Sunday, July 14, 2013

Dr. Jaishankar found dead near Jeypore, Orissa

Dr. Jaishankar from Blessing Youth Mission who went missing last Thursday i.e. 11th July was found dead in a river near Jeypore, Orissa today. He went missing nearly 40 - 50 kilometers from Jeypore while he was on his way to Lamtaput. His motorcycle was found earlier and a search operation was launched and today the worst fears were confirmed. 

Dr. Jaishankar, who lived in Bhopal, was visiting Orissa in connection with social service work which he does with Blessing Youth Mission. In his mid forties, he is survived by his wife and two young children. 

Please join us in praying for them and the mission. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Missionary missing in Orissa since Thursday

Mr Jai Shankar, a missionary with Blessing Youth Mission Bhopal, is missing since 11th July 2013 from Jeypore district in Orissa.

He had gone to Orissa for a special meeting at Jeypore. According to reports his bike has been recovered from a place called Lamta which is about 40 kilometres from Jeypore city. The bike was found near a river.

Kindly pray for his safety and also that the Lord may bring him back safely.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Congress and BJP: United in Targeting the Church

BJP and Congress governments play politics with conversion bogey

By John Dayal

India’s microscopic Christian community and its clergy may become “collateral damage” of an unspoken but very palpable competitive wooing of the majority Hindu community, specially in central India, in the run up to the General Elections in 2014, and elections to State legislative assemblies even earlier.

Three significant recent developments show the political trend. The State of Madhya Pradesh, which was among the first [with Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh] to seek a curb on conversions to Christianity through its ironically named Freedom of Religion Act in 1968, is now adding some more draconian provisions to the notorious law. Neighbouring Maharashtra is understood to be planning a similar law to criminalize conversions. And up in the Himalayan north, the Himachal Pradesh government is planning to seek the Supreme court’s help to reverse a High court judgment which had struck down some of the more vicious components of the state’s anti conversion law, including one which required government’s permission before change of faith.

Madhya Pradesh is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata party, now gone entirely overboard with the Hindutva agenda of its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh whose chosen Prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has made it clear where his priorities lie. His lieutenants have called for a building of a Temple to Lord Rama on the ruins of the Babri mosque the RSS groups demolished in 1992. Modi himself has lost no opportunity to stress his support to the Hindu heartland.

But it is the Congress that governs Himachal Pradesh. The current chief minister had enacted this law, and he now wants all its “teeth” restored by the Supreme Court. Maharashtra is also ruled by the Congress in a coalition with the Nationalist Congress Party of Union Agriculture minister Mr. Sharad Pawar, who too professes a vey “secular” ideology to woo the large Muslim population of his home State.

The mainstay of the Congress political platform has been its traditional non-partisan ideology – and its affirmative action for the poor, the marginalised, the religious minorities, Tribals and Dalits. But it has been an open secret from the days of Mahatma Gandhi and the illustrious leadership of the Freedom Struggle, that Congress also harbours majoritarian elements who surface every time the party has to seek votes in the face of a direct challenges by the BJP and other Hindutva groups such as the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra.

The Maharashtra government has been secretive on its reason for contemplating a law to curb conversions. It has no data to show the number of conversions done through fraud or coercion – the two reasons given as grounds for vitiating a change of faith by a citizen even in the states of Arunachal, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and Himachal which do have these laws on the statute books.

What complicates the politics of such moves against conversions -- and the phrase is generally understood to mean conversion to Christianity, and not to Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism -- is the focus on Christian preachers and evangelists. Islam has since Independence not really been involved in proselytizing with its numbers growing only through birth. There have been many instances of Hindus converting to Sikhism, a practice that was common before the Army assault on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in 1984 at the height of the separatist Khalistani militancy, but still takes place in the Punjab and New Delhi. Conversions to Buddhism take place on a mass scale from the ranks of the Dalits, who are then called Ambedkarites or Neo-Buddhists. Five hundred thousand of them were converted to Buddhism in Nagpur by the late Dr. B R Ambedkar, the chair of the committee that wrote India’s Constitution. A recent celebrated mass conversion took place in recent years in Mumbai where 50,000 Dalits changed faith at a popular public grounds in the heart of the city under police protection.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Council of Hindus) and the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (Jungle Dwellers Welfare Association), frontal organisations of the RSS working in the tribal areas, routinely convert animistic and Christian tribals to Hinduism under what they call a Ghar Wapsi programme, “home-coming” to their faith. There has been no legal action ever against the VHP, or the RSS.

So far the Himachal law was the most draconian as it forced citizens and their pastors to give a month’s notice to the state authorities and then await their decision before they could formally profess the faith. The Evangelical Fellowship of Indian, and a secular NGO, ANHAD led by celebrated civil rights activist Shabnam Hashmi, moved the high court which struck down these obnoxious clauses.

It is these very sections that Madhya Pradesh now wants to incorporate into its old law. It in fact goes a step further and wants the police to launch mandatory enquires into why the person wants to change his faith – in effect why he wants to leave Hindu fold. Pastors can be jailed for four years and fined a hundred thousand rupees if they break the law.

In states where the police force and the subordinate bureaucracy is known to be bigoted sand partisan, such laws can become extremely punitive. Human Rights activists have often pointed out that such laws also encourage the persecution and victimization of the Christian community, especially of the clergy.

The Church does not seem to have anticipated this. It also has no thesis for a united pre-emptive challenge to such laws. Individual groups go to court, but it is not an easy process. Some sections of the church, in fact, are quick to blame Pentecostal groups as inviting such laws by their provocative evangelisation. Others seem ready to sue for peace, and are already making overtures to the BJP as was seen in the YMCA feting Mr. Narendra Modi at a function in Ahmedabad last month.

The last time the Church voiced its anger was when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, called for a “national debate on conversions”, and the Catholic Bishops Conference president, Archbishop Alan de Lastic, challenged him, pointing out that such talk encouraged violence against hapless Christians in the country. It remains to be seen how the church will respond now.

Madhya Pradesh anti-conversion amendment passed.

Congress MLAs staged a walkout during a discussion on the MP religious freedom (amendment) bill after speaker Ishwar Das Rohani announced an extension in the time of the House beyond 5pm to complete the legislative work listed for Wednesday.

Congress MLAs staged the walkout protesting that they did not get a chance to speak on the bills as they were expecting the legislative work to be postponed to Thursday as it was 5pm -- the time when proceedings normally end.

The MP religious freedom (amendment) bill, 2013, was the only legislation that was passed after a brief discussion participated in by Congress MLAs.

Eleven other amendments to existing acts were passed in a span of 20 minutes without any discussion.

Speculation was rife that the assembly may be adjourned sine die on Thursday as the government’s essential legislative work of passing the supplementary

demands and the amendment bill had been passed.

Home minister Uma Shankar Gupta introduced the MP religious freedom (amendment) bill in the House. Ramniwas Rawat of the Congress while speaking on the discussion questioned the need for the amendment.

He said there was no need for an amendment since there was no issue arising out of religious conversions in Madhya Pradesh.

He questioned the home minister on the need to increase the punishment in forcible conversions.

Rawat said a provision for one-year rigorous imprisonment and Rs. 5,000 fine existed in the act and there was no need for amendment.

He also said it seems that the amendment was being brought in to harass those who run schools and colleges.

Yadvendra Singh of the Congress said the constitution allows people to choose their faith and the amendment was against this freedom.

MLA Arif Aqueel while participating in the discussion said that he was opposed to the amendment and demanded strict action against Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) workers who carry out path sanchalan.

At this, the entire House protested with minister Kailash Vijayvargiya saying path sanchalan by RSS was not relevant to the discussion.

Aqueel said if the constitution provides for everyone to be equal the government should also act against the path sanchalan which is done bearing arms.

Gupta then said the state government had no role in the amendment and added that he was only doing what was proposed by the Union government.

Just then it was 5pm and the speaker announced an extension in time at which Congress MLAs protested and staged a walkout.

The amendment was passed by voice vote. After this, the speaker asked the ministers concerned to table bills and had them passed with only treasury benches eyeing the motions.

The bills that were passed are the MP essential services maintenance and prevention of disruption (amendment) bill, 2013, MP water regulation bill, 2013, MP private professional educational institutes (regulation of admission and fee control) amendment bill, 2013, MP panchayat raj and gram swaraj (second amendment) bill, 2013, MP municipal bodies law (amendment) bill, 2013, MP criminal procedure code (MP amendment) bill, 2013, MP land revenue code (amendment) bill, 2013, MP government employee (superannuation age) amendment bill, 2013, MP public places (religious structures and regulation of activities) amendment bill, 2013, MP private universities (establishment and working) second amendment bill, 2013 and MP entertainment cess legalisation bill, 2013.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Protests over 'tribal' Virgin Mary and baby Jesus in Jharkhand

From BBC News. See below for link.

A new statue which shows Virgin Mary and baby Jesus as tribals has been installed in a church in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, sparking off protests from non-Christian tribal groups.

Wearing a red-bordered white sari, red blouse, necklace and bangles and holding baby Jesus in a cloth sling, the statue has invited both anger and astonishment.

Unveiled by Cardinal Telesphor P Toppo on 26 May, the statue stands tall in the local church in Singhpur village, 15km (nine miles) from the state capital, Ranchi.

But ever since its installation, the statue has attracted the ire of some non-Christian tribal groups who are demanding its immediate removal.

Some of them even took out a protest march on 17 June in Ranchi in support of their demand.

"It is for the first time in the state that Mother Mary and baby Jesus have been portrayed as tribals. What was the need for it?" asks Bandhan Tigga, head priest of Sarna Society, which represents non-Christian tribal population of the state.

In Jharkhand, 27% of the population or 8.6 million people are tribals and only 3% of the tribal population is Christian.

"Showing Mother Mary as a tribal is a part of the larger design to make the tribal population believe that she was from their community and confuse them," says Mr Tigga.

"A 100 years from now, people here would start believing that Mother Mary was actually our tribal goddess. It's an attempt to convert Sarna tribals to Christianity."

'Nothing wrong'

Mr Tigga and his society leaders have asked the local Archbishop's House to remove the statue.

"If they do not remove it, a nationwide protest will be organised," he warns.

The Christian tribals, however, see nothing wrong with the statue - as residents of Jharkhand, they says they have "equal rights" over the red-bordered white sari and other tribal outfits.

"What's wrong in this? It's just like the Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German or even the African version of Mother Mary and baby Jesus," says Father Augustine Kerketta at the Archbishop House in Ranchi.

Some tribal groups have protested demanding the removal of the statue

"It happens everywhere as part of enculturation of the local tradition."

Cardinal Telesphor P Toppo is away in Rome and in his absence, Father Augustine has been nominated to negotiate with the non-Christian tribals over the controversial statue.

Father Augustine downplays the protests saying only a section of the non-Christian tribal population took part in them.

He says the charges levelled by the Sarna Society are "without any substance" and accuses some politicians of being behind the protests.

"General elections are due early next year and some people may wish to divide the Christian and non-Christian tribal populations for political gains," he says.

Nevertheless, he hopes to resolve the issue at their next meeting scheduled for 14 July.

But leaders of the Sarna Society say they do not expect much to come out of the meeting unless the statue is removed.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Concern over amendments in Madhya Pradesh anti conversion law

Christians in Madhya Pradesh have expressed fear over a proposed amendment to the anti-conversion law, making a priest party to a conversion.
The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP- Indian people’s party) has proposed the amendment to section 5 of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968 that seeks to include priests, increasing fears among Christians that the move will open the door to false accusations of conversion by Hindu extremists.
It also makes prior permission a must. Permissions must be obtained at least a month in advance from the district magistrate. Persons who desire to convert as well as the priest who is preside over the religious ceremony will have to apply for this permission. There is also a provision for a police inquiry on the request.
The priest has to fill in an application form giving details of not just the venue and date of the ceremony, but also add a list of names and addresses of those seeking conversion. This application has to be submitted at the district magistrate's office a month before conversion.
The cabinet has approved this amendment and will introduce it in the monsoon session starting Monday. Once the bill is passed in the assembly it will become a law immediately as it does not now require the approval of the President.
The hurried decision is a part of the grand plan prior to 2014 general elections to create a climate of suspicion and hatred towards Christian community, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said in a statement, demanding that the amendment be rejected.
India's Freedom of Religion Acts, referred to as anti-conversion laws, now have been implemented in six of India's 28 states and seven union territories. The laws appear to seek to curb religious conversions made by "force," "fraud" or "allurement."
“The laws obstruct conversion generally as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christian workers with spurious arrests and incarcerations,” said Sajan K George, GCIC national president in the statement.
In the original Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, the priest is not a party to such a conversion. The law required the person who wanted to switch religion to inform the district magistrate of the decision.
Anti-conversion laws exist in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, where people can be punished for not informing the state about their plans to convert.

Click here for source

Response to amendments in Madhya Pradesh anti-conversion act by concerned citizens

Response to proposed amendments

9 July 2013

Press release

National civil society and the Christian community have condemned proposals to amend the already draconian Freedom of Religion Act by giving extraordinary powers to the administration to decide on religious choices of the citizens. The amendments will also make religious minorities even more vulnerable to attack from extremist fundamentalist forces such as members of the Hindutva Sangh Parivar.

The amendments have not been introduced in the state assembly, which has begun its new session. But available information says the amendments include punishments of 4 years imprisonment and one lakh, prior permission from the District Magistrate for even voluntary conversion, and police inquires before granting the permission.

Community leaders said they will protest peacefully across the state if the black law is made more vicious. They will also take legal recourse to challenge the law as unconstitutional.

The Himachal Pradesh High court recently similar struck down provisions in the state law for prior intimation or permission from authorities. These regulations anyway violate national and international guarantees of freedom of faith of citizens. It is tantamount to government interference in the constitutional guarantee on freedom of religion.

Christian community is particularly incensed and concerned at the unbridled power the amendments will give to district officials and police. We have often seen the bigotry of officials in the district administration and police in rural areas and small towns who often connive with the local Hindutva elements for attacks on home churches and harassment of pastors. As it is, the existing laws encourage Hindutva elements to carry on hate campaigns against the Christian community, its pastors, religious workers and common people. The state every year records many cases of violence against Christians. Similar is the experience of the community in every other state where such black laws exist.

The Christian religion is against forcible or fraudulent religion and has reportedly said that such “conversions” are against the basic teachings of Christ. No pastor can forcibly or fraudulently convert any person.

There is therefore absolutely no reason for the state government to enact such amendments. The state government has also not been able to give any convincing reasons why suddenly it sees the necessity of such a law.

प्रस्तावित संशोधनों के जवाब

9 जुलाई 2013

प्रेस विज्ञप्ति

पहले से ही कठोर धार्मिक स्वतंत्रता अधिनियम में संशोधन करने के प्रस्ताव की राष्ट्रीय नागरिक समाज और ईसाई समुदाय के नागरिकों ने निंदा की है.

यह संशोधन प्रशासन को असाधारण शक्तियां देकर नागरिकों के धार्मिक विकल्प पर फैसला करने के बुनियादी अधिकार में हस्तक्षेप करता है. यह संशोधन उग्रवादी कट्टरपंथी ताकतों जैसे की हिंदुत्व संघ परिवार के सदस्यों को धार्मिक अल्पसंख्यकों को और भी सताने के लिए और उन पर हमला करने के लिए बढ़ावा देगा.

हालांकि संशोधन राज्य विधानसभा के इस नए सत्र में अभी पेश नहीं किया गया है, लेकिन उपलब्ध जानकारी के अनुसार संशोधन में प्रावधान है की स्वैच्छिक मतान्तरण के लिए भी जिला मजिस्ट्रेट से पूर्व अनुमति, और पुलिस पूछताछ आवश्यक है नहीं तो 4 साल की कारावास की सजा और एक लाख रुपया जुर्माना भी देना होगा.

समुदाय के नेताओं कहा है की अगर इस काले कानून को और अधिक शातिर किया जाता है तो वे राज्य भर में शांतिपूर्ण ढंग से विरोध प्रदर्शन करेंगे. उन्होंने यह भी कहा है की इस कानून को चुनौती देने के लिए और इसे असंवैधानिक करार देने के लिए कानूनी सहारा लिया जाएगा.

हाल ही में हिमाचल प्रदेश उच्च न्यायालय ने इसी तरह पूर्व सूचना या अधिकारियों से अनुमति के प्रावधानों को राज्य के कानून में से ख़ारिज किया था. वैसे भी इन नियमों से नागरिकों के विश्वास की स्वतंत्रता की राष्ट्रीय और अंतरराष्ट्रीय गारंटी का उल्लंघन होता है. यह धर्म की स्वतंत्रता की संवैधानिक गारंटी पर सरकार के हस्तक्षेप करने के लिए बराबर है.

यह संशोधन जिस तरह जिला अधिकारियों और पुलिस को निरंकुश सत्ता प्रदान करेगा उससे ईसाई समुदाय विशेष रूप से नाराज और चिंतित है. हमने अक्सर ग्रामीण क्षेत्रों और छोटे कस्बों में गृह कलीसियाओं, चर्चों और पादरियों के उत्पीड़न पर हमलों के मामलों में जिला प्रशासन और पुलिस के अधिकारियों के पक्षपात और कट्टरता को देखा है और ये पाया है की वे अक्सर स्थानीय हिंदुत्ववादी तत्वों के साथ गुप्त रूप से सहयोग करते हैं या उनको अनदेखा कर देते हैं. वैसे भी, मौजूदा कानून हिंदुत्व तत्वों को प्रोत्साहित करते हैं की वे ईसाई समुदाय, उनके पादरियों, धार्मिक कार्यकर्ताओं और आम लोगों के खिलाफ नफरत का अभियान जारी रखें. राज्य में हर साल ईसाइयों के खिलाफ हिंसा के कई मामलों का रिकॉर्ड है. इसी प्रकार का अनुभव हर उस राज्य में है जहाँ इस तरह के काले कानूनों का अस्तित्व है.

ईसाई धर्म जबरन या धोखाधड़ी द्वारा धर्म परिवर्तन के खिलाफ है और हमेशा ये कहा भी है कि इस तरह के "मतान्तरण" मसीह की बुनियादी शिक्षाओं के खिलाफ हैं. कोई पादरी जबरन या धोखे से किसी भी व्यक्ति का धर्मं नहीं बदल सकता है.

इसलिए इस तरह के संशोधन को अधिनियमित करने के लिए राज्य सरकार के पास कोई कारण नहीं है. राज्य सरकार भी कोई ठोस कारण नहीं दे पाई है की अचानक एक ऐसे कानून की जरूरत उसे क्यों दिखाई पड़ती है.

Monday, July 08, 2013

BJP to seek amendment in anti-conversion law in Madhya Pradesh

The BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is preparing to introduce amendments to the 1968 Dharma Swatantrata Adhiniyam (Anti-Conversion law)

According to reports in Danik Bhaskar on July 5, 2013, the new amendment presses for four years imprisonment and one lakh fine for those involved in conversion.

It also makes prior permission a must. Permissions must be obtained at least a month in advance from the district magistrate. Persons who desire to convert as well as the priest who is preside over the religious ceremony will have to apply for this permission. There is also a provision for a police inquiry on the request.

The cabinet has approved this amendment and will introduce it in the monsoon session starting Monday. Once the bill is passed in the assembly it will become a law immediately as it does not now require the approval of the President.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Minority panel defends award to Fr. Ajay Singh

A Catholic priest, who bore the brunt of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Odisha’s Kandhamal, has been awarded the Minority Rights Day Award by national minorities commission.

Rightwing Hindu organisations in Odisha had protested the decision, alleging that Father Ajay Singh had criminal cases pending against him, which turned out to be propaganda.  The minority commission defended its decision to award Singh after the Odisha government informed it that there was no case against Singh. “He was given the award for his contribution towards upholding minority rights,” NCM chief Wajahat Habibullah said.

In December 2007 and August 2008, following the killing of Swami Lakshmananda Saraswati by Maoists, the Christian community in Kandhamal and elsewhere were targeted. Over 100 people were killed and nearly 170 Christian institutions were completely or partially destroyed.

The violence was unleashed by the Sangh Parivar after they accused the missionaries of killing  the Swami.

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Minorities commission to award Kandhamal priest, Orissa govt warns of 'adverse impact'

In a controversial move, the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has decided to confer the Minority Rights Day Award on Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a Catholic priest based in Kandhamal, on July 5, despite the Orissa government's warning that the move may have an "adverse impact" on the "communal harmony" in the district.

Following the NCM's request for a background check on Singh, Kandhamal District Collector B S Poonia, in a report sent last month, said: "A confidential inquiry was conducted by the DSP, DIB, Kandhamal, and forwarded by SP, Kandhamal. The report indicates that it is not advisable to consider the case of Ajay Kumar Singh...for the Minority Rights Day Award as it may have an adverse impact on the peace and communal harmony in the ethno-communal hyper-sensitive district of Kandhamal."

He added that during the 2008 Kandhamal riots, Jan Vikas, the organisation with which Singh was associated, was the only NGO that was targeted by tribals.

The DIB deputy superintendent's report said, "There is a strong perception in a section of society, including the tribals, that this organisation is promoting conversion indirectly by giving benefits either to the Christian community or people vulnerable to conversion."

Singh is no longer associated with Jan Vikas.

The Kandhamal SP, in his report, reiterated that "recommendation of Ajay Kumar Singh for Minority Rights Day Award is not advisable, particularly in this ethno-communal hyper-sensitive district".

When contacted, Poonia said: "The locals have an unfavourable perception about him. We forwarded our report and it is for them to act on it."

NCM chairperson Wajahat Habibullah said: "We sought a report from the district administration, but they have not identified any wrong action committed by Singh. They have mentioned the opinion of the people. The facts were placed before the award selection committee and we decided to go ahead with his name."

The other contender for the award was Gujarat-based activist Teesta Setalvad. At least two members who were part of the selection committee said there was general consensus on Singh's name.

"It has been confirmed that there is no criminal case pending against Singh. Anyone working for tribals is bound to be critical with regard to the government. The Orissa government became over-sensitive to his criticism. Even if there was a case pending against him, there is a presumption of innocence. He is working for the advancement of the tribals, it's not a disqualification in a democracy," said senior lawyer K T S Tulsi, who was part of the selection committee.

"The committee talked to the District Collector and found there was no case against Singh. The chairman decided to go ahead with the award. There was general consensus on his name and the decision was taken collectively," said eminent sociologist Prof Ashish Nandy, also part of the panel.

Singh's name was proposed by a member of the selection committee — John Dayal. "People in the selection committee can also recommend names, there is no conflict of interest. It doesn't disqualify the candidate," said Habibullah.

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Christians attacked in Karnataka

Church Burned, Christians attacked in Karnataka
On 26 June, Hindu extremists burned up a church, beat up a pastor and five church members in Narasipura, Hassan District.
According to our correspondent Advocate Moses Muragavel, the extremists burned down Zion church at about 10 p.m after they repeatedly threatened to harm the Christians if they continued to conduct worship meetings in the area.
Speaking to EFI News, Pastor Annaiah said, "The extremists want to wipe us out from the village and told us that there is no other religion than Hinduism for us".
Again on 29 June, the extremists massed up to burn the temporary shed the Christians built for conducting prayer meetings and beat up Pastor Annaiah and the church members as they tried to stop the extremists.
The Christians ran to the police station. However, the police refused to file a case against the attackers and summoned the two parties for a compromise.
The police told the extremists not to disturb the Christians in future and the Christians were told to pray quietly in their respective homes and not to gather for a prayer meeting.
On 3 June, about 1000 Hindu people shouting anti-Christian slogans staged a protest rally against Pastor Annaiah and his ministry and demanded the eradication of Christianity in the area.
The extremists continued to harass the Christians at press time. Area Christian leaders are meeting the higher officials to bring calm to the situation.
Christians account for about 4 percent of Karnataka’s population of 61.1 million people, according to Operation World, though officially the government puts the Christian population at 1.9 percent; Hindus make up 83.9 percent of the state’s population, and Muslims 12.2 percent.

Christians Arrested in Hunsur in Karnataka

In a similar incident in Hunsur, Mysore, Police arrested 12 Christians after the Hindu extremists staged a protest rally against alleged forceful conversion and demanded the arrest of Pastor Steven Suresh and 11 other believers .
According to our correspondent, Pastor Shibu Isaac, the extremists filed a police complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion, of desecrating the photographs of Hindu gods and of using derogatory and highly insulting remarks against the Hindu gods on 15 May.
Subsequently, Pastor Steven Suresh and 11 Christians from the Hikki Pikki adivasi were arrested under Section 295 of the Indian Penal Code.
Speaking to EFI News, area Christian leader C.V Chacko said, "After accepting Christ, the Hikki Pikki Adivasi Christians underwent positive transformation in every spheres of their lives and the extremist could not tolerate the change".
Hikki Pikki adivasi Christians in Pakshirajapura are socially boycotted and their Anganawadi School has been converted into a temple. They are not allowed to draw water from the common wells. Government facilities for which all the STs, whether Hindus or Christians, are entitled to, are not made available to them since they have converted to Christianity.
On 6 June, the same group of anti-Christian people massed up and staged a protest against the Christian activities in the area.

Source – EFI News

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Anti Conversion bill proposed in Maharashtra

Around 50 Catholic organisations from across Mumbai have written to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan asking him to withdraw an anti-conversion bill, which they say will be introduced in the monsoon session of the Assembly. The letter reads, "It has been brought to our attention through reliable sources that there is move to introduce an Anti-Conversion Bill by your government. First it was a total disbelief and then a shocking surprise if this is true, that a secular government in the state of Maharashtra would ever think of introducing such a Bill which is anti-minority and against the constitutional rights of a minority. This Anti-Conversion Bill should be confined to the dustbin of history."

"The Home Department has already prepared the bill. But introducing such legislation will not only be an anti-minority act but will increase the persecution of the minorities," said Dolphy Dsouza, former vice-president of the All India Catholic Union and president of the Bombay Catholic Sabha. He said that Catholics would protest in a big way if the Bill is tabled.

This is the fourth attempt to table the controversial bill in the Assembly. In 1996, BJP MLA from Mumbai, Mangal Prabhat Lodha had introduced it as a private member's bill under the name of Maharashtra Dharma Swantantrya Adhiniyam (Maharashtra Freedom of Religion Act), but it failed to gain any support. In April 2005, an anti-conversion bill was proposed by the then Home Minister Siddharam Mhetre of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine, but the proposal was struck down by the then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. The late CM reasoned that there was no need for an anti-conversion legislation as existing laws had enough provisions to tackle the "problem".

In 2012, BJP MLA Sudhir Mungantiwar voiced the need to introduce such a bill, but in the long run the bill did not materialise. According to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Nawab Malik, he was the only MLA to protest against Mungantiwar. Incidentally the NCP handles the Home Department portfolio.

Malik who is also the spokesperson of NCP, told this newspaper that if the bill is introduced by their ally the Congress, they will oppose it. "The RSS agenda will not be tolerated. Every person has a right to choose one's own religion. It is a fundamental right. We will put a stop to the bill in case this happens," he said.

When contacted, Congress leader and MLC Sanjay Dutt said that there was no cause for concern as the bill would be debated in the Assembly and only then passed. "Every draft of legislation introduced in the Assembly becomes the property of the House and it is debated and discussed upon in great detail. The government will take a stand only after appropriate discussion on the bill," he said, adding that this is not an ordinance that it should require such immediate concern.

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Maharashtra home department proposes anti-conversion law.

After several failed attempts, including the one in 1996 when a proposal was put forth by BJP legislator Mangal Prabhat Lodha, the state is contemplating an anti-conversion bill yet again.

A senior state government official said that the bill was proposed by the home department a few months ago and was being examined by the departments concerned.

“It started as a private member bill, but was proposed by the home department about five months ago. We are currently examining it,” said a senior official from the minorities development department, on condition of anonymity.

“In a recent meeting, the Christian groups were against the bill,” the official added.

Dolphy D’souza, a Catholic activist and former vice-president of the All India Catholic Union, on Thursday, sent a letter to the chief minister, urging him to ensure the bill does not get passed.

“I learned from a highlevel source in the bureaucracy about two weeks ago that the bill was being looked at again. So, I sent a letter to the chief minister and the additional chief secretary of the minorities development department, asking them to ensure that the bill is discarded. Minorities such as Christians are already being harassed by authorities on false accusations of forceful conversions. This will become another tool for harassment,” he said, adding that he would ask other groups to start a campaign against the bill soon

Munaf Hakim, chairman of the state minorities commission, said that he was not in favour of the bill.

“After reading the bill, it is clear that it could be a source of harassment. The minorities commission will never support it,” said Hakim.

The bill would make official permission from district level authorities necessary for religious conversion.

Activists said it could be used to harass religious groups through false allegations.

The additional chief secretary of the state home department was unavailable for comment.

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Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Anto Akkara wins international award for human rights in journalism

Anto Akkara, who has been working with CWN for over a decade as a correspondent in India, has been awarded the Titus Brandsma award for journalism by the International Christian Organization of the Media (ICOM).

The Titus Brandsma award recognizes a journalist who has made a major contribution to the struggle for human rights. Akkara has exposed the brutal persecution of Christians in India’s Kandhamal region, particularly in his books, Shining Faith in Kandhamal and Early Christians of the 21st Century. In its award citation, ICOM praised Akkara for “the stellar role you have played in highlighting the gross denial of fundamental rights and freedom of religion in the Kandhamal jungles of Orissa.”

The annual award from ICOM, which will be formally conferred on Akkara in October at a conference in Panama City, is named for Blessed Titus Brandsma, a Dutch journalist and Carmelite priest who courageously resisted Nazi ideology and died at Dachau in 1942.

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Hindu Extremists Refuse to Let Christians Buy and Sell in India

Three months of intimidation and assaults in two villages in eastern India has left four Christians hospitalised and others injured, two houses damaged, and the entire Christian community unable to do business or draw water from the town well, church leaders say.

The boycott of the Christians of Dangarguda village, led by some Hindu nationalist residents, began in April, said Rev. K. Raju of the Malkangiri Life Development Society.

“The Christians were prohibited from buying and selling and from fetching drinking water from the public well because of their faith in Christ,” Raju told World Watch Monitor.

Christians in the village started drinking from the river, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. Heavy rains, however, muddied the river, making it unfit to drink.

In many parts of huge and diverse India, Christians and Hindus live together peacefully. In some regions, however, nationalist Hindus enjoy popular and bureaucratic support in their campaign to make India a purely Hindu society.

In Odisha state, where the village of Dangarguda is located, India’s foremost nationalist political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, shares power with the more secular Biju Janata Dal party.

Antagonism in the village boiled over into violence on June 8 when a woman, Mongli Madhi, was attacked as she tried to fetch drinking water from the public well.

‘The extremists did not allow Mongli to take water from the public well, beat her up and broke her water buckets and pots,” Raju said.

They returned the following day, going to Mongli’s house and beating and even biting her, said Bethel Church Rev. Bijay Purusu. He said she sustained injuries on her back, right hand and neck.

Bethel Church Pastor Rev. Bijay Purusu, standing, and Mudha Madhi, in the Malkangiri District Headquarters Hospital.Bethel Church Pastor Rev. Bijay Purusu, standing, and Mudha Madhi, in the Malkangiri District Headquarters Hospital.

The next day, June 10, area Christian leaders reported the matter to the village head, who took no action. Later the same day, a group shouting anti-Christian slogans attacked village Christians with swords, axes, chains and other weapons.

The victims were beaten nearly unconscious, and the attackers poured water on them to revive them when they were about to pass out. One victim, Mudha Madhi, was unconscious for about three hours.

The mob damaged two houses belonging to Christian families.

Four Christians—Irma Madhi, Mangli Madhi, Mudha Madhi and Sambru Khurami—suffered cuts and bruises and were bleeding profusely when they were rushed to the hospital. Three of the victims have been released, but Irma Madhi remains hospitalised.

The remaining Christians fled the village, taking shelter in Christian homes in a neighbouring village.

“This is the month of an agricultural time and we do not know how long they can stay in the homes of other people as they are all struggling for their livelihood,” Purusu said. Most have since returned to their own homes.

The latest assault came on June 22 in nearby Goudaguda village, when a group beat up a Christian couple, Bina Madhi and his wife, Ermi Madhi, and church member Jagarnath Maekani as they unsuccessfully tried to drive the Christians off their farmland.

“The extremists, led by Laxmi Markani, swelled up and told the Christians to leave the village, claiming that there is no place for them and there is no need for Christians to have cultivation land,” Purusu said.

The attackers used bamboo sticks, but the victims were not seriously hurt. They filed a complaint at Malkangiri Police Station. No arrests have yet been reported.

Police have registered a First Information Report against the attackers

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