Monday, January 23, 2012

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.

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