Sunday, October 29, 2006

Christians in India Beaten for Refusing to 'Reconvert'

Attackers remain at large despite being named in police complaint.

NEW DELHI, October 27 (Compass Direct News) - Ostracized by their village for the past year, two converts of a church in Madhya Pradesh state's Shahdol district have been beaten for their refusal to return to the Hindu fold.

Santu Prasad Barmaia and Kunjan Prasad Barmaia, both farmers and members of a Gospel for Asia church in Paralia village, were attacked by a group of 12 villagers on October 19.

The attack took place in the morning, when the two were on their way to their fields, a local Christian requesting anonymity told Compass. Both men suffered internal injuries.

Police have not arrested the culprits, the source said, in spite of the fact that the victims named them in a complaint filed at the Amarkantak police station.

Police officials could not be reached for comment.

The source explained that villagers were angry with the Christians for declining to participate in Hindu rituals since receiving Christ four years ago. "The villagers had been persistently putting pressure on them to 'reconvert' to Hinduism," he said.

He added that in the past year villagers have refused to allow the two men, the only Christians in the village, to take water from the hamlet's common well to pressure them to return to Hinduism. In spite of their limited resources, the Christians dug their own well.

"Earlier, some miscreants vandalized a Hindu temple in the village and the blame fell on the Christians," the source said. "Later, however, police investigation revealed that they had not done it. Yet the villagers continued to treat them with contempt."

Beaten Pastor Jailed
In Barghat village in Madhya Pradesh's Seoni district, Pastor Haroon Jonathan continues to languish in jail after police officials failed to fulfill a promise to release him on bail.

Jonathan faced charges of "hurting religious sentiments" and "forced conversion" after he was attacked by Hindu extremists in September. Still recovering from his injuries, he turned himself in to police on October 15 after officers promised that he would be bailed out the following day.

But submission of formal charges is a prerequisite for obtaining bail, and police did not file them before courts shut down for Diwali (Hindu festival) from October 18 to October 26, said another local source. At press time it was not clear when the charges would be formally filed.

Jonathan and several other Christian family members were arrested on September 10 after some 70 Hindu extremists allegedly belonging to the Jagran Dharma Seva ("Service to Awaken Faith") burst into the house church and attacked the congregation. (See Compass Direct News, "More Christians Attacked in Madhya Pradesh, India," September 15).

They dragged Jonathan and his wife Anita out of the house, along with in-laws Sunil Prem and his wife Sunita.

The four were detained for hurting religious sentiments, promoting religious animosity and forced conversion under the Indian Penal Code and Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, or "anti-conversion law." Police claimed to have a tape recording of Jonathan urging people to get rid of any idols or pictures of Hindu deities.

The Christians were released on bail, but two more cases were filed against Jonathan, and he was declared as "absconding."

On October 18, about 600 local Christians held a rally in Seoni district to protest the increasing attacks in Madhya Pradesh. Jonathan was supposed to have been one of the leaders of the rally.

New Believer in India Arrested, Urged to Frame Pastor

Local police under intense pressure to file charges against owner of prayer meeting home.

MUMBAI, India, October 26 (Compass Direct News) - Police this morning arrested a recent convert in Mayapuri, Madhya Pradesh state for the second time in three days in an apparent attempt to pressure him to give evidence that his pastor forcibly converted him. By nightfall in India, the new believer was charged with "insulting religious beliefs."

Dewas Gate police again detained Ramesh Thakur, 37, at 9 a.m. after having arrested him on Tuesday (October 24) and releasing him the next day after intense questioning. The pastor of his church in the Mayapuri area of Ujjain district, Jagdish Bharti, had been arrested last June on charges of "insulting religious beliefs" and is still fighting those charges, with his next hearing set for Monday (October 30).

R.R. Malvi, police in-charge of the Dewas Gate police station, told Compass that Thakur would continue to be detained while investigations are underway. When Thakur, his pastor and others were arrested on June 4, he was released the same day on bail after four hours of interrogation without being charged.
The church holds Sunday prayer meetings at the home of Thakur.

"On Tuesday the police barged into Ramesh Thakur's house and ordered him to produce all house documents," Pastor Bharti of the Bethel Fellowship Church told Compass. "However, since he did not have any papers on hand, they took him to the police station, where he was threatened with dire consequences if he were shielding me."

The pastor added that police officials inquired, in an intimidating manner, whether Thakur was given the house as an allurement to become Christian.

Though Thakur has not yet been baptized, he received Jesus as savior six months ago and has been praying and worshiping at the Bethel Fellowship Church since then. Bharti told Compass that since their arrest on June 4, the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, have subjected them to insults, abusive language and threats.

Political Pressure to Charge Christians
Dilip Akodiya of the Bethel church told Compass that officer Malvi informed him that he was under tremendous political pressure to charge Thakur.

Viju Varghese, Global Council of Indian Christians coordinator in Madhya Pradesh, told Compass that the RSS had offered Thakur 25,000 rupees (US$552) to implicate Pastor Bharti in a charge of "allurement" to convert.

Indira Iyengar, a former member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, told Compass "The harassment of the Christians just keeps spiraling upwards. Pastor Jagdish and Ramesh Thakur have been continuously harassed by the police, as well as by the Bajrang Dal."

Bharti and 15 other Christians had been arrested on June 4 after a mob of Hindu extremists stormed their home prayer meeting in Mayapuri and dragged them to a nearby temple to force them to bow before local gods.

Pastor Bharti was charged with insulting religious beliefs "with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging” religious feelings. (See Compass Direct News, "Pastor in India Arrested after Attack by Hindu Extremists," June 7.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Christian hospital targeted in Chhattisgarh

The Chhattisgarh government is targeting a Catholic voluntary health service in Ambikapur diocese after some people charged it with illegal conversion activities, a Church official has said.

Since 1995, the Raigarh-Ambikapur Health Association has been functioning from Pathalgoan. The government of undivided Madhya Pradesh state had entrusted it with its Integrated Child Development Services program in one of the 19 Blocks in the district of Surguja.

"It has functioned wonderfully well. So much so in the years 1999-2000 this NGO had received state's Birsa Munda award. Satisfied with its works, the MP government had decided to entrust it with yet another Block namely, Odgi Block in Surguja, the same responsibility," a diocesan official said.

But "the picture is totally different" now because of motivated allegations of some fanatic groups that accuse the voluntary group of "conversion activities" in the villages where it works.

"Inquiries were made from Raipur and even from central government. But their report was in our favor. Accusations of conversions were proved baseless," the Church official said. However, the state government has taken some steps against the organization, the officials said.

Since April 2006 some 340 employees were denied of their salary. There are two Religious Sisters belonging to St. Joseph of Lyons Congregation working for of the program, appointed by the government. Seventeen supervisors work under them, who are in charge of 327 workers and co-workers spread out in villages.
The government has taken steps to terminate the two religious sisters and 17 supervisors saying that they are improperly appointed. However, the 327 village workers will not be removed from their job, diocesan officials said.

The diocese of Ambikapur was erected on December 14, 1977 by dividing Raigarh-Ambikapur diocese. The diocese is co-extensive with the present civil districts of Surguja and Korea in the northern part of the State of Chhattisgarh.

Click here for source

Friday, October 06, 2006

Disinformation Campaign against Christians in Jaunpur

Disinformation Campaign against Christians in Jaunpur, UP

The Times of India (Lucknow) reported on 5 Oct 2006 at 0257 hrs on its online internet edition that “Over 300 villagers adopt Christianity” in Belhara village in Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh. The report further went on to mention that 350 men and women embraced Christianity in a conversation ceremony held on Oct 3rd. There could not be a worse misrepresentation of facts here.

The only iota of truth in the entire news report was that a gathering of a large number of people had taken place on the 3rd, in the home of Sanjay Singh. Some were Christians and some non-Christians who had voluntarily assembled from the nearby villages in Kudupur, who had come together for prayer. Some of them may have been first generation converts, but none of them had embraced Christianity that day in that particular prayer meeting held in the home of Sanjay Singh.

Distorted versions of similar news have been featuring everyday in the local edition of the Hindi newspaper, Dainik Jagran since October 3rd. This is inciting the radical Hindutva outfits such as the Vishva Hindu Parishad to take up the issue and with the help of the local authorities bully the local Christian leaders.

On October 4, a large team of 70 people including police and VHP personnel barged into Sanjay Singh’s home in order to question him and his involvement in the alleged ‘conversion’ meeting. Apart from the evangelist, Rajendra Chouhan who was leading the prayer meeting on the 3rd, Sanjay Singh was perceived as the ‘co-accused’ since the prayer meeting was being held in his home.  They went on to take Sanjay to the police station known as the Kotwali Line Bazaar. He was questioned extensively regarding the prayer meeting and his willful conversion to Christianity was raised up as a big issue. The officials threatened him to go back to the faith of his fore-fathers, and if he didn’t he may have to face ugly consequences. Further, bribe was demanded of him if he wanted to leave the police station that night.

The next day on October 5, another team of investigating officers landed up at Sanjay Singh’s home. They alleged to have proof regarding his involvement in forceful conversion of villagers of the area, and that they would check the water well since sources had tipped them off that statues and idols of Hindu gods had been thrown into the well. A thorough investigation by the police team revealed no idol in the well. Incensed at not finding anything, the VHP people present along with the investigating officers broke down portions of the wall of Sanjay Singh’s house.

The fact of the matter is that due to rash and biased reporting by a national daily, the lives of many Christians in Jaunpur district are in danger. There are several Christians who have been have been taken in for questioning on October 6, in an unjust manner in Badlapur Police Station, also in Jaunpur district. The four men: Rajesh, Sangram, Rajpath and Lalman were beaten up and interrogated as if they were hardened criminals. The only thing against them is that they are Christians who were present for the meeting on the 3rd at Sanjay Singh’s home.

At this moment, Sanjay Singh and his home need protection from Hindutva radical forces. Sanjay Singh was taken in for questioning again today, October 6th, and still hasn’t been released by the authorities.

At this moment evangelist, Rajendra Chauhan needs protection for his regular prayer meetings held on Saturdays (10 am – 4 pm) and on Sundays (10 am – 2 pm) held in Kudupur - Bagcha, of Jaunpur district. The VHP people have warned the Christians that they will carry out a re-conversion ceremony on October 8th, and bring back all the converted Christians residing in the area, back to the Hindu fold.

Vijayesh Lal
Associate Coordinator
Center for Human Rights
Evangelical Fellowship of India