Sunday, September 17, 2006

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.