Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pastors arrested in Greater Noida under pressure from Hindu groups

While pastors were questioned at Surajpur police station, various Hindu groups protested outside on Saturday. (Source: Express photo by Gajendra yadav) 

At least 10 Christian pastors were brought in for questioning to Surajpur Police station in Greater Noida on Saturday over allegations that they were “forcefully converting Hindus to Christianity”. Soon after their detention, the police station was surrounded by protesters from various Hindu groups.

Christian community leaders in Greater Noida said allegations of forced conversion had been trumped up and were aimed at creating mistrust in the district.
The Gautam Buddh Nagar police said the 10 pastors were allegedly participating in a fasting ritual, which was not connected to religious conversion, at Kulesra village.

But, SP (Rural) Brijesh Kumar Singh said since they had received complaints from villagers, the matter would be investigated. Police said no FIR had been filed yet.
Meanwhile, protests outside the police station reflected the growing communal tension in the area.

Reverend Wilson Joseph, president of the Calvary Ashram Seva Sangh, has been working in Uttar Pradesh since 1992 and has been in Greater Noida for the past 12 years.
“I have never seen this kind of communal tension. We are not even being able to get close to Surajpur police station. Some members of our church, who went there, were beaten up. We will file a complaint once the mob clears,” he alleged.

Joseph alleged that members of the RSS had incited villagers at Kulesra village through false allegations of forced conversions.
Sources indicated that police initially intended to let the pastors go after questioning, but the protests outside the police station made that difficult.

Police denied that the incident had sparked off communal tension in the area. “There were allegations made that these Christian pastors were forcing people to convert. Police brought them in for questioning. We will be investigating the matter,” Singh said.

Police sources said tension had been brewing in the area for the past few months, with rumours doing the rounds that Hindus, especially
Dalits, were being converted forcibly. But, police said they had no evidence to corroborate the rumours.

“The allegations of conversions are primarily regarding the Dalit community, which is the poorest. Many convert because they think that they will be able to escape caste-based biases. Others think that there will be financial benefits of such a conversion,” Singh said.

However, minority activists alleged that rumours of “forced conversions” were being spread with the intent of spreading communal tension to reap political dividends. “Hindu organisations connected to the RSS and VHP are spreading tension based on the propagation of their ideology that Christianity is inherently alien,” John Dayal, civil rights activist, alleged.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

‘Didn’t get minority status, so embraced Hinduism’

 The Asroi church, which was converted to a temple, has been locked up by the officials.

For 10 years, 29-year-old Ram Pal was a practising Christian, but three days ago he converted and become a Hindu. The change in faith, however, has not tangibly altered his life as the struggle to make ends meet and the worry about the future of his children continue unabated.
Despite converting to Christianity in 2001, seven Valmiki families in Asroi village were not accorded minority status. Instead, the village register – maintained by the district administration – continued to identify them as Scheduled Caste. This continued for over a decade, but Ram Pal said that over the past few years, this ambiguous identity of being neither a Christian nor a Dalit was becoming increasingly difficult.
Ram Pal, who like others in his community raises pigs, said, “We still used our SC identity to get our children admission in schools and avail to various government schemes. We celebrated Holi and Diwali along with Christimas. But people were asking questions. If you’re a Christian, how can you be a Dalit?”
Another such Dalit, 44-year-old Ram Chandra, said, “Our children go to school, on the basis of their SC certificates. But most drop out in their teens and look for work in Hathras and Aligarh. Now that we’re Hindu, at least no can doubt that we’re Dalits.”
On Wednesday, a church belonging to the 7th Day Adventists that functioned from a small room in the village was “converted” into a temple through a “shuddhikaran” (purification) ceremony that saw the “ghar wapsi” (reconversion) of 72 Dalit Valmikis in the seven families by various Hindu groups, including the RSS, VHP, Bajrang Dal and Arya Samaj, said villagers.
Ram Pal said that the Dalit community did not want the puja to take place within the church. “But, they said it was the only way for us to become Hindus again,” he said.
Meanwhile, Khem Chandra, the Sangh pracharak and pramukh of Dharam Jagaran Vivad in Aligarh asserted that the conversion was a “conscious choice made by the Dalit Valimiki community”. However, the news of the appropriation of the church spread tension in the area.
Fearing an outbreak of violence, the district administration locked the room on Thursday. The Shiva poster, which was put up in the place where a framed-photograph of Jesus Christ used to hang, has been taken off  “and kept in a safe place”.
The belongings of the church – a cupboard, Christmas-lights and a single copy of the Bible – has also been kept in a locker.
The Christian community has alleged that such conversions were a part of an RSS conspiracy, aimed at reaping electoral benefit. Seeking immediate action against the perpetrators, civil rights activist John Dayal said, “It is the right of an individual to convert to any religion of his choice. But such mass conversions imply political, social and physical coercion and the threat of violence.  I condemn the coercion and conspiracy of the Sangh Parivar which is using it to polarise the religious environment in the state with an eye on the elections.”
Father  Dominic Emmanuel, community leader and the editor of a Christian magazine in Delhi said, “With the BJP in power, these groups have become aggressive.”
The village pradhan also pointed out that the BJP, for the first time, had received an overwhelming majority of the votes in the village. “Usually, the votes go for RLD. This time the elections was about Hindus and Muslims and every one voted for Modi. That has been reflected here,” said Vikas Choudhury, pradhan of Asroi.
But, while the RSS and the VHP have been making in-roads into the village by working with the Dalit-Christian community, villagers said that it was not simply a matter of faith, but also economics.
“Over the years, the activities of the Church here have receded. We were promised schools, health care and better lives, but nothing came of it. We haven’t been accorded minority status and soon, we feared, our Dalit status would also be taken away from us,” said 54-year-old Guji Lal, who added that Hindu groups in the past months had been increasingly active in the village, convincing people to ‘reconvert’ to Hinduism.
Asroi village, with its pucca roads and expansive houses, has become obviously prosperous. But the cluster of 10 cramped single-storey structures – away from the rest of the village – belonging to Dalit Valmikis has not been touched by this prosperity. While the backbone of the village economy is farming of cash-intensive crops, the Dalit families almost exclusively rear pigs, selling meat only to other Dalits from nearby villages.

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Fearing more ‘takeovers’, Christians to lock Aligarh church after reconversion

ALIGARH: A day after the "re-conversion" of 72 Valmikis in an Asroi (Aligarh) church, the pastor at the headquarters of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Mumbai, Habil Gyan, said members of the denomination will soon lock up the church. A Shiva poster had been put up inside the church soon after the re-conversion. But it was taken away as news of the incident spread and threatened to turn into a communal fracas.

"We have sent our boys to take control of the church building and lock it," Gyan told TOI over phone from Mumbai. "I was told that there was no harm done to the church, and the 'shuddhi karan (purification ceremony)' took place a km away from the church building."

In Aligarh, meanwhile, Christians said they feared more such takeovers of their churches. "Seeing that the district administration has done little to protect the church in Asroi village, which was turned into a temple, we fear for the safety of our other properties," a Christian teacher in Aligarh, requesting anonymity, said.
Advocate Osmond Charles added, "The havan took place inside the church. Christians don't feel safe regarding their properties. Tomorrow, another church may see a 'shuddhi karan' exercise. The issue is not about leaving a faith, but about maintaining the sanctity of a place of worship."

Christians in other parts of Uttar Pradesh joined in the protest and said they would send delegations to the UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Vincent Joel, treasurer of Christian organization Rashtriya Isai Maha Sabha, said, "This is slow poisoning. This kind of act can create larger problems. We call it communalism. Leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav present themselves as secular. Have they nothing to say about this? I smell in this preparations for the 2017 state assembly elections."

Nikhil Jatin Kumar, who leads the youth wing of the same organization, said, "If the state government were sensitive to our sentiments, it would have sent representatives to repair the damage done by communal elements. This would then have been a case between the communal elements and the government. But it is clearly not that. We are not going into action-reaction mode, and will not take recourse to arson. Our pastors and priests will assemble in Aligarh and a course of action will be planned."

Christians of Aligarh have prepared a memorandum to be presented to the district administration, too, asking for support in this matter. They have also asked the head of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to meet them in Aligarh, and visit the minority commission in Delhi.

But while the Christians have reacted with hurt and outrage at the conversion of the church into a temple, members of the Dharam Jagran Vivad, Aligarh, who conducted the re-conversion ceremony of the Valmikis, said nothing will stop them from having a temple in the area.

"We have found a place near the chabootra (verandah). That is where we will set up the temple. I don't have anything to say for the church. We have done the shuddhi karan in the building, whether they want to uproot the church or raze it to the ground is their headache. We will not let another church come up because there is no Christian left," said the pramukh of the Dharam Jagran Vivad, Rajeshwar Singh, who had arrived in Aligarh from Uttarakhand for the re-conversion.

Khem Chandra, a local member of the Vivad group, added, "We will think about the church building. It belongs to the missionaries, but the ground on which it stands belongs to Hindustan. We will not compromise on our dharti (earth). We will meet the villagers and decide about the temple (coming up)."

A local policeman, wishing not to be named, said, "No FIR has been filed. People appear to have willingly embraced a certain religion. There is little for the police to do in such a situation." 

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Friday, August 29, 2014

Madhya Pradesh toys with "Wakf" for Christians again

Bhopal, Aug. 28:  

Shivraj Singh Chouhan thinks it’s a “better deal”. The Church says it’s just a ruse to meddle in its affairs.

A battle is on in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, where the Church and the Chouhan government have locked horns over a suggestion to set up a wakf-type body for Christians.

The suggestion had come from the Madhya Pradesh minorities commission, which said the Christian community should set up such a body to regulate and manage its properties like schools, churches and cemeteries in the state.

Anand Bernard, a member of the commission, is backing the recommendation that Chouhan is keen on implementing.

“The properties of Muslims are being managed by the Wakf Board under which a tribunal resolves disputes. Sikh community affairs are being managed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Act. A handful of Parsi community properties are being managed by the Parsi Anjuman and Hindu properties are being governed by the Hindu Temple Act,” Bernard says. “Why can’t an Isai board be in place to look after the properties of Christains?”

But many Christians, including Catholics and Protestants, are opposing Bernard.

One community leader, the Rashtriya Isai Maha Sangh coordinator Anand Muttungal, said Bernard was just trying to please “Hindu hardliners” to bag a third term as member of the minorities commission. Bernard has taken up the issue when his tenure is ending, Muttungal pointed out.

Antar Singh Arya, the state minister for minority affairs, said the government was “committed” to protecting the properties of Christians. “We have no vested interest. Our chief minister has accepted the minorities commission recommendation to set up a board to manage Christian community properties,” he told The Telegraph.

Bernard, a Protestant, spoke of a pressing need to manage the community’s properties worth over Rs 200 crore, saying rampant corruption had resulted in graveyards being sold. 
“A time will come when the Protestants won’t have any property in the state. Land mafia, hand in glove with some clerics, have already sold Christian prime properties across the state,” he added, claiming many Catholics too wanted such a board to bring in transparency.

But Bhopal Catholic Diocese Archbishop Leo Carnellio said there was no need to set up a wakf-like board for Christians. “Most of our properties in Madhya Pradesh are purchased. We have not inherited land. Our properties are well managed and administered…. If someone wants to infringe on our rights, we will seek legal recourse,” Carnellio said.
Jabalpur Diocese bishop P.C. Singh, too, opposed the proposal.

Bernard was unfazed. “In a sense, regulating Church property is a revolutionary step. I am ready to face the consequences,” he claimed.

Babu Solomon, a vocal community leader, said fraudulent sale of property or encroachment on graveyards must be checked but a wakf-like body was not required for that. “The Wakf Board was created in 1954 in a very different situation. India had undergone Partition and safeguarding Muslim property was the onus of the government. Now we have enough laws to do it and, if required, a committee comprising prominent and responsible persons from the Christian society could be formed to look into the issue.” 

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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hindu groups convert Church into a Mandir, claim that 72 Christians converted to Hinduism

Click here for video by headlines today. Another video here

Tension prevailed in Asroi area of the district following reports of reconversion of some Christians to Hinduism.
Around 72 christians were reconverted into Valmikis even as Christians alleged foul play by the Hindu organisations, which are raking up 'Love Jihad' and other issues to make the country a 'Hindu Rashtra'.
Not just the 72 Valmikis were reconverted into Hindus from Christians at Asroi village, about 25 km from the Aligarh district headquarters but a 7th Day Adventist church was also converted into a Shiv temple, where these Valmikis used to pray, the report said.
According to reports, these Valmikis converted to Christianity in 1995 and now they have again embraced Hinduism.
The rituals for re-conversion were held inside the church on Tuesday last and all the 72 people were accepted in the Hindu community. a picture of Lord Shiva has been installed inside the church while the Cross was placed outside the boundary wall of the premises. But later as tension rose, the Shiva portrait was removed by the local people following objection by the pastor.
Bajrang Dal leaders of the district claim that this the "home coming" of the Valmikis and not re-conversion as claimed by the media.
"The decision to return to their own faith was appreciable and they were not forced to take such decision. But we had convinced them to reconvert to their religion and met the family members several times before their decision," the leader said.
Several Valmikis also claim that they were forced to reconvert to their original religion, as they were "neglected" by Christianity.
But Father Jonanthan Lal, pastor at City Methodist Church, denied such reconversion claims and alleged it was a conspiracy against the religion.
He also blamed the Hindu organisation for spreading malicious propaganda against the religion.
Meanwhile district officials claimed that the situation was tense in the area after the report of re-conversion but under control.
The people who were involved in re-conversion were also keeping mum on the issue.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Christian arrested in Mandla, Madhya Pradesh

August 22, 2014: According to reports received from Mandla, Madhya Pradesh, a Christian named Rakesh was arrested by the police while he was on his way to a Christian meeting. 

Rakesh was going to a meeting in the Mahadwani area in Mandla when the police apprehended him, took him to the Mahadwani police station and arrested him under Indian Penal Code sections 295 (A) and 298. 

After two days, he was  taken to Dindori jail which is near Mandla and was scheduled to be presented before the magistrate on August 26, 2014.