NEW DELHI, December 27 (Compass Direct News) - Hindu extremists burned down a church in India on Saturday (December 23), arrested carol-singers on Christmas Eve and disrupted yuletide services in several states. One Christian suffered a fractured hand, and another lost his hearing.
Extremists burned down a thatched church in Boriguma area, Koraput district of Orissa state on Saturday night (December 23), preventing church members from celebrating Christmas there. The congregation had already decorated the building for Christmas festivities, but everything was destroyed in the fire.
Asit Kumar Mohanty, state representative of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said GCIC was investigating the incident to determine who was responsible.
On Christmas Eve, about 45 jeeps full of Dharma Sena members circled through the streets of Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh state, announcing that they would close down all church services held on Christmas Day.
"Dharma Sena is a Hindu fundamentalist group supported by the VHP and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party state government," Arun Pannalal, general secretary of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, told Compass.
"They had already carried out several attacks in the week before Christmas," he added. "These public threats are just another step in their campaign to rid the state of Christians."
Later on Christmas Eve, Pastor James Ram and 10 other Christian missionaries were beaten and arrested after singing carols in Jalampur, a remote shanty town in Dhamtari, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Raipur in Chhattisgarh.
Members of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal attacked about 20 Christians who had gathered in a church in Jalampur; they stormed into the church, beat some of the Christians and destroyed hymnbooks and Bibles.
Five Christians were injured in the attack; one suffered a loss of hearing due to a blow to his head, while a Bible school student’s hand was fractured, according to a GCIC report.
"The missionaries were caught bribing poor Hindus in a slum colony to convert to Christianity," the Times of India reported, quoting Bharat Singh, superintendent of police in Dhamtari. "They were promising people economic help and jobs in exchange for conversion."
Pannalal told Compass that the charges of forced conversion were false: "The Bajrang Dal members were simply annoyed by the chanting of Christmas carols."
Ram was released by about 10:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and the other believers were released by 6:30 p.m. on Christmas Day.
The arrests have heightened communal tension in the Dhamtari area; in the past few days, Dharma Sena and Bajrang Dal members have been out patrolling the streets, according to Pannalal.
Prayer Service Disrupted
Hindu extremists also prevented tribal Christians in Tilonda village, Thane district of Maharashtra state, from celebrating a joint Christmas prayer service on Christmas Eve.
Over 400 Christians had gathered for the event.
Before the service could begin, however, a large mob from the local Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad barged into the assembly, shouting slogans against Christianity and driving the Christians away from the prayer hall.
Fearing further violence, church officials canceled the event.
According to Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice-chair of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission, there were three other incidents of violence against tribal Christians in Thane district in the week before Christmas.
Mathai had written to local police asking for protection for the Christmas Eve prayer service.
"The police were present, but they did nothing when the extremists arrived," Mathai said.
'Reconverted' to Hinduism
The Hindu extremist group Dharam Jagran Samiti (DJS or Society for Religious Revival) yesterday (December 26) claimed it had "reconverted a large number of Christians" in Agra district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Asian News International reported.
"Those Hindus who had converted to Christianity, or those who were lured into joining it by Christian missionaries, were called here to return back to the Hindu fold with respect and on equal terms," said Gajeshwar Singh, regional chief of the DJS.
On December 23, police asked the Good Shepherd Community Church (GSCC) in Agroha, Hisar district, Haryana state not to celebrate Christmas.
"Some people, seemingly belonging to the Bajrang Dal and VHP, lodged a complaint in the Agroha police station alleging that the curch was converting Hindus," the Rev. Reginald Howell of the GSCC told Compass.
He said the complaint was filed when the church members were singing Christmas carols in the church.
Following the compaint, the police summoned seven Christians, including the pastor of the church, identified only as Romi, and interrogated them. They were released after the village head requested the police.
"The Christians were called to the police station against on December 24 and ordered not to conduct any service on Christmas," Howell said. "However, after representatives of the Christian Legal Association of India intervened, the police allowed the church to celebrate Christmas," he added.
In the only positive report, officials prevented an anti-Christian rally in Dangs, Gujarat, on Christmas Day, heading off further violence.
The All India Christian Council (AICC) has thanked the chief minister of Gujarat state, Narendra Modi, for preventing anti-Christian violence in Dangs district during Christmas.
AICC Joint Secretary Samson Christian said the heads of both Dangs and Bhavnagar districts refused permission to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to hold a massive rally in the region on Christmas day.
The rally was announced after eight statues of local gods were desecrated by unknown persons on December 14. Hindu extremists blamed Christians for the sacrilege and announced plans to hold a rally in the area on December 25.
Christians asked local authorities to ban the event, since previous rallies in the area at Christmas time have resulted in violent attacks. In a rally held during Christmas week 1998, Hindu extremists destroyed several Christian churches and institutions and attacked many individuals.
"Tight police security was maintained in the Christian-dominated areas, particularly the tribal district of the Dangs, which has a history of Hindu-Christian clashes during Christmas celebrations," The Hindu daily newspaper reported.