Friday, April 29, 2016

Madhya Pradesh Police, Bajrang Dal stop church wedding in Satna

The Madhya Pradesh Police Wednesday entered a church in Satna and stopped a wedding ceremony following a complaint by the Bajrang Dal that the bride and the groom had been unlawfully converted to Christianity.

Accompanied by Bajrang Dal activists, a Kolgawan police team entered the Church of God in India and arrested 10 people, including pastor Sam Samuel and the groom’s parents.
CSP (Satna) Sitaram Yadav said the bride was a minor as she was 10 days short of turning 18. He said the couple had converted to Christianity four years ago, but district authorities were not informed, which is a crime under the state’s anti-conversion legislation. Satna SP Mithilesh Shukla also claimed that the girl is “a Hindu and a minor”.

“Bajrang Dal informed police that members of the Kushwaha community were being converted to Christianity at the church. We registered an FIR on a complaint by the bride’s uncle,” Yadav said, adding that her father is not mentally sound. The groom, Ajay Kushwaha, 24, works with a private firm.

Besides Sections 3 and 4 of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, police have invoked IPC Section 295 (A) (deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings) and Section 14 of the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act.

Church spokesman Mariyosh Joseph called the charges false and said the bride and groom were Christians. He said the Bajrang Dal and the RSS were behind the complaint.

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Friday, April 22, 2016

Why it's no longer safe to be a Christian in Chhattisgarh - Catch News


The attacks
  • This Saturday, goons entered a church in Bastar and tried to set the pastor and his pregnant wife on fire
  • They allegedly forced people to shout Jai Shri Ram
  • Attacks on Christians have been on the rise in Chhattisgarh, often abetted by the administration
More in the story
  • How Christians are being targetted in Chhattisgarh
  • The administration's response
  • How violence is backed up by discrimination

About a month after goons entered a church in Raipur, vandalised it and attacked the women and children present there, a Christian couple was attacked in a church in Bastar this Saturday.
Hooligans, reportedly carrying pistols, rods and knives, are said to have entered the church on Saturday night and assaulted Pastor Dinbandhu Sameli, his 7-month pregnant wife and daughter Roushni Vidya.

The attack

After entering the premises, the assailants attacked the pastor and tried to destroy the Holy Bible, furniture and religious material kept inside. They also tried to set the church on fire.

Pastor Dinbandhu Sameli and his 7-month pregnant wife. Photo: Suhas Munshi/ Catch News
The president of Chhattisgarh's Christian Forum Arun Pannalal says that the attack was carried out by the workers of Bajrang Dal and accused police of "covering up" the incident.

"The church was vandalised by Hindu fundamentalists during prayer meeting on Saturday. Activists wearing bhagwa (saffron) head bands, were forcing Christians to chant 'Jai Shri Ram', then they doused the pastor and his 7 month pregnant wife with petrol. And now the police is trying to protect them," he said.

The officer investigating the case, Abdul Khan, had a totally different view of the case. "Who told you that these people [the attackers] chanted 'Jai Shri Ram'? You go and ask those people these questions.. As far as the investigation is concerned, it's happening and in due time we'll catch the people responsible for this," he said.

But even if the police nabs the attackers, what are they planning to charge them with? Certainly not the charges of attempt to murder, causing grievous injury or criminal conspiracy, sections which would match the gravity of the crime - of trying to set a 7 month pregnant woman on fire.
Instead police has registered an FIR under sections like 452 (house trespass), 395 (dacoity), 435 (committing mischief by fire and causing damage of Rs 100), 427 (committing mischief and causing damage of Rs 50), 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship) and Section 34 (acts done by several people in furtherance of a common intention).

Christians targeted

According to data compiled by Chhattisgarh Evangelical Foundation, the attacks on Christians are only increasing with time. But many feel that the attacks aren't just physical in nature. That the attacks often seem to be well coordinated and abetted by people in power.

The table below shows the number of incidents of violence against Christians in Chhattisgarh. The data was compiled by the Catholic Secular Forum.

Here are some other examples:
1. In 2013 some villages in Chhattisgarh decided to ban the entry of non-Hindus in their village. By last year, some 150 villages had passed such resolutions. These resolutions were finally taken to the High Court that struck them down as being unconstitutional.
2. Chhattisgarh is one of the 5 states in the country to have passed an anti-conversion law. While banning one's conversion to any other faith, the law has provisions for anyone wanting to return to their 'ancestor's faith' or their 'original religion'. This won't be considered 'conversion' according to the law.
3. Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) banned distribution of sweets by Santa Clauses in the area on the occasion of Christmas. It has asked the community to instead refer to the sweets as 'prasad'.
4. It has also forced churches in and around Bastar to display pictures of the Hindu Goddess Saraswati in their schools.

Pastor Surendra Chalki. Photo: Suhas Munshi/ Catch News
"Physical attacks are not as worrisome as the attitude of this administration. They were privatising and taking over the model schools in the state and giving them over to a particular community group. We had to approach High Court against this and last month got a stay," Pannalal said.

He added that in Korba, Hindu fundamentalists were trying to force a sister to install Saraswati statue.
"When she refused, the collector of the area booked her in a case of disturbing communal harmony. When we approached National Human Rights Commission, they made the same collector the inquiring officer in the case," said Pannalal.

Reverend Rajesh Robin has seen communal attacks and state apathy from up close. He's been part of several protests, one of which was against vandalism of a cemetery. Instead of seeing police action against hooligans, he has been booked under several cases like attempt to murder, kidnapping and seeking ransom. He even had to spend 3 days in jail in connection with one of the cases.

Reverend Rajesh Robin. Photo: Suhas Munshi/ Catch News
"This year alone we've seen cases of pastors and parishioners being beaten in Bijapur, Narayanpur, Raipur, Madhauta...In Narayanpur they were beaten so badly that they had to be brought to Jagdalpur for treatment. In Jagdalpur we're still better off, but there still is a palpable fear of police and Hindu fundamentalists here."

It is because of incidents like the vandalism of their graveyard that shook the faith of people like Pastor Rajesh in the state.

"So these people recently demolished a wall that was being built around the graveyard. The police did not even register a case. Then these goons came to us and claimed that this graveyard belonged to their faith some 150 years ago. Just like they did in the case of Babri Masjid. So what are we supposed to do now?"

Pastor Surendra Chalki who runs an ashram for children and elderly women in Jagdalpur also suffered a shock recently. An brick and mortar ashram that he was building with the donations he collected from his neighbours, was demolished by the municipality, even though he had secured a nod from his gram sabha. But he's still hopeful.

"When we approached the collector, he told us that the ashram was demolished by mistake. We will hopefully get a clearance from all the authorities and start building the ashram afresh."
Edited by Aditya Menon

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Indian pastor and pregnant wife attacked by militant Hindus

Pastor Sameli's church and home in the troubled Bastar district of Chhattisgarh, central India, 2016
An Indian pastor and his pregnant wife were assaulted and their church set on fire on Sunday evening (17 April) after they refused to praise a Hindu god.

Pastor Dinbanhu Sameli, 30, and his wife, Meena, 26, seven months pregnant, lead a church in the troubled Bastar district of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

Two young men approached the pastor outside his home next to his church at around 7pm, initially asking for prayer, claiming they were from a nearby Methodist church. But they later brought out a sword which they held to the pastor’s neck, and demanded the couple shout the phrase, “Jai Shri Ram” (Victory to the god Ram).

“Where is your Jesus?” the two men demanded; Sameli replied “We believe that he is with us”. When asked “Why don’t you believe in Ram?” husband and wife remained silent.

When the couple refused to do praise Ram, and also refused to stamp on a Bible, the two men took a litre of petrol and set fire to the church, including musical equipment.
Sameli said he “felt fear in his heart” with the sword on his shoulder, but “prayed that God would save him”.
As the church burned, the couple fled and filed a report with the police.

Fire damage at the church, 2016
Fire damage at the church, 2016
But local media then blamed the incident on the local Methodist pastor, and also erroneously reported that the couple had been doused in petrol and set alight.

The incident took place in the remote village of Karanji, in the Tokapal area of the sprawling Bastar district, which has seen several recent incidents of anti-Christian violence at the hands of Hindu fundamentalists. Last year, the couple told World Watch Monitor, a gang of people from a militant Hindu group, Bajrang Dal, came on two tractors, shouted “Jai Shri Ram” in front of the church, and wrote the same slogan on its front wall, on both the sides of the main door.

In July 2014, the village of Belar, also in Bastar, passed a resolution banning all non-Hindu religious activities.

In October 2014, the high court of Chhattisgarh state asked the state government to ensure that anti-Christian resolutions passed by village councils would not infringe religious freedom. A Christian organisation challenging the local resolutions said at the time that the court order was “only a minor relief.”
“This [latest] incident cannot be seen in isolation from what is happening here,” Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF), told World Watch Monitor.

Part of the incident's First Information Report
Part of the incident's First Information Report
“[That] the police have registered [a report] against ‘unknown miscreants’ is laughable,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “In a small town, police [are] well informed. Police [are] trying to protect them.”

“Tokapal is a very small place, where everybody knows everybody. Police registering [a report] against unidentified persons itself is an indication that police [are] trying to downplay the incident and protect the accused,” Pannalal was quoted by the Times of India as saying.

Pannalal told World Watch Monitor “the police officers who have failed to protect our fundamental rights should be suspended immediately and [investigated] for dereliction of duty.”

Sameli assured WWM contacts who phoned him on Thursday 21st April that police are now working with him on the case. 

Recent incidents involving minority Christians
Between January and April 2016 there have been 49 reported incidents -14 in April alone - in Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist party the BJP. Over ther same time there have been 116 in total in central India, although these include women tortured by their husbands for their faith, other beatings of pastors, and a case of villagers not allowing a Christian to be buried.

On 17 March, the Municipal Corporation of Raipur, the state capital, gave a demolition notice to a Pentecostal church, saying it had been built on land to which it had no right. 

Ten days before, the church had been vandalised by Hindu fundamentalists during Sunday worship, and worshippers beaten up.

Over a thousand Christians staged a sit-in under the banner of CCF the next day, and the demolition order was withdrawn.

In February, a pastor was beaten during a prayer meeting, while two months earlier a group of activists from Bajrang Dal demolished a venue where people were celebrating the establishment of a church in Korba.

In 2014 and 2015, 93 organised attacks on Christians were reported in Chhattisgarh.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Church vandalized, pastor attacked in Chhattisgarh

Raipur: Two unidentified persons on Sunday barged into a Protestant church and thrashed the pastor and his pregnant wife in a central Indian state.

The Times of India called the attackers “goons” and described the incident as another case of vandalization of church in Chhattisgarh’s troubled Bastar region.

The church is located at Tokapal area.

Arun Pannalal, president of Chhattisgarh Christian Forum, said the intruders poured petrol and torched the Bible, furniture and other religious material kept inside set the church.

The attackers who were armed with knife, hammer and sword, forced the pastor and his wife to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and then poured petrol on them as well.

The goons manhandled the pastor’s children and destroyed mike set, gifts and tables. 

They also tried to set ablaze pastor’s house. The family ran out for life.

Later, the matter was reported to police who deployed security at the spot throughout the night.

Pannalal said the pastor’s wife was seven months pregnant.

A case was lodged at Parpa police station in Bastar and the police in charge Abdul Kadir Khan said that an FIR was registered against the two unidentified persons for creating communal tension and trying to set ablaze the pastor.

Pannalal remarked, “Police registering an FIR against unknown miscreants is laughable. In a small town police is well informed, they are trying to protect the accused. The police officers who have failed to protect our fundamental rights should be suspended immediately and enquired for dereliction of duty.”

Recently in March, a group of 15 men had vandalized a church and manhandled the congregants at Kachna in state capital while a prayer meeting was in progress. Nine persons were then arrested in connection with the case. 

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Now, Bastar church vandalized, pastor & family attacked

In yet another vandalization of church in Chhattisgarh's tribal Bastar region on Sunday evening, "two unidentified" persons barged into a church located at Tokapal area, poured petrol on Holy Bible, furniture and other religious material kept inside and set them ablaze.

According to the FIR, the pastor was assaulted by the goons who allegedly poured petrol on him and threatened to set him ablaze. The goons destroyed mike set, gifts, and tables and manhandled the children of pastor too. They were well-armed men carrying knife, hammer, sword and when they tried to set ablaze pastor's house, the family rushed out and ran for life.

However, Christian organisations alleged that the police tried to downplay the incident. Chhattisgarh Christian Association president Arun Pannalal alleged that pastor Deenanath and his pregnant wife was beaten up, forced to chant "Jai Sri Ram" and then petrol was poured on them, but the couple somehow escaped. Later, the matter was reported to police following which security was deployed at the spot throughout the night.

Parpa police station in-charge Abdul Kadir Khan told TOI that an FIR has been registered against the unidentified persons for creating communal tension and trying to set ablaze the pastor. However, senior police officials, including Bastar district superintendent of police, remained incommunicado throughout the day.

"Tokapal is a very small place where everybody knows everybody. Police registering an FIR against unidentified persons itself is an indication that police is trying to downplay the incident and protect the accused," Christian Association president Arun Pannalal said.

In March 2014, Tokapal block in tribal Bastar region was in news after an aggressive campaign by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad had led to a ban on the entry of and propaganda by non-Hindu missionaries, especially Christians. Many gram panchayats in Tokpal block had passed orders under Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act banning all "non-Hindu religious propaganda, prayers and speeches in the villages."

Recently in March, a group of 15 men had vandalized a church and manhandled the congregants at Kachna in state capital while a prayer meeting was in progress. Nine persons were then arrested in connection with the case.

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Official panel upsets church leaders in central India

A official panel has recommended that the minority status given to educational institutions in India's Madhya Pradesh state be reassessed, a move that church leaders said is part of an anti-Christian agenda pushed by the state's ruling Hindu nationalist party.

The state minority commission, a government-appointed team to protect the interests of religious and linguistic minorities, last week recommended the government investigate the certificates of minority-run educational institutions in the state.

Church leaders said the commission's recommendation is aimed at curtailing the freedom and autonomy of their schools, which were established following a constitutional guarantee given to religious and linguistic minorities to establish and run such institutions.

A certified minority institution also enjoys certain amount of autonomy in staff appointments and student admissions.

The move can be seen as part of anti-Christian agenda and it "halt the standard of the education in the state," said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal reacting to the news of the state minority commission's recommendation.

"It is highly disappointing to note that the minority panel has given a report against the minorities to the state government," said Father Maria Stephen, spokesman for the regional bishops' council.

"The minority commission is meant for protecting and promoting the welfare of the minority institutions but by this move it has failed to do its duty," Father Stephen said.

Violence against minorities

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has governed Madhya Pradesh since 2003; the state has witnessed several cases of violence against minority Christians and Muslims.

Christians and Muslims leaders say hard-line Hindu groups orchestrate violence with tacit government support.

Mumbai rights group Catholic Secular Forum in its annual report released in January said the state witnessed 29 major incidents of violence against Christians in 2015 alone.

Against such a background, church leaders believe a recommendation to scrutinize the already-awarded certificate will become a chance for Hindu hard-liners and their supporters in the bureaucracy to harasses missionaries and their schools.

However, state minority commission secretary Nisar Ahmed told that the commission's recommendation aims to root out corruption in awarding minority right certificates.

Some of the certificates have been suspected of being issued to "undeserving schools," said Ahmed.

A law stipulates that privately owned and managed schools should earmark 25 percent of seats to poor students from the locality and the government will pay for them.

But many such schools do not want to admit poor students as they think it will bring down the status of their institution, Ahmed said.

Minority schools are exempted from this law, Ahmed said.

He added that some "underserving private schools" have secured minority certificates to avoid admitting of poor students into their schools.

The commission recommended a "detailed probe into the minority right certificates issued to schools in the past three years and it has nothing to do with the church schools," he added.

However, Father Stephen said he remains unconvinced by Ahmed's explanation.

Christian leaders were "not taken into confidence" before making such a "recommendation for probe," said Father Stephen.

They have also not clarified which community has breached the guidelines, which he said, "paints a bad picture" of all the religious minorities.

Besides Christians and Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Jains are also recognized as minority communities in India who can establish and manage their own education institutions.

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Bihar, Hindu extremists attack Pentecostal communities and torture a Christian

The faithful of a Pentecostal community of Nabinagar assaulted, the pastor beaten harshly and other religious beaten; a Barh Christian kidnapped and tortured for hours, after he had refused to insult the name of God. These are the last two episodes of violence perpetrated by radical Hindus in the state of Bihar, who have taken on the Christians accusing them of forced conversions. Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, toldAsiaNews " intolerance against Christians is growing in secular India."

The Christian leaders said that the Gems Pentecostal community (Gospel Echoing Missionary Society) of Nabinagar was attacked on April 10 during a peaceful rally titled "Holiness of Holiness", organized by the congregation. The local faithful - about 200 people - "were gathered from April 8 to 10 without provocation - he explains - But on the last day, after the naming ceremony of a group of 30 Christians, about 35 radicals belonging to theBajrang Dal [Hindu nationalists, the young and militant wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, ed] raided the prayer meeting".

Sajan K George also reports that the police immediately rushed to the place, but most agents flanked the molesters. The officers did not want to register the case against the Hindus, while they arrested the pastor on three counts, two of which do not provide for his release on bail. "It is very worrying - he says - that the police are biased against the Christian minority, while the should maintain order and protect citizens."

The attackers first ordered Jebakumar Dhanraj, who organized the convention, to leave the church. Once outside, they beat him. Then they beat other believers and missionaries and the pastor Suresh Lakhra.

The second episode of persecution against Christians occurred on April 5. Extremists of the Bajrang Dal and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Hindu nationalists, ed] stopped another Christian, Deepak, on his way to the village of Chak Budhani to spread the message of God. They took him into a Hindu center, and beat him on his head, legs and neck with chains.

The man was savagely tortured for five hours, with the use of chains, rods, sickles and shoes. The attackers then rubbed alcohol on his bleeding wounds and forced him to undress and to drink urine. They then took his clothes to hide the traces of their crime and wrote a false statement accusing the man of having offered thousands of rupees for forced conversions. The extremists have also tried to make him insult the name of God, with electrical shocks and threatened to throw him on railroad tracks. But the religious man refused and answered: "Kill me, but I will never insult the name of God."

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Thursday, April 07, 2016

Evangelical Fellowship of India releases troubling data for the first three months of 2016. Targeting of Christians increasing in India.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India has registered 55 verified incidents of hate crimes targeting Christians India between January 17 and March 22, 2016 in 16 states throughout the country. This list is a partial list for many incidents are not reported and of the incidents that are reported, many are unverifiable due to the sheer size of the country.

Uttar Pradesh tops the list with 10 incidents, followed by Maharashtra with 7 incidents. This is followed by Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand with 5 each, and by Chhattisgarh, Telangana, and Uttarakhand with 4 each. Other states on the tally are Rajasthan (3), Punjab (2), Haryana (1), West Bengal (2), Gujarat (1), Assam (1), Karnataka (1) and Odisha (1).  

The Evangelical Fellowship of India has urged the Central Government and the respective State Governments to  curb  the  hate  and  violence  unleashed  at  the  Christian  community  in  India  and  to  secure  their fundamental right to profess, practice and propagate their faith and live peacefully as citizens of a free nation.

You can also download a full copy of the report by clicking here.