Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GCIC demands dropping of Farooq Abdullah

Urgent Press release- 25th January-2012

GCIC demands dropping of Farooq Abdullah

Dr. Manmohan Singh
Hon. Prime Minister
South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi-110001
Phone +91-11-23012312 Fax +91-11-23019545,
New Delhi- India

Sub: Distraught Christian community demands Janab Farooq Abdullah be immediately dropped from Council of Ministers for his anti-constitutional statement in support of Kashmir Shariat Court ‘s Recent Unilateral Decisions of Permanent Expulsion of 5 Respected and Innocent Christian Clergymen from Jammu and Kashmir

Dear and Honourable Sir,
A Federal Minister, who is obligated to uphold the Constitution of India, has drooped down to the lowest level to endorse the unconstitutional action of self-styled Sharia court of expulsion of Indian citizens from the sovereign democratic Republic of India. This is in violation of the constitution of India, which upholds the rights of every citizen including Pandits and Christians to live peacefully within the geographical boundaries of India.

Our genuine apprehensions are that there is every possibility that the statement of Janab Abdullah and unilateral decision by the Mufti Azam and his sharia court can lead to the by now universally known “Fatwa,” ultimately leading to a situation of not only strained relations but perhaps even to a law and order situation in Kashmir and perhaps in the whole of India. What could be the possible consequences, if the religious heads of different religions in a secular country like India begin to issue the orders in the days ahead like the one issued by the Muslim clergyman in Srinagar, to the members of other religions throughout the length and breadth of India, for all sorts of reasons based on their own religious laws? Indeed, it is beyond our comprehension! If the religious heads are permitted to pass such ‘”Fatwas’, what becomes of the Indian law, civil as well as the criminal law? What becomes of our very constitution?

The Christian community is pained at the widely reported statement of a responsible member of your Council of Ministers to publicly endorse such Fatwa. His anti-constitutional statement not only goes against the spirit of the constitution that he has sworn to uphold but also has brought shame to the whole government. His statement is an embarrassment and humiliation to the country. Instead of public condemnation of such Fatwa, he has glorified it. We will hold him personally responsible for any harm to Pastor Khanna, his family and community.

The community was already hurt by the Fatwa but is deeply anguished by this endorsement. Therefore we demand immediate removal of Mr Abdullah from the ministry. His continuance in the ministry will lend legitimacy to anti-constitutional, anti-secular and anti-national forces in India. How can a member of your ministry endorse the expulsion of an Indian citizen by religious court from one state of the country? Your inaction in this matter will be construed as tactical approval of Mr Abdullah’s statement and the judgement of the Shriat Court.

With Warm Regards

Dr. Sajan George, Dr. Bernard Malik
President Council of Refernces-GCIC

Minister from Kashmir speaks against conversions, does not mention ‘Kangaroo Court’ at all

Minister for renewable energy Farooq Abdullah on Tuesday slammed religious conversions as “anti-secular”, comments that come in the wake of an Islamic court’s indictment of Christian missionaries in Kashmir on charges of proselytisation. Abdullah’s views that conversions tend to “disturb the secular balance” could be potentially seen as his backing of “Shariah Supreme Court of Islamic Jurisprudence” ruling for four Christian evangelicals to be barred from the state.

Although it has no jurisdiction under the Indian Constitution, the Shariah court, a 200-year-old body, administers and advises the state government on applicability of Islamic laws in JK, a state that enjoys a special federal status.

“Those who aid conversions through allurement should be punished,” Abdullah, prominent Kashmiri, told HT.

There are concerns that the decree could stoke attacks on Christian institutions and missionaries in the Muslim-majority state, where native Hindus had faced strikes from Islamic insurgents in the late 80s.

Srinagar, the state’s summer capital, itself boasts of famous missionary schools, such as Burn Hall School, founded in 1956. Mufti Nasir-ul Islam, a top Shariah court official, told HT: “We respect Christianity. The trails were held under cordial circumstances and videotaped. The pastors were duly heard.”

Christian bodies, including the Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) and the All India Christian Council, have ruled out “allurement” of Muslims.

“There is no immediate threat but surely a great deal of insecurity,” CBCI spokesperson Joseph Babu said. Christian Council head and National Integration Council member John Dayal said its fact-finding team had found “absolutely no evidence of allurement”.

Click here for source

Sharia decree making Christians 'nervous' in Valley

The angry reaction to the issue of conversion of Muslims in Kashmir is scaring the Christian community no end. "It's making me nervous," says Carin Jodha Fischer, a German working in Kashmir's rural areas since 2006.

On January 19, the government-backed sharia court, headed by Mufti Bashiruddin, issued a decree banning the entry of four Christian pastors, finding them "guilty of luring Muslims of Kashmir, especially boys and girls, to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions".

The names of the four pastors- CM Khanna, Gayour Massi, Chandre Kanta and Jim Brost- had come up in the course of an investigation done by the court. While Khanna, who is an Indian and is now in Jammu, the whereabouts of the other three are not known. The police do not know their nationalities either.

"They were promised help like passports and visas," said deputy grand mufti (priest) Nasir-ul-Islam in Srinagar.

The sharia decree came four months after a video clip allegedly showed Srinagar-based All Saints' Church pastor Khanna apparently baptising a few young persons here.

"They are all false and cooked-up stories. The matter is before court and will wait for its orders," Khanna told Hindustan Times on the phone from Jammu.

Khanna, who has been in the state for the past 24 years, was in police custody for 11 days for "forcible" conversions in Kashmir. He said he had no connection with the three others.

Brost was asked to leave Kashmir in July 2010.

"Legally, these conversions are not forcible. People have approached the church to become Christians," said Fischer, who works in Kashmir for community-based rural tourism. "If the conversion stories spread to rural areas, I won't be able to work then."

Muslim organisations including moderate Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's Awami Action Committee have taken the issue seriously. The Mirwaiz also launched a website "to safeguard Islamic interests" after recent conversion reports.

Click here for source

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rally against persecution in Karnataka

Several Christian, Muslim groups and human rights organizations will take out a rally on January 27 in Mangalore to protest the growing communal attacks in Karnataka.

The groups will emphasize on the “unending communal atrocities and partisan behavior of officials,” especially in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts.

A public meeting in front of the Deputy Commissioner’s Office will be held after the rally.

They will also demand the suspension of “communalized law-enforcement officers and appointment of able, impartial and secular officers.”

Christian organizations, which will take part in the rally, include Karnataka United Churches Forum for Human Rights (a forum of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches), Karnataka Missions Network, Federation of Christian Churches, Bharatiya Chraista Okkoota and Catholic Sabha, Mangalore.

“Atrocities against minority communities and their places of worship have recently reached intolerable heights,” said the Federation of Human Rights Organizations in a statement.

It said that 2011 alone saw 66 incidents of attacks on Muslims and 15 against members of Christian communities.

“It won’t be an exaggeration to say that as a result of such persecution, a sense of terrible insecurity prevails among the members of the minority communitie,” the statement added.

According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), the southern state of Karnataka recorded the most number of attacks against the Christian community in 2011.

The groups are also planning to demand implementation of Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation) Bill with necessary amendments.

Source: Christian Today

Stop The Hate - Kashmir’s main political parties must act to prevent zealotry in the Valley

While media attention is riveted on the Salman Rushdie row, another controversy provoked by religious zealots in the Kashmir valley hasn't received its due share of critical scrutiny. For the past few weeks, a Christian priest and foreign NGOs have been targeted for seeking to persuade Muslim youth to give up their faith in return for liquor, women and money. One priest, Pastor Chander Mani Khanna, had to appear before a sharia court to defend himself against charges of proselytization. The evidence produced by the prosecutors to substantiate the charges was, to put it mildly, far-fetched.

But that did not deter the sharia court from asking for the pastor's expulsion from the state. Likewise, Juan Marcos Troia, an Argentine football coach widely hailed for his efforts to popularise the game in the Valley, has been hounded for allegedly promoting the cause of Christianity. Here again no evidence of such activity has come to light. The blunt fact is that the sharia court has no locus standi in the matter. Any aggrieved party should have turned to a proper court asking it to determine whether the pastor and the coach had infringed the law. No such case has been filed.

The vicious campaign conducted by the zealots does not come as a surprise. In the Valley, separatism and religious intolerance often work in tandem. The forced exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits is a case in point. What is galling, however, is the inaction of the National Conference-led government and the pointed discretion of the opposition PDP on the attacks against the Christian priests and foreign NGOs. The state government has remained on the sidelines when it should have ensured protection to the victims of the hate campaign. The PDP too should have thrown its weight behind them.

They did nothing of the sort and in the process acted against the letter and spirit of Article 25 of J&K's own Constitution. It says that it is the duty of the state to 'combat ignorance, superstition, fanaticism, racialism, cultural backwardness' and to 'foster brotherhood and equality among all communities under the aegis of a Secular State'. It is incumbent on the two major political formations in the Valley to stop the zealots and hate-mongers in their tracks.

Times of India

No action against Sri Ram Sene - BJP minister

Bangalore: Karnataka Home Minister R Ashoka said on Monday there was evidence on the involvement of right wing Srirama Sene in the recent hoisting of Pakistani flag in Bijapur district but ruled out any move to ban the outfit at this stage.

"There is evidence against Srirama Sene in the Sindagi incident", he told reporters here.

Asked if the government would ban the organisation, he said the probe was at a certain stage and the state would spell out its stand while filing chargesheet in the case.

He pointed out that a lot of formalities had to be gone through and "correct and confirmed evidence" needed for banning a organisation. At this stage, 'there is no need to ban Srirama Sene', the Minister said.

Ashoka said he would discuss the issue with Chief Minister DV Sadananda Gowda.

Six college students, who were members of the Srirama Sene, had been arrested for allegedly hoisting Pakistan's flag in the premises of the Tahsildar's office in Sindgi, 60 km from Bijapur, on January 1.

The Minister said the incidents of communal violence had come down during the three-and-half-year tenure of the BJP Government. From 28-30 such incidents every year (in the past), it had come down to 7-8 annually now.

Police are keeping a special vigil at places where incidents of communal violence took place in the past five years. An 80-member commando force is already functioning to deal with such incidents as well to fight naxal menace.

Another 80 personnel would join the force soon.

They would also be deployed in Mangalore, Hubli, Gulbarga and Belgaum, Ashoka added.


Monday, January 23, 2012

Sharia court asks govt to take over Christian schools

A self-styled sharia court in Jammu and Kashmir has asked the state government to take over the management of the Christian missionary schools and monitor their activities.

The decree also asked three Christian priests to leave the state for “luring Muslims in the valley toward Christianity.”

It asked the renowned Kashmiri educationists to form a part of the management of Christian schools.

The court also directed the school management to allot a class for Islamia studies as well for the students of other faiths.

“Given the Muslim majority character of the valley, the Muslim students should be taught Islam and daily prayer written by Syed Mohammad Iqbal should also be sung in the morning prayers,”.

It comes in the wake of accusations against Christian priests, including pastor M C Khanna of All Saints Church, of indulging in conversion activities in the valley.

Besides pastor Khanna, others who have been asked leave the state include Dutch national Jim Borst and Gayoor Messah, said Naib Mufti Nasir.

Meanwhile, the All India Christian Council had expressed apprehensions that the community members may face a backlash after the decree.


Kashmir zealots push Christians into valley of fear

SRINAGAR: From the toast of Srinagar to a man with a question mark about his intentions, it's been quite a journey for Juan Marcos Troia, an Argentinian football coach and star of the documentary, 'Inshallah Football'.

In 2009, Marcos was credited with reviving football in Kashmir. 'Inshallah Football' is about one of Marcos's best players, Basharat, the son of a former militant, and his dream to play in Brazil. Though initially denied, Basharat got his passport and went to Brazil a few months ago. But there is no smile of satisfaction on Marcos's face. Much has changed since 2009.

Kashmir is in the grip of a controversy surrounding religious conversions by priests and foreign NGOs. Everyone, it seems, is under the scanner. Troia, who has been questioned by the state football association about the funding for his clubs, is now the target of a whisper campaign. Fundamentalists are ratcheting up religious mobilization.

His house vandalized, Marcos is now running around asking cops for help. "We have to fend for ourselves," says his dejected wife, Priscilla.

The controversy began when a video surfaced showing a pastor C M Khanna baptizing young Muslim boys. A Sharia court "summoned" Khanna and accused him of converting Muslims by luring them with money; a claim that the Christian Council of India denies. Khanna was arrested for disturbing communal peace. He is now on bail but the Sharia court ordered his "expulsion" from the state. Although this court has no legal sanctity, political parties have remained silent.

This has left the field open for further pressure on the 400-odd Christians in the Valley. The two missionary schools in Srinagar are now facing calls to include Islamic prayers as part of the curriculum and prove they do not promote Christianity.

The few foreign nationals who live here are harassed. "I got a call around midnight, and this man on the phone asked me how many Bibles I had, how my 'real motive' was known to him," said one foreigner.

Local converts are worse off. A few weeks ago, the mere rumour that a few boys in a Ganderbal village had converted led to a raids by five carloads of men led by a maulvi from a madrassa. Their homes were ransacked.

Adding to this climate was an article in Kashmir's leading English daily on Friday last. Titled 'Apostasy unveiled', the full page spread is an alleged first person account of one of the boys pastor Khanna had converted. The story of Class 10 student reads like a film script.

He was trapped by the pastor who used a girl to entice him to drink alcohol. Then blackmailed him with a video recording. The student is "progressively addicted to alcohol, women, money, drugs, and the promise of weapons".

At each stage, pastor Khanna's personal involvement is recorded. The highlight is this passage: "There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others."

This is the most talked about news in Srinagar - on twitter and facebook, in living rooms and cafes. "One comes to know the extent to which these people will go to convert," read a facebook comment.

Even educated people this reporter spoke to believe sex, booze and money is the only reason why anyone would convert to Christianity. For the Christians here it's an indictment they shall have to learn to live with.

Click here for source

Friday, January 20, 2012

Expel three Christian priests: Kashmir Sharia court

Srinagar : A Sharia court Thursday issued a decree seeking expulsion of three Christian priests from Jammu and Kashmir and monitoring of the activities of Christian missionary schools in the Valley.

Maintaining that the decree of the Sharia (Muslim Personal Law) court was not against the Christians in any manner, Kashmir’s grand mufti Bashir-ud-Din told a media conference here that three priests had been attracting local youth to conversion through monetary allurement.

“The Sharia court has unimpeachable evidence against these three priests who are non-locals. They have been using financial allurement to convert some local youth to Christianity.”

“The Sharia court has issued a decree for their expulsion from the state and the administration must ensure that they do not enter the state,” Bashir-ud-Din said.

“The decree has been issued to preserve harmony between followers of different faiths in the Valley,” the mufti said.

The decree also asked the state government to monitor the activities of the local missionary schools where a majority of the students were Muslims.

“These schools should include a period for Islamic education in their daily teaching programmes and a prayer written by poet Iqbal should be part of the school assembly prayers at these schools,” the decree said.

A row had broken out here last year after video clips showing conversion of local youth to Christianity were uploaded on the Internet.

Police had also arrested a Christian priest in connection with these alleged conversions. The priest was later released on bail.

Christian missionary schools have contributed immensely towards the spread of modern education in the Valley.

The services of the Christian missionaries in healthcare and social service are also acknowledged by Kashmiris.

Fatwa against Christian schools in Kashmir

Srinagar: A self-styled sharia court of Kashmir on Thursday issued fatwa asking three Christian priests to leave the state for "luring the valley Muslims to Christianity". The court also directed Jammu and Kashmir government to take over the management of the Christian missionary schools, besides monitoring their activities in future.

Last summer, a controversy arose over the conversion of some Muslim youths to Christianity after they were allegedly lured by the pastor MC Khanna of All Saints Church in Srinagar. The video clips were distributed across the valley, showing conversion of local youth to Christianity, which made the Mufti Azam of Kashmir, Mufti Bashir-ud-Din, to summon the pastor for explanation. Mufti Bashir runs a sharia court in the valley and is promptly known for announcing appearance of moon on the occasion of Eids in Kashmir.

According to Nasir-ul-Islam, a deputy of grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din, four Christian priests were involved in alluring the Muslim youth in Kashmir to Christianity. An investigation against the principal of the local Christian missionary school Parvez Sameul Koul is going on.

The Naib (deputy) Mufti Nasir said: Punjabi M C Khanna, Dutch national, Jim Borst, and Gayoor Messah were directed to leave the valley forthwith for their involvement in the conversions in the valley. "However, the case against the principal of Tyndale Biscoe school Parvez Sameul Koul is under investigation and judgment will be announced in due course of time," Naib Mufti said.

The Christian pastors have already migrated from Kashmir valley soon after CM Khanna was released on bail on December 1, 2011 after Jammu and Kashmir police arrested him on November 19,2011 on charges of fomenting communal trouble in the state.

Besides, the decree of the sharia court said that Jammu and Kashmir government should involve itself in the management of the missionary schools and renowned Kashmiri educationists should form the part of the management.

The sharia court even directed the school management to allot a class for Islamia studies as well for the students of other faiths. "Given the Muslim majority character of the valley, the Muslim students should be taught Islam and daily prayer written by Syed Mohammad Iqbal should also be sung in the morning prayers," Naib Mufti Nasir said.

All India Christian Council at in New Delhi on January 13, 2012 had expressed its apprehensions that the community members may face backlash by the verdict of the self-styled Srinagar's Islami shariat court against Christian pastors Jim Borst, C M Khanna and Gayoor Messah for their alleged involvement in luring the people to convert to their religion across Kashmir valley.

The Deputy Mufti,Azam Nasir-ul-Islam, and son of grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din, Mufti Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam, in a statement on January 11, 2012, had said that it was proved beyond doubt that the accused pastor Khanna, who is putting up in Kashmir for past many years, was along with other accomplices luring Muslim people to change religion.

Dr John Dayal, the spokesman of the Indian Christians, has rejected that that any conversion took place by force.

"A fact finding team which went to Srinagar in the wake of the arrest of Rev Khanna, and interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary," John Dayal said.

Grand Mufti bans pastor from Valley

Srinagar Mufti Bashir-ud-din, the government-appointed Grand Mufti who heads the Islamic Shariah court, has imposed a lifetime ban on the entry of a pastor and three other missionaries into the state. The Shariah court said they have been found “guilty” of converting Kashmiri Muslims to Christianity.

The state government is, however, silent on the legality of the Shariah court. “I have to check whether the Shariah court can impose ban on entry of missionaries,” said Law Secretary Ghulam Hassan Tantray.

Deputy Grand Mufti Nasir-ul-Islam said pastor C M Khanna of the All Saints’ Church, Ghayoor Maseeh, foreign missionary Jim Borst, and woman missionary Chandrakanta have been found guilty of luring Muslims of Kashmir, especially young boys and girls, towards Christianity. He said the entire proceeding of the investigation is on record with the Shariah court.

Click here for source

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Afghan Christian Widow and Daughters Stranded in India, Fear Persecution in Homeland

Washington -- International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that an Afghan Christian widow and three of her daughters were denied refugee status by the UN in New Delhi, India for the second time last month despite fears that being deported to their homeland may mean imprisonment for apostasy.

An Afghan widow and three of her daughters, whose names cannot be disclosed for security reasons, received a deportation notice from the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs after their first application for asylum was rejected by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in October 2009. When the mother reapplied in July 2011 with her three daughters and the child of a fourth, widowed daughter, only the widowed daughter and grandchild were accepted. The others are no longer permitted to correspond with the UNHCR office and are currently living in India as illegal immigrants.

"All members of the family left Afghanistan for the same reason, all of them are Christians, and all are facing the same kind of problem," said Obaid S. Christ, a leader of the Afghan Christian community in New Delhi. "If two members of the same family are recognized as refugees and four others are denied, there is definitely something wrong with the UNHCR judgment system. We believe that the UNHCR office blindly closed their application without making any inquiry, investigation, or considering the new facts and real danger that these women are facing back in their home country."

The UNHCR in New Delhi came under increasing pressure in June 2011 after rejecting the applications of eight Afghan Christian families who had recently fled persecution in their homeland. Like the widow and her three daughters, all eight families were denied on the basis that they failed to meet the criteria set forth in Article 6B of the UNHCR Statute which states that a person can receive refugee status if "[he or she has a] well-founded fear of persecution by reason of his race, religion, nationality or political opinion…" Two of the eight cases have since been accepted, two have been reclosed, and the rest have yet to be reopened.

The UNHCR's failure to recognize religious-based asylum seekers in India and other countries led Congressman Jeff Duncan to introduce an amendment to the FY12 Foreign Relations Authorization Act that elevates the importance of international religious freedom in the UNHCR. The amendment, proposed in July, requires the UN body to conduct a review of refugee-based claims and provide religious freedom training for its staff in order to "prevent future grief for refugees on religious freedom grounds."

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, "In 2011, at least two Christians in Afghanistan were imprisoned by the Karzai administration, another was brutally beheaded by the Taliban, and nearly all Afghan Christians lived in fear of persecution. There is no evidence to suggest that the situation for Christians is improving, but every indication that it is only getting worse. Deporting the Christian widow and her three daughters back to Afghanistan will lead to inevitable hardship, if not imprisonment or even death. We urge the UNHCR to immediately reopen and approve this family's applications for asylum."

Click here for source

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Yoga and intolerance

Following the fatwa issued by a Muslim cleric and the complaints by Christian groups against the mass performance of Suryanamaskar by students in Madhya Pradesh this Thursday, I am wondering how long before I will be forbidden from eating bread by Hindu fundamentalists.

Isn’t bread, after all, the body of Christ?

How long before words — allegorical, symbolic and metaphorical words written in ancient times by poets, saints, visionaries and dreamers — become the weapons for distrust, hatred and intolerance?

For those who came in late, last week, in an attempt to put itself on the map, the Madhya Pradesh government planned a Guiness record-breaking mass yoga demonstration which attracted the ire of minority religious leaders on the grounds that it was forcing a Hindu practice on its subjects.

Some of the most beautiful texts I have read are in the Bible, Gita and Koran.

But that’s what they are — words — often written with flights of imagination and much poetic licence. Whoever thought they would be interpreted with such narrow minds and such meanness of spirit?

I have been an occasional practitioner of yoga for many years now. It does not take more than a few sessions to realise its profound benefits.

Can’t sleep? Yoga Nidra. Stressed? Shava Asan. Need to focus? Pranayama. Low energy? Suryanamakskar.

And this is just the kindergarten version.

True yogis know that it is reductionist to even think that yoga is only a form of physical exercise: in its complete form, as propounded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Munger in Bihar, it addresses the mind, heart, spirit and soul of the yogi.

Yoga is not an ancient myth buried in oblivion. It is the most valuable inheritance of the present. It is the essential need of today and the culture of tomorrow,” he says in the introduction to his book, widely regarded as one of the most important tomes on the subject.

Of course, as all things become controversial in the other India that stands in the shadow of the one that’s supposedly shining, the brouhaha is as much about yoga as about communalism, interest groups, grandstanding and vote bank politics.

I once spent a fortnight in Madhya Pradesh researching a story on a threat to missionaries from the BJP government. Visiting them in far flung schools, in areas beyond civilisation’s outer reaches, I saw the exemplary work they were doing for people abandoned by their own governments and religious heads.

Of course, conversion was on their minds and the Church’s agenda. But in those pitiful circumstances when a leper had no bandages to wrap his bleeding stubs with or a severely disturbed teenage girl had no bed to sleep on — I wondered if conversion was the big deal it was made out to be.

I am not naïve to imagine that the recent objections to the practice of mass yoga this week is unrelated to Madhya Pradesh’s long history. Or that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who joined RSS in 1972, did not have an agenda to fulfill by demonstrating that 7 million students performed yoga in his state.

Intolerance begets intolerance; when the atmosphere is corroded with distrust, suspicion and hatred, things have their own momentum. And even the most peaceful and beneficial practices like yoga become issues of contention.

My advice to Christian and Muslim students confused between what their school authorities and religious leaders, parents and state officials are ordering them to do — Take an hour off, sit under a tree, close your eyes and go deep within for the answers.

Of course, some may say that’s practising yoga!

Click here for source

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Barefoot — Kandhamal: The aftermath

After the violence, the victims had to live with social boycott and systematic subversion of justice.

In these columns previously (December 18), I tracked disturbing parallels between the carnage targeting dalits and adivasis of Christian faith in Kandhamal in 2007-08, and the brutal slaughter of Muslims five years earlier in Gujarat. These included the systematic creation of hatred against religious minorities by Right wing organisations, rigorous planning of the carnage, the stunning brutality of the violence, often targeting women and girls, the unprecedented mobilisation of women to actively participate in the violence, and, above all, the open complicity of the state administration in enabling the violence to continue for weeks and months. The parallels with Gujarat continued in events which unfolded after the massacre.

In the wake of the violence, as tens of thousands were driven out of their homes, the Gujarat government initially refused to establish relief camps. In Odisha, government camps were established. But in both states, camps were incompatible with human dignity, over-crowded, under-served and particularly insensitive to women and children. The National People's Tribunal on Kandhamal, chaired by Justice A.P. Shah (of which I was also a member) records: ‘A common living space for both men and women in the relief camps, some places having just two bathrooms without roofs for 5,000 people and no toilets facilities as well meant a total lack of privacy for women, insufficient or no place to sleep, difficulties in staying and also no privacy for women. Inadequate sanitary supplies caused women difficulties during their menstruation'. These could be reports of any camp established in Gujarat. In addition, ‘ women were reportedly given 30 minutes to go out of the relief camps for toilet, and if they failed to return within the stipulated time, they were reportedly punished by the CRPF personnel who were guarding the camps'. And in both, the camps were prematurely closed, and people driven out before they felt secure enough to return to their homelands.

Not welcome

Another extraordinary similarity between the two carnages is that even long after the violence finally abated, the persons evicted from their homes were not welcomed back. In order to return, stringent and humiliating conditions were laid down in both states. In Gujarat, they were required to not pursue legal justice against their tormentors, and to live separately, in perpetual economic and cultural subordination. In Odisha, the requirement was a ‘reconversion' to Hinduism (even though many were animists and were never of Hindu faith in the first place). As testified by Deobhanja, ‘We are not allowed to enter our native village and stay there in our patta land, unless we embrace Hinduism. We have no access to forest to get firewood and minor forest produce for daily use and drinking water, tube wells and wells for water. We are socially boycotted by them'. If they still chose to return, they faced social and economic boycott, and lived in fear of recurrent attacks.

The objective of such boycott in both states is to ensure that the targeted populations are damaged not just at the time of the hate attacks, but are prevented actively from rebuilding their livelihoods again, and therefore continue to languish in extreme poverty. This aim was fulfilled substantially in Gujarat, but was further damaging in Kandhamal, because of the extreme poverty to start with of the victims. As the Tribunal notes, more than half the victim-survivor population worked as daily wage labourers, which made them dependent on other communities to employ them. Following the violence in Kandhamal, and the subsequent and ongoing socio-economic boycott, many of them have difficulties finding a job as daily wage labourers in Kandhamal, due to which they have to migrate to other parts of the state and country.

The next category was of small famers. Those who were engaged in agriculture and had their own plots of land have now lost the land as they have been forcibly displaced from their villages due to the violence. Many of them are unable to return to their villages unless they convert to Hinduism, and therefore unable to access the land that they had previously owned. Several owned cattle as well as agricultural products such as fertilizer, all of which were either looted by the violent mob or destroyed. Even small traders were devastated. A woman testifies that she lost her business of selling dry fish etc., and her husband is no longer appointed as the ration seller at the gram panchayat because the Hindus refused to buy things from him.

In this climate of organised social boycott, efforts of victims in both states were further hampered by meagre and reluctant state reparations. As in Gujarat, fully damaged homes were paid a maximum of just Rs. 50,000, even though the cost of damaged property sometimes ran into several lakhs. Even these were routinely under-valued. The state had no standard procedures for assessment, and appeal. There was no programme to restore damaged livelihoods. There was no support also for the schools, hostels, clinics, hospitals and orphanages damaged.

Of the 92 deaths, only for 39 have families received compensation. The others were declared missing and their deaths are under dispute, or they died in relief camps or in hospitals. They are not considered to have been killed during the time of violence. In many cases, bodies are missing because these were burnt to destroy evidence.

Subversion of justice

The grimmest parallels between the two carnages are in similar systematic subversion of justice. Testimonies presented before the Tribunal repeatedly spoke of the refusal of the police to register FIRs. The Tribunal was informed that of the 3,232 complaints filed by victims; only 832 were actually registered by the police. Between 75 and 123 people were killed in the violence, yet only 26 murder cases were registered by the police as of February 2010. For instance, Sister Meena was first dissuaded by the police from registering an FIR with regard to the gang rape and sexual assault on her, and when she insisted, she was prevented from writing details of the crime including the complicity of certain police officials. Many spoke to the Tribunal of the failure of the police to arrest perpetrators, despite the fact that the perpetrators were named in the complaints to the police. They also clarified that the police's refusal to take action against the perpetrators was a result of the police actively protecting the perpetrators. They have been harassed through a lodging of false and baseless allegations against them, or threatened that they would be arrested on false charges if they demanded accountability and continued pursuing justice.

The earlier MARG report notes that the police that was complicit in the violence through myriad acts of omission and commission, has itself been conducting the investigations. Investigations have been conducted in a biased and shoddy manner. Some spoke to the Tribunal of how they were forced to live in hiding while pursuing the cases in courts that they were testifying in. They have testified in court and continue to live in fear; others spoke about their inability to testify in court if they were not given adequate protection. Some of them spoke about how they had complained to the judge and the police about the threats and intimidation, yet did not receive any assistance.

We find in Kandhamal, as in Gujarat, that brutal violence against religious minorities was enabled primarily by communal mobilisation and a complicit state, and that survivors are denied reparations and justice by sustained social boycott, and the settled bias of state and justice institutions.

This is the story of other massacres as well, including against the Sikhs on the streets of Delhi in 1984. This tragic blood-letting in the name of religion will end only when the law holds governments accountable to perform their highest duty mandated by the Constitution, to secure equal protection and justice to all, regardless of which god they worship.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Christian Persecution on the Rise in India; Grim Outlook for 2012

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm on increasing acts of violence against Christians in India at the hands of the country's Hindu community.

India is one of the regions closely monitored by human rights groups, due to many cases of religious persecution taking place in its recent history. The biggest act of violence against Christians took place in 2008, in a remote eastern region of India, during an event referred to as the "Orissa massacre," in which an estimated 100 Christians were killed and some 5,600 displaced by a mob of Hindu extremists.

Local observers see a bleak outlook for 2012, given the mood in the country, as signs of renewed enmity become more and more apparent.

On Dec.18, 2011, some 2,500 protesters rallying under the banner of the Hindu nationalist movement expressed hostile attitude towards the idea of Christians celebrating Christmas, reported Mission Network News.

Violence did reportedly breakout in Karnataka, a state near Orissa, where a group of 15 Christians were attacked during Christmas celebrations at a private house by a mob of around 300 members of a Hindu nationalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The Christians were brutalized, windows smashed and furniture damaged, according to Mission Network News (MNN).

Dave Stravers of a Michigan-based mission to India told the publication that police arrested all the Christians after they were beaten. They were then thrown in jail, he reportedly said, for a week while no action was taken against the attackers.

"This illustrates the justice problem," Stravers told MNN. “Someone comes to beat you up, and then the police come and arrest you and accuse you of inciting that other person to violence!”

According to statistics gathered by Christians living in Orissa, local police only registered 827 cases of more than 3,500 reports of violence that took place during the "Orissa massacre." The cases that went to court that ended with a sentence were only 68, and 412 offenders received a minimum punishment. In addition, 1,009 people were acquitted, and 304 cases are still reportedly awaiting trial.

"Justice is still a huge problem for some 56,000 Christians for whom life has changed dramatically since August 2008," John Dayal, All India Christian Council's (AICC) Executive Secretary, said in a recent statement, as quoted by Spero News . "Aggressors asked them to convert to Hinduism and burn a Bible as a sign. They did not do it and chose to escape. In 400 villages the Christian presence was completely cancelled, more than 5,600 homes and about 295 churches were burned, hundreds of deaths, some women, including at least one nun, were raped."

Leading up to Christmas, more threats of attacks were made in this region, and religious leaders across the globe called for prayer for the safety of the Christian community in India (among other "dangerous" countries).

On Christmas Day 2011, an angry Hindu mob of 20 persons raided a home where several believers gathered for dinner, including a pastor, Bos News reported. The mob reportedly threatened to "kill the Christians," according to residents.

Hindu militants twice attacked evangelical Christians around the holidays in India's southern state of Karnataka, injuring several believers, including women and children, local Christians told BosNewsLife. Police were reportedly again reluctant to investigate the case, asking injured Christians what motivated them to convert to Christianity and reportedly siding with the attackers, according to witnesses.

In a separate incident on Dec. 28, about 10 suspected Hindu militants allegedly stormed the Hebron Full Gospel Assembly Church in the southwestern town of Haleyangadi, reportedly shouting threats and saying they would "not let the church continue at the place."

All India Christian Council has been pressuring the Indian government since December to pass a bill meant to curb "communal violence which has plagued this country after Independence in 1947, and bring justice to the victims." The proposed legislation is entitled the "Prevention of Communal and Targeted Violence" bill, according to the organization's website. The council is also launching a nation-wide advocacy and prayer campaign in favor of the bill, AICC said on Dec. 12.

The proposed bill seeks to secure justice for victims and bring guilty parties to justice. It maintains that minorities are denied justice because of the communal behavior of a section of religious and political extremists, and the apathy or involvement of government administrators. The legislation also aims to curb hate speech and similar actions.

Hindus are an overwhelming majority in India, where Christians are a minority at 2.3 percent. Muslims constitute 13.4 percent of the population, while Sikhs make up 1.9 percent.