Friday, April 29, 2011

Hindu group alleges bias in listing India on 'Watch List'

Washington : The decision of the US Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to place India in the 'Watch List' of countries along with Russia, Afghanistan and Cuba raises questions of bias and flawed methodology, a Washington-based eminent Hindu group said here.

"USCIRF's decision to club India in with a dozen or so of the worst violators of religious freedom in the world, while overlooking others, again raises questions of bias and flawed methodology," Prof Ramesh Rao of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) alleged.

"The Commission's censure of India in 2011, despite that country's celebrated pluralism and absence of any significant recent religious discord -- despite provocative terror attacks -- seems based more on a disagreement over some states' effort to monitor coercive and forced conversions," Rao said.

The USCIRF decision, however, was not unanimous.

Commissioners Felice Gaer and William Shaw dissented, describing the listing of India on the watch list as "ill-advised and inappropriate".

HAF was the only organization invited to testify by USCIRF that demanded India's removal from the watch list, and its arguments were echoed by the two commissioners in their public dissent.

Besides Rao, the author of HAF's annual Hindu human rights report, Suhag Shukla, HAF's Managing Director and Legal Counsel testified before the USCIRF Commissioners in Washington last month arguing that India did not belong on the watch list due to its robust human rights mechanisms and independent judiciary that comprehensively probed incidents of inter-religious violence.

They insisted that the "predatory proselytizing" supported by many US churches vitiates inter-religious harmony in India as well as other countries and must be considered in any comprehensive analysis of international religious freedom, a media release said.

"We are disappointed that the compelling evidence we presented did not move the majority of commissioners away from their deeply flawed assumptions about India," Shukla said.

"But continuing to call out bias within quasi- government bodies, such as USCIRF, that lack Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh representation and bringing to light the damaging role that predatory proselytization plays in inter-religious relations around the globe are guiding principles and imperative for HAF," Shukla said.

Shukla and Rao offered evidence of the Constitutional and legal accommodations provided to India's minorities, including the existence of separate personal and family laws for Muslims and Christians, governmental subsidies for the annual Haj pilgrimage for Muslims and the right of all religious communities, except Hindu, to independently control their respective places of worship free from government interference.

They also highlighted India's affirmative action policies and reservations in government and educational institutions, intended to afford economic and social advantages to religious minorities.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tribal Christians attacked in Maharashtra

MUMBAI: A group of unidentified men barged into the homes of Christian tribals at Dasturipada in Palghar during Easter celebrations late on Sunday and attacked them with sticks. One of the tribals sustained a fracture in his hand, said an eyewitness. The Palghar police have registered a case.

The attack comes three days after a mob disrupted Maundy Thursday prayer service at Devkuppada in Palghar. No arrests have been made in both the cases. Following Thursday's incident, police forces have been deployed in large numbers at Devkuppada, which is only 2 km from Dasturipada.

Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the Maharashtra state minorities commission, said, "Ever since a newspaper carried a report on mass conversions, tribals are being assaulted."

Said one of the tribals, "I have not stepped out of my house since the attack on Maundy Thursday. We are living in fear."

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

15,000 Christians Protest on Good Friday in India

Around 15,000 Christians walked, many barefoot, for six hours in the streets of Mumbai, India, on Good Friday enacting Jesus’ walk to the Cross and condemning growing attacks on the minority community.

This 24th Annual Lenten Walking Pilgrimage was held especially to give hope to and express solidarity with the persecuted Christians, the event’s chief organizer Joseph Dias told The Christian Post.

The gathering comprised of Christians from evangelical as well as mainline Protestant churches “apart from the Catholics, who formed the majority,” said Dias, who leads the organization behind the rally, Christian Revival Oriented Social Service.

“The mammoth serpentine procession of devotees wended its way through the city fasting and praying, some walking bare-foot and thereby embracing pain, to commemorate the first and final walk Jesus undertook over 2000 years ago,” said Fatima Corriea, the media assistant of CROSS.

Dias said around 10,000 Christians joined the march as it began from Sacred Heart Church in Khar in the suburb of Mumbai, India’s financial capital and the base of India’s film industry Bollywood, at 10.30 a.m. (local time). “Christians kept joining along the way and the numbers swelled to around 15,000 at the end.”

The Christians marched acting out the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and finally His passion at the cross. “The likes of such a penance which normally happens in the Philippines or Latin America, came alive as the Passion Play of Christ was dramatized.”

“However, no one inflicted pain on their bodies; they just fasted and walked barefoot,” Dias clarified. The objective was to highlight the “increasing and continued attacks on Christians, including their organizations, institutions, property and businesses, and especially the plight of women and children who suffer more than the direct victims in the aftermath of persecution.”

Dias, who also heads the Catholic Secular Forum, a group which fights Christian persecution in India, pointed out that the incidence of anti-Christian violence was high mainly in the states of Karnataka, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, whose capital is Mumbai.

In these states, Christians also face false charges under anti-conversion legislation and other laws, Dias complained. Freedom of religion acts, known as anti-conversion laws, are in force in five Indian states. Vaguely defined, some of these laws require prior permission from authorities for any religious conversion.

Christians, around 2.3 percent of the country’s population of over 1.2 billion, came under attack after the Rightwing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party won the 1998 general election. The attacks were part of a BJP’s strategy to compel the people to vote along communal lines and thereby gain an edge over the Grand Old Party, the Indian National Congress, which has traditionally seen religious minorities as their vote-bank.

Although the BJP lost the following elections in 2004 and 2009, Christians do not seem too happy with the Congress party either. The Good Friday rally was also to protest the ruling government’s “apathy” towards Dalit Christians, Dias said.

The Indian constitution gives affirmative action rights to the millions of people who are “low caste” as per the caste hierarchy in the Hindu society. However, if a Dalit converts to Christianity or Islam, she or he loses those rights.

India has over 17 million Dalit Christians and they have been demanding restoration of their rights, but the incumbent government led by the Congress party remains non-committal.

Dias also pointed out that a Dutch missionary, Father Jim Borst, had been asked to leave India, “after almost 50 years of selfless service” in Indian Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region. He added that southern and north-eastern parts of the country which had been peaceful vis-à-vis Christian persecution until recent years had also become hostile to the Christian minority.

Since 2008, India has witnessed between 100 and 200 attacks on Christians, including rape, arson, murders and mass killings, every year.

But the persecution needed to be fought prayerfully and peacefully in line with the spirit of the Lenten season, Dias stressed. “Our rally offers thousands of Christians, who partake in the procession, an opportunity to deny one’s self of daily comforts and do penance on an auspicious day.”

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Maharashtra government orders inquiry into tribal conversions

After the state government last week asked police to inquire into reports of large scale conversions of tribals to Christianity in Thane district, Christian groups have asked the state home minister to take action against those who made the allegations.

The findings of the inquiry are expected to be placed before the state assembly, which is in session, this week. The inquiry was ordered after a front page report in a Marathi daily said that in the last 10 years, lured by gifts of cash or fear of god, a large number of tribals have converted to Christianity.

The Maharashtra State Minorities Commission has written to state home minister RR Patil to take action against people responsible for the allegations if the inquiry fails to confirm the report. The inquiry was initiated to inquire into allegations about conversion centres, the holy pilgrimage, prayers meetings and sale of property to finance the pilgrimage. The investigation was to be done by the superintendent of police, Thane (rural).

The report pointed at villages that form part of the constituency of minister of state for tribal development Rajendra Gavit as places where the maximum religious conversions have taken place. It said that the main centres for religious conversions were two healing centres where cash was offered as reward for changing the religion.

Dr Abraham Mathai, vice president of the State Minorities Commission said, “I have met some of the people who are supposed to be travelling to Israel. None of them have a passport.”

Protestant groups working in the area denied there were mass religious conversions. They also denied that conversions were carried out in places advertised as centres of healing.

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Madhya Pradesh conducting survey of Christians

Bhopal: Is the Shivraj Chauhan-government in Madhya Pradesh profiling the Christian population in the state?
NDTV has accessed a shocking state government circular issued in March this year. Distributed by the police headquarters, all 50 districts in the state have been asked to submit details on each member of the Christian community in that district.
These details include:

  • Financial status
  • Foreign income, if any
  • Political leanings
  • Criminal record, if any
  • Total strength of the community
  • Break up of Protestants and Catholics
  • Number of churches - existing and upcoming
  • Number of Christian schools
  • Number of Christian teachers

The Christian Community in the state is wary of this new development. "There is some hidden agenda behind it otherwise such sort of profiling I don't think a democratic country permits," says Father Muttungal, the spokesperson of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh.
"I went to meet the DG, the delegation of all people, and DGP says he has no information about this and he told the people concerned to immediately stop it," he added.
The state's intelligence agencies are completely denying the circular and the Law & Order department says it has no clue who sent it out.
"Neither the state government wishes this type of profiling, nor the police headquarters. We are looking into who issued it," Ashok Kumar Saini, Inspector General Intelligence in Madhya Pradesh Police, told NDTV.

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Madhya Pradesh orders survey of all Christians in state

Bhopal : An official survey ordered by the police headquarters here seeks to find out details about the Christian population in Madhya Pradesh, including their total strength, the political patronage they enjoy, the source of funding of Christian schools and the number of churches in the state.

The order, issued by police headquarters on March 22, asks officers-in-charge of police stations to file reports within “10 days”. The survey, at the district and tehsil level, must include:

Number of Christians, with a break-up of Catholics and Protestants, where they stay, and their economic status.

Details of schools run by Christian bodies — numbers of staff and students, source of income, whether they get foreign funding.

Number of existing and under-construction churches, with details of the fathers/ bishops heading them.

A list of Christians involved in criminal activities, with details about whether they enjoy any political patronage, and their clout.

Details of annual functions held at district and tehsil level, including venues, organisers and funds.

Areas which are sensitive because of their Christian population.

The matter became known after officials of Ashta police station in Sehore district reportedly threatened to arrest a priest who refused to cooperate in the survey.

Members of the Christian community met senior police officers, and were assured that the survey would be immediately stopped. But two days ago, the police approached the office of Fr Anand Muttungal, spokesman of the Catholic Church, in Bhopal, seeking details about the community members in his area. When he asked them the purpose of the survey, they showed him a copy of the circular.

“Are we criminals that the government is profiling us,” said Fr Muttungal.

The community approached Director General of Police S K Raut, who reportedly said he was not aware of any such exercise.

Additional DGP R K Shukla told The Indian Express that orders had been issued to stop the survey. “There will be no profiling of the community,” he said.

Minister of State for Home Narayan Kushwah claimed that he was not aware of the survey.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hindutva groups planning attacks on Christians in Karnataka

Hindutva right-wing organisations are planning raids on Christian institutions across the state in backward districts such as Bijapur, Bidar and Raichur.

They are intrigued by the large presence of students from Mangalore living in such institutions. They have many questions for which there are no answers from government officials.

“Our questions to the social welfare department have not been answered. The department officials have not found out why such large number of children are coming to Mangalore from great distances and why they are lodged here in hideous places without basic facilities,” said district president of Bajrang Dal Jagadish Shenva.

“In the coming days, our colleagues in Bidar, Bijapur and Raichur will investigate into the en-masse movement of children to Mangalore,” Shenva said.

Teachers of these institutions have the answer to their questions.
“We’ve found that they are the children of first generation religious converts in backward districts. They were sent here for Christian upbringing as their parents are illiterates and ignorant. They might have been converted due to social needs but their children should not suffer poverty, hunger, ignorance and ill health like their parents did,” said a teacher serving in one of the congregations.

Lynette AC, provincial superior, Apostolic Carmel, Karnataka Province, said Stella Maris Orphanage is managed by the sisters of Apostolic Carmel Congregation and the 41 children were the inmates of Stella Maris Orphanage, Kotekar, and that they hailed from Bidar district. They are also the students of Stella Maris Primary School managed by the sisters.

The child welfare committee constituted by the social welfare department found that the children were indeed bonafide students of Stella Maris School. The chairperson of the committee Asha Nayak had given permission to the children to go to Bidar for being with their families for summer vacation. But the deputy director of the social welfare department Shakuntala Gowda had not permitted the children to leave without further enquiry into the

Sister Lynette said, “We have incurred a loss of `25,000 paid to the transport company towards hiring a bus to take the children to Bidar.”

In the meantime, the assistant commissioner of Mangalore Prabhulinga Kavalkatti went through the rule book and found out that such mass movement of children for educational purpose or otherwise needs to be cleared by the deputy commissioner of Bidar district and a document to that effect was not available with the children’s escort Sister Jyothi Maria.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Bajrang Dal denounced for targeting Christian institutions in Mangalore

A panel of leaders from various communities has condemned the attacks and raids on Christian charity homes in Mangalore district. In protest against the action by the child welfare committee and social welfare department, allegedly on instigation by the Bajrang Dal, people from different communities are planning to hold a meet in front of the district office on Monday.

“Social service, charity and brotherhood are hallmarks of Christianity which takes up the uplift of the poor and destitute who are not taken care by the society. But the Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva groups are unnecessarily out to tarnish the image of the community,” said a panel of community leaders in condemnation of the attacks and raids on the Christian charity homes by the child welfare committee (CWC), and social welfare department on the instigation of Bajrang Dal.

Mariamma Thomas, convenor of the panel, said that the attack on Christian institutions would have a negative impact. “If every Christian institution doing social service is attacked, a day will come when there will be no individual or institution to take care of the poor and destitute. It is very rude to ascribe motives to individuals and institutions when they are doing real social work. Mangalore has become a convenient centre for creating state-wide communal tensions,” she said.

Suresh Shetty, a social worker, said CWC and the social welfare department were being guided and led by Bajrang Dal. “Together they have framed a few Christian institutions and individuals including the owner of Jillus Caterers, Ebenezer prayer hall in Haleyangady, Lancelot Pinto and the recent attack on Stella Maris School children near PVS Circle were all pre-planned and targeted to damage communal harmony,” said Shetty.

Leaders of Ahinda, Karnataka Dalit Sangarsh Samithi, CITU, Karnataka Prantha Raitha Sangha and Karnataka Christ Union termed the attacks as a design to foment communal tensions for political gains.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

BJP backed Karnataka's anti-Christian strife

PANAJI: A copy of a report condemning attacks on Christians in Karnataka by communal forces in 2008 was handed over to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Filipe Neri Ferrao, on Tuesday.

The report was prepared by Justice (retd) Michael Saldanha, formerly of the Bombay high court, who relied on the findings of the independent people's tribunal into the events that had occurred.

"Incidents of anti-Christian violence in Karnataka in 2008 were representative of the hidden agenda of the party in power, the BJP, driven by a very strong casteist force," the report stated.

Saldanha said that the matter had raised a national debate on the credibility of judicial commissions. It may be noted that the Justice Somasekhara commission, appointed by the Karnataka state government, exonerated the RSS from the incidents.

Saldanha visited over 400 places and examined almost 3,000 witnesses/victims besides relying on forensic evidence and media reports to draw his conclusions.

"Every one of the attacks and incidents which took place were instigated and pre-planned. They were state-sponsored and were not only supported by the state but were covered up for by the state. The responsibility for this devolves squarely on the home minister B V Acharya and chief minister B S Yediyurappa," stated the report.

"In all the incidents involving violence, the principal culpability rests with the state machinery namely the police department. Not a single instance of violence - be it lathi charge, use of teargas, smashing of vehicles and church property or religious objects - can either be condoned or justified. These are all rank criminal offences for which the concerned officers and staff deserve to be prosecuted. I have named some of the police officers who have crossed all conceivable limits, who, even at this stage, deserve to be suspended, an enquiry held, and dismissed from service and prosecuted. The same applies to the then DC, Mangalore,' the report stated.

'The use of lethal and toxic gas which emanated from teargas shells which were beyond the expiry date by 4 to 6 years was not only criminal but life threatening, and is reminiscent of the use of fascist methods by the Nazis who gassed six million Jews to death. The procurement of pebbles, the arming of the saffron militants with lathis and other deadly weapons and use of these persons against members of the minority community was totally unjustified and criminal,' it further stated.

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