Friday, February 05, 2016

Indian Church committed to Kandhamal’s suffering brethren: Cardinal Cleemis

Bhubaneswar: The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) is committed to the “suffering brethren of Kandhamal,” says the head of the highest Catholic body in the country.

“I join in praying and thanking God for the blessings showered upon the Kandhamal Christian community. I want to assure my commitment and the unwavering support of the CBCI to the suffering brethren in Kandhamal,” CBCI president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis wrote in a February 4 letter to Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, head of the Catholic Church in Odisha state.

Kandhamal, a district in the eastern Indian state, was the scene of the worst anti-Christian violence the country witnessed in its modern history. It was the biggest and largest attack in 300 years in Indian history. The violence that lasted nearly four months claimed nearly 100 lives and rendered more than 50,000 homeless.

CBCI has accepted a suggestion from Archbishop Barwa to discuss the anti-Christian persecution of 2007 and 2008 in Kandhamal at its plenary meeting scheduled for March 2-9 at St John’s Medical College Campus, Bangalore, capital of the southern Indian state of Karnataka.

Archbishop Barwa is scheduled to speak for 20 minutes on March 4 giving a panoramic view of Kandhamal violence from 2007 to 2016. He will also answer questions for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile a group of priests and lay people is preparing a detailed list of Kandhamal martyrs, according to the dates of their death, denomination or religion.

Archbishop Barwa, chairperson of the Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council (OCBC), hailed the CBCI decis9on to address the Kandhamal issue. The Divine Word prelate said it was the first time in eight years the national body of the Indian bishops has expressed its willingness to know about the status of Kandhamal violence.

The Odisha Church wanted the bishops’ conference to discuss the possibilities of observing Kandhamal Martyrs’ Day at national level, initiating the canonization process for Kandhamal martyrs and putting up an exhibition on Kandhamal violence at the plenary venue.

The appeal was made in a December 10 letter that Archbishop Barwa wrote to CBCI deputy secretary general Monsignor Joseph Chinnayyan. The prelate writing on behalf of the Odisha bishops wanted the CBCI plenary to allow 20 minutes for Kandhamal survivors to share their experience. CBCI, however, turned down the request. It also rejected another request to put up an exhibition on Kandhamal at the plenary venue.

Heads of India’s 171 dioceses, auxiliary and retired bishops are expected to attend the assembly that has chosen the theme, “The Response of the Church in India to the present day Challenges.”

The bishops are meeting first time after a coalition headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the pro-Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people’s party) formed the federal government on May 26, 2014. India was in the grip of an election fever when the prelates met last time at Palai in February that year. They addressed the theme, “Renewed Church for a Renewed Society – Responding to the Call of Vatican II.”

Justice Cyriac Joseph, a retired Supreme Court judge and acting chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission, will be the main speaker at the next plenary, said CBCI secretary general Archbishop Albert D’Souza of Agra in a report.

The bishops have invited Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to address the plenary. The plenary has slotted some space for eminent persons from other Christian denominations and religions to express their views on the issues the bishops will discuss.

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Thursday, February 04, 2016

Humiliating Attack in India Tests Young Pastor’s Faith

A pastor in northern India who was beaten and paraded through streets with his head half-shaved as crowds called for him to be cut to pieces said he is thankful that he was counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.

On Friday (Jan. 29) Hindu extremists posing as policemen picked up Avdhesh Savita, a 35-year-old father of four, from his home in Rendhar village in Uttar Pradesh state and took him to Orai, Jalaun District. They beat him, shaved half of his head, one eyebrow and one side of his moustache, and put him on a donkey as they led him in a procession through Orai.

They and others in the frenzied crowd mocked him, falsely accusing him of forcible conversion.

“The mob that was parading me was shouting, ‘Kill him, cut him in pieces,’ but I kept telling them that faith unites, it does not divide,” Savita told Morning Star News. “I told my tormentors that I believe in Christ out of my own freewill, and that I have never hurt anyone, but they just did not listen to me.”

The assailants were reportedly members of Yuvavahini (Youth Brigade), a Hindu nationalist group, and took him to the head office of the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal in Orai, where others joined in the abuse.

“I kept praying throughout the ordeal, I am not afraid of dying,” Savita said. “I thought, ‘This is the day when I will stand before my Savior.’ But I also thought of my children, they are young, and that was my only concern. In the Lord I am persecuted, I am thankful for this privilege.”

The extremists picked up Savita, who became a Christian four years ago, in Rendhar, about 45 kilometers (27 miles) from Orai, in what appeared to be a police Jeep, and told him to come along for questioning, he said. Like him, his family members believed the men who came were policemen though they were in civilian clothes.

“They started hitting me once I was in the Jeep and continued hitting me on the way,” he told Morning Star News, in anguish. “They took me to the Bajrang Dal head office in Orai, where they hit me with their legs and fists, verbally abused me with the filthiest of language, shaved half my head, removed one eyebrow completely and half shaved my moustache. They then put me on a donkey and paraded me for about a half hour.”

The Hindu extremists took his jacket, which had money in it, and his mobile phone, said Savita, a poor lay pastor from the Dalit “untouchable” class that is lower than any of the Hindu caste levels.

Savita has two daughters, 16 and 14 years old, and two sons, 11 and 8.

Revenge Attack

The attack was rooted in the alleged instigator deciding to take vengeance on Savita because the pastor refused his request to give him money for alcohol and tobacco, a Christian leader said.

When Savita went to a Christian program in Varanasi from Dec. 18 to 23, Sangam Jatav was among three men from his village who had shown an interest in attending and accompanied him, the Rev. Daniel Inbaraj of the Mizpah Ministries told Morning Star News.

“On the fourth day of the program, Sangam Jatav asked Pastor Avdhesh for some money to buy alcohol and tobacco,” Pastor Inbaraj said. “When Avdhesh refused, he got furious. After returning from the program, Sangam Jatav went to Avdhesh’s house, threatened him and demanded money.”

Jatav demanded 20,000 rupees (US$294), saying that if Savita refused he would spread rumors that the pastor had tried to fraudulently convert him, and that he would get Bajrang Dal members to beat him, Savita said. Jatav subsequently called the Bajrang Dal, saying Savita had “converted him without his knowledge” and made him eat beef and desecrate photographs of Hindu gods by walking on them.

Jatav leveled the accusations in interviews with television stations, Pastor Inbaraj said.

“During the interviews, he alleged that the Christians forced him to eat beef, locked him in a room with the other two who had accompanied Avdhesh and him to the program, and forced him to walk on pictures of Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman,” he said. “He also alleged that he was given 5,000 Indian rupees to become a Christian. But when the other two were quizzed by the police, they denied any such accusation.”

The other two men who attended the Christian program, Sunil Jatav and Ravi Saxena, said that they were never forced to eat beef, and that only vegetarian food was served, Pastor Inbaraj said.

“They did say that they attended religious discourses but denounced the claim of Sangam Jatav that they were forcibly converted,” he said. “‘We went to the program and came back safe,’ they said.”

Jatav was arrested on Sunday (Jan. 31) and remains in jail, police officials told Morning Star News. Three cases are registered against him, including one of attempted murder in connection with the attack on Savita, they said.

Orai Senior Inspector Alok Sinha told Morning Star News that nine Bajrang Dal members have been arrested, but he declined to give any more information, except to say that police were searching for other members.

Pastor Inbaraj said he would raise the issue of Hindu extremists using what appeared to be a police Jeep with the superintendent of police.

The Rev. Savarimuthu Sankar, spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Delhi Archdiocese, called the attack a “glaring example of the impunitythat Hindu extremist groups enjoy under the federal government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We demand a reply from the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the parent body and the government,” he said.

John Dayal, spokesman for the United Christian Forum, told Morning Star News that election time in India seems to breed even more Hindu nationalist violence than that which takes place in provinces and towns where elections are not imminent.

“Uttar Pradesh, which is preparing for its legislative assembly elections, has seen considerable Hindutva activity in recent months, with both Christian and Muslims as its victims,” he said. “The state government, which is not controlled by the BJP, seems complicit on this violence.”

At the very least, Dayal said, the state government has failed to act on complaints.

“This blatant attempt to terrorize the community in the guise of protesting conversions is a case in point,” he said. “Uttar Pradesh does not have laws banning [fraudulent or forced] conversion such as exist in the states of Orissa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and three others. And yet both these Hindutva gangs and the police seem to believe that even the profession and propagation of faith is illegal. We condemn this manifestation of religious terrorism and call upon the state and Union governments to take strict action against it. Policemen guilty of complicity or impunity need also to be identified and brought to book.”

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) were registered against 150 to 200 unknown people at Orai and Rendhar police stations. The FIRs also name 13 people, including Jatav, who has been charged with attempt to murder (Section 307 of the Indian Penal Code), voluntary causing hurt (323), intentional insult to provoke breach of peace (504) and criminal intimidation (506) at Orai Police Station; and cheating by impersonation (419), cheating and dishonesty (420), punishment for extortion (384), impersonating a public servant (170) and public mischief with intent to incite (505) at Rendhar Police Station.

One FIR also names Akhilesh Dhiya, district convenor of Bajrang Dal at Jalaun. He has been charged with house-trespass after preparation for hurt, assault or wrongful restraint (452), punishment for dacoity (395), kidnapping or abducting with intent secretly and wrongfully to confine person (365), promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion (153A), criminal intimidation (506), voluntary causing hurt (323) and punishment for defamation (500). Dhiya is absconding, and the police have yet to find him.

After the ordeal, Savita spent a night at the police station for interrogation and was released the next day when local Christian leaders intervened.

Living in Fear

Savita have moved to his parents’ place at a different village out of fear over his family’s safety. Because his wife and family must care for two animals, they cannot leave the village, he said. If the family left the area, they would have to sell their animals.

“My three elder children have stopped going to school, as they are very fearful,” he said. “We fear that they too might be kidnapped or insulted in the same manner.”

His brother, Mukesh Savita, said the attack seemed to be well-planned.

“My brother is in shock, but what can we do?” he said. “We are in a minority, we are Dalits. Even my family is very afraid. These people who did this to my brother are criminals, and till they are all arrested, we will not be able to live in peace.”

Village onlookers also mistook the assailants for policemen, he added.

“It would have been better if they had shot him,” he told Morning Star News. “This humiliation is a lot worse than death.”

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Village fines people for saying 'Christian' prayers in Madhya Pradesh

Julwania: A village council in central India has fined four people for practicing Christianity and is closely watching them to prevent them continuing to do so.

The Dahar village council in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh, fined the four 5,000 rupees (US$75) each, Shankar Singh, one of those fined told Feb 4.

The punishment on Jan. 19 came five days after police arrested and later released 12 people who had gathered at Singh's house.

The arrests followed accusations by a Hindu group that the people at the gathering were attempting to convert to Christianity.

Members of the Hindu group surrounded the house and called police, Singh said.

"We are under tremendous pressure to give up our faith in Christ," the 40-year-old told, adding that he had been prevented from leaving the village for the past two weeks.

He and the other three denied allegations they had converted to Christianity or indulged in any conversion activity.

"I am a member of the Bhilala tribe and continue to be in it," Singh said.

"I'm simply happy to attend Christian meetings and prayers, which have helped me overcome my financial worries, alcoholism, unhappiness and other negativities in my life."

The state, run by pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, has an anti-conversion law that criminalizes conversion if done without permission from government authorities. Fines and jail terms are stipulated for those involved in "fraudulent" and "forced" conversion and for "alluring" people to change their religion.

Fined for breaching harmony

Singh recounted that for more than two weeks he has been closely watched by a self-appointed "vigilance team" and that he and the other people fined were "prevented from leaving the village."
The village of some 2,000 people has only four people attending Christian prayers, the rest follow tribal traditions, Singh said.

Jurla Bhai, 36, who also was fined, said the council threatened "to expell us from the village after accusing us of converting to Christianity and going against local traditions."

Bhai also denied converting.

Village headman Mukud Randa confirmed the imposition of the fines.

They were fined for "breaching peace and harmony" in the village and "picking arguments with their own family members," he said.

In breaching harmony, "they were refusing to offer prayers and sacrifices to their goddesses and eat food offered in our worship," Randa said.

"This led to family discord and the fine was to discipline them and to keep the community together," he said.

Those wanting to follow Christianity are facing a "hostile situation," according to Jagdish Mehara, a local minister, who was among the 12 arrested, told

Christians have been opposing the state's anti-conversion laws on the grounds that they violate religious freedom as enshrined in the Indian Constitution.

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Monday, February 01, 2016

Bajrang Dal members assault Christian man, tonsure half his head, made to sit him on donkey and pass two police outposts unscathed

Bajrang Dal members assault Christian man, tonsure half his head, made to sit him on donkey and pass two police outposts unscathed

Lucknow: Suspected Bajrang Dal activists tonsured the head of a youth in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh and paraded him on a donkey for four hours on Saturday after accusing him of being involved in conversions.

Paraded through a half-kilometre stretch that includes two police outposts, Awadhesh Kumar was finally rescued when superintendent of police N. Kolanchi reached the spot with a large force around 10pm.

Kolanchi told The Telegraph that five Bajrang Dal members and the barber hired to shave Awadhesh’s head had been arrested.

Awadhesh has denied that he had forced anyone to convert and has filed an FIR against 25 Bajrang Dal members and about 200 unidentified men.

“I have been practising Christianity for the last few years. But I have never insisted on converting anybody. Sangam Jatav, who is close to Bajrang Dal leaders, wanted to accompany me to Varanasi. But he cooked up a story against me after returning from there,” the 35-year-old barber was quoted as having told the police.

Jatav, who has lodged a counter FIR, has alleged that Awadhesh and some of his friends “promised me a job and financial help if I agreed to visit Varanasi and meet some of their associates”.

“But on reaching there, they took me to a church and forced me to walk on the posters of Hindu gods and goddesses and eat beef,” the 30-year-old said, adding that there were six persons in the church at that time and they declared that he had been converted to Christianity because he had eaten beef.

The incident happened a month ago, Jatav said. He claimed he had approached the police soon after returning from Varanasi but was denied an audience. “I was upset and decided to inform the Bajrang Dal leaders,” he said.

Police sources said they had received no such complaint.

Awadhesh has complained in his FIR that Akhilesh Diha, the Bajrang Dal convener of Jalaun, and his aides kidnapped him from his house, thrashed him mercilessly, tonsured his head and paraded him in the village on a donkey.

A witness said that addressing a gathering during the procession, Diha had alleged that Awadhesh had converted many Dalits to Christianity in the past.

“Diha and his other aides are absconding. The police are conducting raids to arrest them,” superintendent of police Kolanchi said.

The police are also probing the charge that Awadhesh was forcing conversions.

Located 220km from Lucknow along NH25, Jalaun district borders Bhind in Madhya Pradesh. It is a communally sensitive place, with even a minor incident elsewhere leading to unrest here. There are 41 big temples in Jalaun town, compared to only 33 schools and colleges.

The Bajrang Dal runs a Ghar Wapsi (reconversion to Hinduism) programme here.

The Telegraph, Kolkata

Uttar Pradesh: Bajrang Dal activists ‘tonsure, parade man for conversion bid’

A man was allegedly tonsured, garlanded with shoes and paraded on a donkey by Bajrang Dal activists in Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh Friday. According to police, the activists believed the man had lured four Hindus — two of them Dalits — into changing their religion.

Police have registered two FIRs in connection with the incident, and arrested five Bajrang Dal workers and the barber who tonsured the man’s head.

Circle Officer, city area, Jung Bahadur Yadav said the man, Awadhesh Kumar, an OBC, was picked up by the activists of Bajrang Dal Friday morning from his house in Redhar village, about 45 kilometres from Orai town. The men had come in a jeep fitted with a hooter and a police sign. Claiming to be policemen, the activists asked Awadhesh to accompany them for questioning. Awadhesh’s family did not raise any objection, the CO said.

Upon reaching Ambedkar crossing around 1.30 pm, Awadhesh was beaten up, police said. Later, a barber was called, who shaved his head, half his moustache and an eyebrow. He was then forced to sit on a donkey, garlanded with shoes and paraded for 150 metres. All this took place as hundreds of people looked on, police said, quoting from the complaint lodged by Awadhesh.

Police suspect the Bajrang Dal activists were contacted by one of the four men Awadhesh had allegedly taken to a Mirzapur church for a conversion bid. “They went to Mirzapur on December 18 and returned on December 23,” said the CO.

Additional Superintendent of Police, Jalaun, Shakeel Ahmed said that three of the men have denied any attempt by Awadhesh to convert them to Christianity. “They admitted to have gone to a church in Mirzapur but said no conversion took place,” said the ASP.

On Saturday, the police arrested five Bajrang Dal workers — Ashu Yadav, Prince Gupta, Karnendra Chauhan, Pradeep and Arun Tiwari — and the barber Ashish. They were produced in court, which sent them to judicial custody, said Station House Officer, Kotwali, Alok Saxena.

The ASP said the arrests were made after going through video clippings of the incident. “We have so far identified eight more Bajrang Dal men, including the outfit’s Jalaun district convenor Akhilesh Dhiya, who is currently absconding,” the ASP said.

The FIR registered against 100-150 unidentified Bajrang Dal men charges them with kidnapping and other offences. Police have also registered a case against Awadhesh for promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion and other charges.

BJP’s Jalaun district president Jagdish Tiwari confirmed the arrest of Bajrang Dal workers but claimed they were innocent. “Police are conducting raids to trace Akhilesh Dhiya so they can arrest him. The police are harassing his family members by taking his brother and mother into illegal custody,” Tiwari alleged.

Janata Dal (United) MP K C Tyagi, meanwhile, condemned the incident and claimed that the Centre has failed to control such outfits.

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