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.