and adopts another denomination of the same religion".

This implies there would be no government intervention in case of conversion from Shia to Sunni or from Protestant to Catholic.

Significantly, the same yardsticks will apply to conversions between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as the government considers these religions as a whole.

Under the amendment to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, a person does not have to seek permission to convert from one sect to another of the same religion.

The opposition protested over the bill considering Buddhism and Jainism as being part of Hinduism.

The anti-conversion law was passed in 2003 by the assembly, but was not implemented as the government could not frame rules. Under the law, Hindus cannot convert to Islam or Christianity without permission from authorities.

Opposition leader Arjun Modhvaida accused the government of trying to play politics on the issue.

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Gujarat clubs Jains, Buddhists with Hindus

GANDHINAGAR: For three years, the Narendra Modi government sat over a Bill seeking to regulate religious conversions, even after it was passed by the Assembly and had the governor’s consent.

Nothing came in the way of the law, apart from the chief minister’s own inhibitions to figure exactly how he could further consolidate his image as the Hindutva mascot.

Finally, on Tuesday, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill (Amendment) Bill, 2006, with the amendment, coming after three years of conflicting legal opinion being balanced with political and ideological motives.

Amid protests by an outnumbered Opposition, the Bill went through, along with an important newly added clause which clubs Jains and Buddhists with Hindus, in the same manner as Shias and Sunnis on one hand and Protestants and Catholics on the other.

It virtually means conversions between Jains and Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, and Hindus and Buddhists can happen easily, without government’s permission.

More importantly, a Hindu who decides to become a Buddhist, would not be called a convert. Ditto for a Protestant seeking to become a Catholic, or vice versa, and a Sunni becoming a Shia or vice versa.

The curbs are on crossing the faith-lines between Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Surprisingly, Sikhs are not even mentioned in the draft.

But if a Hindu wants to become Christian — the main target for Modi — the district magistrate has to be informed first. Christian community leaders are livid that the law is now on the verge of being enforced.

"The Bill is extremely draconian and unconstitutional," said Jesuit-activist Father Cedric Prakash, Minister for state for home Amit Shah, who introduced the Bill, said Jainism and Buddhism were "construed as parts of Hinduism".

During the discussion on the Bill, an appeal was made by a hardline BJP MLA and former state for home Gordhan Zadaphia, to also club Sikhs with Hindus.

It is learnt that the government had indeed toyed with the idea of describing Sikhs as "part of the Hindu family", but dropped the proposal fearing protests.

Shah refused to comment on the issue. Arguing that the amendment would not stand legal scrutiny, leader of opposition Arjun Modhvadia said: "Buddhism was given the status of a separate religion by the National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992. As for Jains, they were given the same status by a division bench of the SC in 2004."

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In Gujarat, convert within 'your family'

GANDHINAGAR: The Gujarat assembly on Tuesday passed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Bill (Amendment) Bill, 2006, as the Narendra Modi government courted controversy by clubbing Jains and Buddhists with Hindus, in the same manner as Shias and Sunnis come under Islam and Protestants and Catholics under Christianity.

Despite the Governor's approval to the Bill in 2003, the law was never enforced as the government took time in framing rules centred around who should be called a convert and who should not.

If the 2003 Act, seeking to stop coercive conversions, had broadly defined conversion as "renouncing one religion to adopt another", Tuesday’s amendment seeks to classify the conversions and exempt from its ambit those who switch from "one denomination to another within the same religion".

Minister Amit Shah, who introduced the Bill, said Jainism and Buddhism were construed as parts of Hinduism and that persons of these denominations do not need to take an official permission to convert to Hinduism and vice-versa.

During the discussion on the Bill, a fervent appeal was made by BJP hardliner Gordhan Zadaphia to club Sikhism also with Hinduism.

The government indeed toyed with the idea of describing Sikhs as "part of the Hindu family", but dropped the proposal fearing large-scale protests.

The debate, peppered with the BJP benches frequently shouting "Vande Mataram", "Bharat Mata ki jai" and "Hindu virodhi hai hai", saw Congress MLA and ex-minister Babu Meghji Shah, a Jain, regretting that his religion was deprived of the minority status.

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Gujarat's Anti-Conversion Act amended


The Gujarat Assembly has passed amendments to a state law, allowing conversion between different sects of the same faith and between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.

The amendment is made to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, which awards three years' imprisonment and a fine of up to 100,000 rupees for anyone converting a person "by use of force or any fraudulent means."

The law also says that if the converted person is a minor, a woman, a dalit or a tribal, the jail term can be up to four years.

But the amendment that the legislators passed re-interpreted the meaning of conversion in the law.

It said conversion means "to make one person renounce one religion and adopt another; but does not include one who renounces one denomination and adopts another denomination of the same religion".

It would mean the law would not object conversion from Shia to Sunni or from Protestant to Catholic. It also thus allows conversions between Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as the government considers these religions part of the same religious system.

Opposition leader Arjun Modhvadia protested considering Buddhism and Jainism as part of Hinduism.

He opposed the government stand that Jainism and Buddhism are denominations of Hinduism just as Shia and Sunnis are of Islam or Catholicism and Protestantism are of Christianity.

Modhvadia alleged that whenever elections were due, the Government came up with such bills. Before the Lok Sabha elections (2004), the Government brought the Anti-Conversion Bill. ‘‘Now the government is targetting 2007 Assembly elections,” he said.

Although the law was passed in 2003, it was not promulgated since the government could not frame rules. Christians leaders had opposed it saying it was aimed at harassing missioners working interior villages of the state.

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Conversions among sects of same faith allowed in Gujarat

 No intervention for conversion from Shia to Sunni
 Bill clarifies "forced conversion" and to whom law will apply

Gandhinagar: The Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday passed by voice vote, amid Congress protests, a Bill to amend the law to allow conversions among different sects of the same faith as well as among Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill 2006 also clarified the meaning of "forced conversion" and to whom the anti-conversion law would apply.
The amendment said: "To convert means to make one person renounce one religion and adopt another; but does not include one who renounces one denomination and adopts another denomination of the same religion."
This implies there will be no government intervention in case of conversion from Shia to Sunni or from Protestant to Catholic.
Significantly, the same yardstick will apply to conversions among Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism as the Government considers these religions as a whole.
Under the amendment to the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, a person does not have to seek permission to convert from one sect to another of the same religion.
The Opposition protested against the Bill, which considers Buddhism and Jainism as being part of Hinduism.
The anti-conversion law was passed by the House in 2003, but was not implemented as the Government could not frame rules. Under the law, Hindus could not convert to Islam or Christianity without permission from authorities.
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Monday, September 18, 2006

Parents allege Christianity being thrust upon wards

BANGALORE: A moral education programme for students at Ryan International School near Whitefield has snowballed into a controversy, with parents alleging that ideas about Christianity were thrust on children along with literature that was misleading and insulting to other faiths.

Angry parents said that speakers at the programme emphasised Christianity, urged the children not to go to temples. Some parents claimed that students were told it was important for all of them to attend church.

The trouble began when the students of Ryan International School returned home on Thursday and some of them informed their parents about their activities during the day, including the message.

Some concerned parents tried to meet the principal, but the situation turned volatile when a Hindu right-wing group joined the fray.

Its activists reportedly went on a rampage in the school and burnt the literature that had been distributed. The group also warned school authorities that the matter would be take up with the education department.

Pramod Reddy, one of the parents, has lodged a complaint with Mahadevpura police, who have registered a case under Section 295 A of the IPC — deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.

School authorities, however, claim the programme was a routine part of the school's events and nothing was stated to incite communal discord.

"We invite people from various fields to speak to our students on moral values. Speakers include those from top IT firms and even retired Army officers,"junior school headmistress Seema said.

The police said they were looking into the allegations made by the parents.

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Pastors attacked and falsely accused in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh

Reported by Vijayesh Lal

16th September 2006:

Violence against Christians is registering an upsurge again in Madhya Pradesh. While the incidents of violence and false cases against Christian pastors in Balaghat and Seoni shook the state on the 10th September 2006, Christians were again attacked on the 15th September 2006, this time in the Jhabua region which is already infamous for attacks against the minority.

Around 12:00 in the afternoon, while around 20 Christians were having a quite prayer gathering at the house of Pastor Kapsingh in Machlia village, Jhabua District, they were attacked by around 40 people who alleged that Pastors Kapsingh and Ray Singh were converting people in these meetings.

Both Pastors were physically assaulted being badly beaten by wooden sticks and sustained some grievous injuries. The attackers also attacked the congregation as a result of which the congregation was dispersed and had to flee. They also ransacked Pastor Kap Singh’s house.

Some of the congregation members went to the near by Kali Devi police station where the police refused to file an F.I.R. against the attackers. The police waited for the attackers to bring both the Pastors to the police station for more than an hour. The attackers on the other hand brought both the Pastors to the Police station beating them all the way and the police stood by as a silent witness.

The Pastors were accused and charged under the sections 295 A, 294, 506 of the Indian Penal Code and under the sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act. This was a classic case of the victims being framed again. They were later on granted bail the same day.

When we spoke to the Superintendent of the Police at Jhabua, Mr. Joga, he informed us that both Pastors have been creating trouble since they claim that Jesus Christ can heal people of the rapidly spreading disease known as Chicken Gunia in the tribal belt and have been distributing coconut oil guised as healing oil.

He also informed us that the Pastors were encouraging people to read the Bible to solve all their problems and that it amounts to an inducement to convert. When pointed out by us that it can be simple religious preaching that every citizen of India has a right to, he had no answer.

This is not the first time that Ray Singh or Kap Singh have been attacked or accused by the fundamentalists in the area. Early in March this year Kap Singh was beaten up by fundamentalists for the crime of praying for a sick girl on her father's invitation. The mob had also beaten up the father of the girl for this,

Situation in Jhabua has been worsened by the creation of a front called the Bhagat Samaj. Essentially it is the Bajrang Dal in disguise. The Bhagat Samaj strives to make the area Christian free. It is backed up and supported by RSS and BJP cadres and is headed by a man called Khum Singh Maharaj who had told a secular probe panel investigating charges of conversion in Jhabua that, "the seventy thousand members of my samaj would beat the hell out of the missionaries and chase them out of this district". He had supported the BJP in the last elections.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hindu activists massacre Dalit Christians in Jharkhand

From our correspondent

A dozen Dalits, including six members of a Christian family, are feared dead after Hindu militants attacked them as part of a violent campaign against Christians in Jharkhand on 28 August 2006.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), a major advocacy group, said six persons belonging to a Dalit Christian family were killed on a riverbank near Shivbigha village located in Palamau district of Jharkand on 28 August 2006. Militant Lalan Paswan of a nearby village along with his accomplices stormed the house of Ram Dinesh and captured all the seven family members, including four children.

GCIC, which has close contacts with local Christians in the region, said the militants accused the family of practicing voodoo and dragged them to the bank of the Sone River where they disappeared. Palamau Police Superindent Udayen Kumar Singh said the search for the bodies was going on. "Although the bodies were not found, the blood stains at six different places on the river bank lead to the conclusion that the criminals killed these people in cold blood and dumped their bodies in the river," the police official said.

Ram Dinesh, the only survivor, is undergoing treatment in a local hospital. More details about the victims are yet to be made available.

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More Christians Attacked in Madhya Pradesh, India

28 cases filed against pastors, evangelists since January.

MUMBAI, September 15 (Compass Direct News) - Attacks against Christians in Madhya Pradesh continued this week, with Hindu extremists attacking at least three Christian gatherings.

A total of eight Christians were accused of attempted forced conversion or hurting Hindu religious sentiments. One was released without charges and four were released on bail, while another three remain in police custody.

On Tuesday (September 12), police in Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh, detained Assemblies of God pastor Venkatesh Kumar Sadhu after extremists accused him of attempted forced conversion.

A family in Ghama Thana village had asked Sadhu to visit their home and pray for a sick family member. While he was praying, members of the Hindu extremist group Bajrang Dal arrived, attacking the pastor and damaging his scooter.

The Bajrang Dal then filed a complaint against Sadhu, and the pastor was taken to the local police station for questioning at around 9 p.m. When the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) was informed, EFI representatives phoned the police station on Sadhu's behalf. The police assured EFI of their cooperation and released Sadhu just after midnight, claiming there was not enough evidence to substantiate the charges.

The police further admitted that Hindu extremists were pressuring them to prosecute Christians such as Sadhu.

Attack in Seoni District
Two days earlier, on Sunday (September 10), police arrested Pastor Haroon Jonathan and several other Christian family members in Bhargat village, Seoni district, Madhya Pradesh, after extremists interrupted a house church meeting.

Around 70 extremists burst into the church that Sunday and attacked the congregation. They dragged Jonathan and his wife Anita out of the house, along with in-laws Sunil Prem and his wife Sunita.

The extremists apparently belonged to a new splinter group, the Jagran Dharma Seva or "Service to Awaken Faith."

Mohan Singh Patel, inspector of the Bharghat police station, told Compass that the four had been detained for hurting religious sentiments, promoting religious animosity and "forced conversion" under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act.

Local sources told Compass that the police claimed to have a tape recording of Jonathan urging people to get rid of any idols or pictures of Hindu deities.

Patel said a local resident, Anoop Prajapati, had accused the Christians of encouraging villagers to eat beef - forbidden for Hindus - and telling them that they would die if they worshiped Hindu gods and goddesses.

"The people naturally got furious and brought them to the police station," Patel said. "We have registered the case, and we are very sure that the charges are correct."

The four accused have since been released on bail.

Attack in Balaghat District
In a separate incident on Sunday (September 10), a mob of around 40 Hindu extremists attacked about 15 Christians who were worshipping in the house of Rekha Bai Kawde, a Christian convert in Balaghat city, Madhya Pradesh.

Accusing the Christians of forced conversion, the mob took Kawde and two evangelists - Durga Prasad Vanshpal and a man identified only as Niware - - to the police station, where they were detained. The police apparently pressured Kawde to give a statement saying she had been forcibly converted.

The three Christians were still in jail at press time.

"These attacks on Christians while they are praying must be condemned in the strongest terms," said Dr. John Dayal, secretary of the All India Christian Council. "This only confirms that the police and justice system are totally biased in favor of Hindu extremists."

Since January of this year, extremists have filed a total of 28 cases against pastors and evangelists in Madhya Pradesh.

The number of reported incidents has risen sharply since the state government passed an amendment to the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act on July 25, making the law more stringent.

In response, EFI issued a statement this week that Director General of Police Swaraj Puri had assured them that proper legal procedure would be followed in all cases. This included medical tests for any Christian who complained of being assaulted.

The EFI and other Christian bodies such as the Global Council of Indian Christians will closely monitor police activity in the state in coming weeks to ensure that Christians are treated fairly, as dictated by the Indian constitution.

Miscreants ransack church, 1 rounded up

Express News Service

Amritsar, September 14: A GROUP of miscreants ransacked the St Paul's Church situated at the Court Road here, destroying the equipment used in Sunday worship and making away with some of the consecrated objects, including the cross - the religious symbol of Christians.

The local Christian community held a meeting at the church premises this morning, in which prayers were offered and the act denounced. The police, on the basis of a complaint filed by Rev Uday Singh, presbyter incharge of the Church, have registered a case against Balwant Rai, Satpal, Joginder Pal and a few others residing nearby.

Sources said the incident took place around midnight and the miscreants entered the church by breaking open one of the windows in the vestry (office of the presbyter incharge). The miscreants broke the brass railings, used for the Holy Communion ceremony, broke the glass window, chandeliers, strewed the books used in worship all over, desecrated the Holy Bible and stole the cross on the altar and money from the collection box installed in the church. Rev Uday Singh, while talking to ENS, said the incident came to his notice this morning when he came to open the doors of the church. "The scene inside was one of utter chaos such as I had never witnessed before and was really shocking. I summoned the members of the pastorate committee managing the church and together we informed Bishop P K Samantharoy, and later the police," he said.

He added that police had sent a dog squad to the spot, while the cops also took fingerprints of the accused. Edwin Paul, secretary, St Paul's Church, stated that soon after inspecting the church premises, the dogs deployed for the investigation dashed to the place where the accused resided. "We suspect that this is their handiwork as earlier too they had been involved in such activities," said Edwin Paul.

When contacted, SSP Amritsar S S Srivastava said a case had been registered in this regard and an investigation into the matter too had been initiated. He further stated that there was no communal force behind the incident and the whole episode appeared to be the handiwork of a few miscreants, one of whom had been rounded up by the police. "Investigations are being held and whoever is found guilty will not be spared," he said.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Christians attacked and falsely accused in Madhya Pradesh

Reported by Vijayesh Lal

New Delhi, 11th September 2006:

Two places in Madhya Pradesh, both close to each other but in different districts saw violence against the Christian community by members of the Jagran Dharma Seva, a Hindu Fundamentalist Group. The attacks took place when prayer meetings were going on.

Balaghat City, Madhya Pradesh:

10th September 2006: In Sarekha area of Balaghat city, Sunday worship was being conducted at the home of one Rekha Bai Kawde with around 15 people attending the small worship service that was held in her house, when all of a sudden they were all attacked by around 40 people at about 1:00 pm in the afternoon.

The attackers turned their wrath on visitors who had joined the small group that day and severely beat Durga Prasad Vanshpal and one Mr. Niwade, both Christian evangelists. They were visiting Rekha Bai that day on her request to pray for the sick for healing.

The attackers then dragged the two evangelists and Rekha Bai to the police station, beating them on the way as well.

According to local sources, women police were used in the police station to beat and to terrify Rekha Bai. The police in connivance with the attackers ordered her to lodge a complaint against the two evangelists. The police and the attackers reportedly threatened her of burning her house and killing her son, if she refused to file a complaint.

Local sources also revealed that since Rekha Bai is a widow, she succumbed to the pressure and agreed to do as the police officials asked her to do. She was asked to state that the two evangelists had asked her to convert to Christianity and also to break Hindu idols.

The point to be noted here is that the deceased husband of Rekha Bai used to attend Christian worship services with her, which she continued after his death. Local sources confirmed that Rekha Bai in all these years has never been pressurized by any one in the Christian community to change her religion although she was always welcome to participate in the worship services as is the custom of the church towards anyone who wishes to participate.

We spoke to the Additional SP Mr. Tilak Singh Thakur and he explained that the evangelists were charged under Sections 295 A and under section 4 of the Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam of Madhya Pradesh. Section 295 A is a non bailable offense.

Barghat, Seoni District, Madhya Pradesh

On the same day i.e. 10th September 2006, at about the same time Pastor Haroon Jonathan of Barghat in Seoni district was attacked by around 70 people. These people also claimed to be associated with the Jagran Dharma Seva.

Pastor Haroon has a small house fellowship every Sunday in his own home where people gather for Christian worship. At the time of the attack around 40 -50 people were present at Haroon’s home. The crowd reportedly beat Haroon and members of the Church in which Haroon suffered a wound on his head.

The attackers then called the police which was apparently a set up that they had arranged previously and took Haroon, his wife Anita, his sister in law Sunita and Sunita's husband Sunil to the police station.

According to eye witnesses the police station was surrounded by workers of the BJP who forced the police to lodge an FIR against Pastor Haroon and the rest.

We spoke to the police who claimed that they have evidence recorded which points out that Haroon made derogatory remarks against Hindu Gods and goddesses. Accordingly he and the others have been booked under IPC Section 295 A, Sector 153 A, Section 294, Section 34 and Section 4 of the Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam of Madhya Pradesh.

The accused were supposed to be presented before the Magistrate on the 11th of September as is the procedure but according to sources the Magistrate has gone on leave and thus the Christians would be in remand for some more time.

Meanwhile the police conducted a search at Pastor Haroon's house late night on the 10th September 2006. Noteworthy is that they conducted the search without a proper search warrant. They conducted the search after sunset which is generally not allowed. The search was conducted without even one woman police personnel, which is against the directive of the law, given that there were mostly women in the house when search was conducted. Not only this, the police brought with them the local TV and print media in order to show off their bravado.

One of the local media persons on conditions of anonymity shared that it was nothing more than a propaganda exercise on the part of the police and BJP workers for all that they could recover were religious tracts and not material which hinted at forceful conversions or even was derogatory to other religions.

More threats received

Meanwhile reports have been coming in from both Balaghat and Seoni districts that threats have been issued to Christian pastors in at least 6 more areas. This clearly points out to a well planned strategy by the saffron brigade to provoke the minority community and to trouble them.

Jabalpur district which is not very far from these two areas has been in the eye of the storm this year as far as the attacks and false cases against Christians have been concerned, criticized even by members of the National Commission for Minorities.

All this does contribute to the fast growing realization that the BJP in Madhya Pradesh is indeed using the administration and its machinery in a false witch hunt against the minority communities in the state with only one aim and that being to please its constituency.

BJP members attack Lucknow convent

Lucknow, Sep 10 (IANS)

Members of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) youth wing Sunday allegedly stormed into the Loreto Convent school here and threatened the nuns in the wake of 'Jesus Christ's' appearance in an occult show.

The sisters, who live on the school campus, said they were taken by surprise when a group of 30 to 40 men carrying BJP flags broke open the locked gates of the school and began damaging the property.

For about 15 minutes, the men broke windowpanes of offices and the chapel, smashed flowerpots and raised slogans against the 135-year-old school for allowing a man to claim he had turned into the lord.

School principal Sister Tressia said: 'Initially, I rushed out and appealed to them with folded hands not to indulge in violence, but then some of them attempted to charge at me. I hurriedly rushed inside and bolted the door from inside to call the police.'

She said, 'They then started smashing the glass panes on doors and windows with wooden rods and stones, and also flung our flowerpots on to the windowpanes of the school chapel.

'Fortunately, the police arrived on the scene following which they ran away and we were spared.'

The attackers carried placards and posters condemning the school and accused the principal of 'forcing' students to participate in religious rituals, allegedly with the intent of luring them to conversion - a charge vociferously refuted by the school authorities, students and parents alike.

Reacting to the controversy over a prayer meeting in which a special invitee of the school miraculously turned into 'Christ' on Sept 6, she said, 'There was nothing shady about that special assembly.'

Sister Tressia defended the occult show. 'It was one of our spiritual assemblies where our aim is to let the children have an experience of god. And here was this man with divine powers who was brought by a parish priest from West Bengal to provide that experience.'

She clarified that 'participation in the assembly was absolutely optional and we had made it clear to all students and teachers that they were free to leave if they so desired'.

However, Tressia admitted, 'probably on account of the shock, one or two girls fainted, but they were back shortly thereafter and even their parents have no complaint on that count.'

'A rickshaw-puller until about seven years ago, Nobo Kumar Mandal acquired miraculous healing powers with which he not only cured his own kidney failure, but also thousands of people who visit his centre in a rural pocket of Krishnanagar in West Bengal.

'He came here with father Sebastian, a well known parish priest from Murshidabad in the same state,' she added.

Father Sebastian later told IANS from Murshidabad, 'I fail to understand why you all are suspicious.'

'Mandal really has miraculous healing powers. You have to see to believe that the lord actually descends on him to bless those who seek his blessings,' he claimed.

The Association of Catholic Educational Institutions has decided to keep its schools closed Monday as a mark of protest against the attack, association secretary Father Paul Rodrigues told reporters.

© 2006 Indo-Asian News Service

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Hindu Extremists in India Trap, Beat 60-Year-Old Evangelist

Death threats issued to him and his wife, who was also beaten.

MUMBAI, September 8 - Hindu extremists investigating the activities of Varghese Thomas, an evangelist in Karnakata state, laid a trap for him on Sunday (September 3), before beating him and his wife. Thomas is 60 and his wife, Leelama, is 57.

At the end of August members of extremist Hindu groups in Subramanaya district began making discreet inquiries about Thomas and his ministry. They questioned his associates about reported conversions to Christianity taking place in Guttigar, Thomas' home village in the district.

Thomas had been preaching in Guttigar for the previous six months, establishing a small congregation that meets in a believer’s home.

Sensing that trouble might be brewing, Jyothi Premananda, a member of the local village council, called a meeting on Sunday (September 3) between Thomas and the Hindus who objected to his preaching in the village. The meeting was held in Premananda's house, about three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Thomas' home.

At around 7:30 p.m, Thomas and his wife left by car for the scheduled meeting. After traveling about half the distance, they saw the apparent victim of a motorcycle accident lying in the middle of the road, with a fallen motorcycle just a few meters away.

As it was dark, Thomas could not gauge the severity of the accident, so he left his car to assist the victim.

As soon as Thomas bent over the victim, however, the man threw red chili powder into his eyes, temporarily blinding him.

A group of around 15 Hindu extremists hiding in the bushes nearby then jumped out and assaulted Thomas.

"They pounced on me with sticks and wooden clubs," Thomas told Compass. "I couldn't even stand as they kept hitting me. They also accused me of tricking people into coming to the prayer meetings by promising them a better life."

Thomas insisted that while he had helped some of the poor Christian families who attended the meetings, he had never used financial or material assistance to pressure them to convert.

"I watched in horror as they attacked my husband," Leelama said. "I was helpless as there were so many of them."

The extremists also issued death threats to the couple during the attack. "One of them came up to the car and told me that both of us would face a cruel death if we continued to preach in the village," Leelama explained.

The mob then left – taking the couple's wristwatches and cash with them.

Thomas and Leelama filed a complaint at a local police station, but at press time no arrests had been made.
Other Attacks

A few days earlier, on September 1, a group of around 25 extremists attacked Pastor John Prabhu of the Assembly of God church at Belthur, in Bangalore, dragging him out of a prayer service in a private home. They beat Prabhu and then took him to a nearby Hindu temple, where they forced him to bow before statues of Hindu deities – spitting on his face when he initially refused to get down on his knees.

The mob then took Prabhu to nearby Kadugodi police station, where he was detained for questioning.

Prabhu had been praying for a newborn baby in a church member's home when the attack took place.

According to Dr. Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the mob brought a false witness to the police station to accuse Prabhu of attempted forced conversion. The police then held Prabhu for several hours, thus depriving him of medical treatment for his injuries.

Hindu extremists also attacked a pastor in Madhya Pradesh on September 2.

Pastor Shanti Lal was arrested in his home for conducting prayer services and detained at the Gogawan police station in Khargon district. Following pressure from the GCIC, the charge of attempted forced conversion was finally dropped, but other charges under the Indian Penal Code were retained.

Fellow pastor Patras Habil said Lal had been conducting prayer services in his house church since 2001 without incident.

"He was arrested on Saturday night and could not be granted bail on Sunday, so he was detained until Monday morning," Habil said. “Then he was released on a bond of 5,000 rupees (US$108).

Local Christians say a recent surge in such incidents may have been triggered by changes to the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Christians Accused of Concealing Identity Attacked in India

Further assaults feared; another arrest in Madhya Pradesh for 'forcible conversion.'

NEW DELHI, September 6 (Compass Direct News) - A leader of the Hindu militant group Bajrang Dal on Sunday (September 3) led an attack on a church in Jammu and Kashmir state where about 20 members, including seven Christians facing charges of "concealing identity" and "forcibly conversion," were attending the worship service.

A local Christian leader who requested anonymity told Compass that about 40 extremists stormed the worship service at 11 a.m., pulled out Pastor P.R. Anthony and started slapping him. Anthony is based at the Christian Education Institute in the Shivagiri area of Kathua district.

The leader of the mob was Sushil Sooden of the Bajrang Dal, said the source. "The extremists came with some people who were seemingly press reporters, as they were carrying cameras," he said.

After attacking Anthony, the mob started beating worshipers and shoving women who were in an adjacent prayer hall. Congregants began running helter-skelter.

Police arrived within five minutes, and the attackers fled. No one received major injuries.

The accused are scheduled to appear in court on September 16 to face charges of concealed identity and forcible conversion of a Sikh youth.

Tense Atmosphere

The source also said that a police official from outside the jurisdiction area visited church members and advised them not to give names in the police complaint, saying it could lead to further attacks on them and their family members.

He said Christians had lodged a complaint at the Kathua police station, but station house officer Rajendra Khajaria told Compass he had not received any complaint.

"If the attackers are identified by the victims, we will surely take action against the culprits," Khajaria said. "In the meantime, I have intensified the patrolling in the area."

The source said the Christians were frightened as the situation continued to be tense at press time.

Anthony and another pastor, Reji K. Sunny, and five Bible students - Umesh Kumar, Tarsan Chand, Samuel Masih, Kamal Jeet and Baldev Raj - were detained by the Kathua police station last Thursday (August 31) on charges of concealed identity and forcible conversion. They were released on bail the following day.

The Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, staged several rallies against Christians in the area during the last week. (See Compass Direct, "Seven Christians in India Arrested for 'Concealing Identity,'" September 1.)

At the same time, several Hindi newspapers, such as Dainik Jagran, published articles accusing Christians of forcibly converting Hindus.

A newspaper claimed that Pastor Anthony had forced a person belonging to the Sikh faith to cut his hair and remove the turban. The pastor denies the allegation.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India and the All India Christian Council expressed concern over the attack.

Madhya Pradesh Arrest

In Madhya Pradesh state, police in Khargone district on September 2 also arrested a 25-year-old Christian worker, Shantilal Chainsingh, for alleged "forced” conversions.

Kailash Dawar, a member of the Madhya Pradesh state Human Rights Commission, told Compass that some villagers of Gogawa, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the district headquarters of Khargone, complained to police that Chainsingh was converting Hindus by force. Chainsingh is an evangelist from Tamil Nadu state.

Dawar said police jailed the evangelist on Sunday (September 3) under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, or anti-conversion law. He was released on bail the following day.

Also in Khargone district, Hindu villagers with the encouragement of a village chief on May 28 gang-raped two Christian women after their families refused to denounce Christianity at Nadia village in the district's Bhagwanpura block. (See Compass Direct, "Hindu Villagers Gang-Rape Two Christian Women in India," June 2.)