Friday, December 29, 2017

Christmas violence and arrests shake Indian Christians

There has been a surge in anti-Christian attacks following the election of Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government

Story by Guardian. Click on the link to go to original post. 

The strains of Hindi carols have rung out in the Aligarh Church of Ascension every Christmas since 1858. Armed police on the grounds is a more recent tradition.

This year the officers will be out in force. On Thursday night in the north Indian city, Rahul Chauhan was playing tabla drums while the rest of his Seventh–Day Adventist choir sang Christmas songs in the home of a follower.

Outside, a small group of men had gathered. One forced his way into the room. “He kicked the musical instruments before trying to attack my brother with a knife,” said Jitesh Chauhan, a singer in the group.

He claims the men cast anti-Christian slurs and damaged the instruments. Rahul and the 30 carollers were unharmed but shaken.

A group of carol singers perform in a Christian locality in Aligarh the day after a carol group was attacked with knife by a suspected Hindu activist in Aligarh.

Days earlier in Aligarh, hardline Hindu activists distributed letters warning Christian schools in the city against involving Hindu students in Christmas activities. In nearby Mathura, seven Christians were arrested by police while praying inside a home. In Satna, Madhya Pradesh state, an entire choir was detained while going door to door.

Worries about religious persecution in India usually centre on the country’s 180 million Muslims. Lynchings of Muslim dairy and cattle traders by “cow protection” vigilantes have become increasingly frequent. Hindu groups including members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) openly lobby to stop Muslims buying property in Hindu neighbourhoods.

The series of Christmas incidents has turned the spotlight on another minority. More quietly, Indian Christians are also feeling the walls close in, says John Dayal, the secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, following a surge in attacks last year. “Anything that impacts the Muslims in a different way impacts the Christians,” he says.

In 2014, Indians elected a Hindu nationalist government in a landslide. Its leader, Narendra Modi, is a lifelong adherent of “Hindutva”, the conviction that India’s culture and institutions ought to reflect an inherent Hindu nature. Religious minorities – regarded as Hindus led astray by foreign influence – are tolerated, provided they acknowledge Hindu hegemony.

Modi has repeatedly emphasised his government will promote “complete freedom of faith”, but his elevation has been a green light for radical Hindutva groups, says Dhirendra K Jha, an author whose latest book studied these “shadow armies”.

“After Modi became prime minister, these groups started thinking they have assumed power, it is their government,” Jha says. “So they have gone amok. They don’t fear law and order or any democratic institution. They are on a rampage.”

A “perfect parallel”, he says, is the growing boldness of white nationalist groups in the US under Donald Trump.

“Modi would never come out and openly help them,” Jha says. “But he rarely criticises them. Because of his silence, the message goes to the state machinery that they don’t have to take action against them.”

One popular calumny is that Muslim men are trying to woo Hindu women as part of a “love jihad”. The fear is regularly fanned by senior BJP leaders. Two weeks ago, a Rajasthan state man, Shambhu Lal Raigar, raved about love jihad as he used a pick-axe to murder Mohammed Afzarul, a migrant labourer, in an attack filmed and posted online.

For Christians the primary charge is of “forced conversions”. “It means putting pressure on people to convert, sometimes physically,” says Dayal. “But according to [Hindutva groups] it could mean anything from praying for Jesus to heal you, to offering to put you in a Christian hospital or school, to paying a person American dollars or British pounds.”

In practice, any kind of public prayer in the presence of Hindus – particularly the downtrodden Dalits, formerly “Untouchables”, whose leaders regularly threaten to abandon Hinduism – can attract police attention.

One morning in October, a group including Hindus and Muslims arrived at the Faith Assemblies of God Church for a workshop on accessing government welfare. The crowd piqued the suspicion of neighbours, who tipped off local hardliners.

“Around 20 or 30 people of this group came into the church and started threatening people,” says Joel R George, who assists his disabled father to run the ministry.

Police arrived in their wake and detained several people including George, releasing them after it was clear no religious ceremony had taken place.

“The men made videos and interrogated people,” George says. “They asked: are they giving money to you? Are they converting you?”

The roots of Christianity on the subcontinent stretch as far back as AD52, writes the historian William Dalrymple. For centuries, western wanderers in south India returned with tales of Christians who traced their origins to the arrival of Saint Thomas in Kerala state nearly two decades after Jesus’ death.

The seeds of the contemporary backlash were sown centuries later, when British preachers fanned out across colonial India to win souls for Christ, prompting several princely states to institute laws limiting conversions.

In recent decades, Hindutva ire has focused on evangelical crusades such as the AD2000 project, which sought to flood north India with American missionaries and money, aimed especially at Dalits trying to shed the burden of their caste.

Critics such as Arun Shourie, a journalist and former BJP politician, say such efforts mostly produced “rice Christians” – shallow converts swayed by offers of food and welfare. “They join out of necessity, and when necessity compels them they will join something else,” Shourie says.

Today, at least eight Indian states prohibit conversion by force, fraud or inducement, with BJP leaders repeatedly pushing to take the bans nationwide.

India’s largest international donor, the Christian charity Compassion International, was forced to cease its Indian operations in March after the government cut off its foreign funding over concerns it was using the money for proselytisation.

In contrast, Hindutva groups freely conduct mass conversions of Muslims and Christians in ceremonies they call ghar wapsi, or “homecoming”.

In this charged atmosphere, pastors and priests in Aligarh assiduously avoid the C-word. “We don’t convert. We make disciples for Jesus,” George says.

“I haven’t converted anyone in five years,” says Rev Jonathan Lal. “People come to us, sometimes they’re non-Christians, and I pray for them.”

“People see the miracles, they see the healing,” says an elder at the Ascension Church, Vincent Joel, his voice rising. “They want to come. What should we do? Chase them away?”

However many new adherents can be persuaded to file past the police for Christmas mass on Monday, Christian numbers in India will remain small.

The faith has relatively few adherents to show for its two millennia on the subcontinent, and the millions of dollars and hours its champions have spent trying to sway Indian hearts.

“Our population in India is only 2.3%,” says Joel, in the church courtyard. “If we did so many conversions we should be increasing. But we are shrinking.”

Not so, says Dayal. Worshipping “sometimes in the dead of night”, rarely registering new converts with the state, flocks in the Indian hinterland are holding steady, he says.

“Christians will survive, even as an underground church,” he adds. “We have survived here for 2,000 years.”

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Church calls for Jharkhand CM's ouster

New Delhi, Sept. 13: The apex body of Roman Catholic Christians in India today appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "curb the spread of hatred by CM Raghubar Das" a month after the Jharkhand government passed a bill restricting religious conversions on August 12.

In his strongly worded letter, Catholic Bishops Council of India (CBCI) secretary-general Theodore Mascarenhas said he was compelled to write to Modi as he was disturbed over the politics of hate unleashed in Jharkhand.

Mascarenhas said Modi had personally campaigned before elections in Jharkhand in 2014 on the inclusive plank of sab ka saath, sab ka vikas that "made Raghubar Das the chief minister of the state", but Das had begun "vitriolic attacks against the Christian community".

"If the chief minister is unable to control his ideological hatred, then it is time for him to go," he said.

Calling last week's effigy burning of Ranchi archbishop Cardinal Telesphore P. Toppo by Hindu Jagran Manch his trigger for the letter today, Mascarenhas expressed apprehension that this hatred being spread against Christians could soon "turn into physical violence".

He reminded the Prime Minister that the whole nation "applauded" him when on Independence Day this year he said violence couldn't be allowed in the name of faith.

"Mr Raghubar Das and his advisors at least in the past few months have not shown affiliation to the ideology you are proclaiming. I appeal to you, honourable Prime Minister, with trust and hope to intervene and curb the spread of hate created by the chief minister of Jharkhand. Jharkhandis and Jharkhand deserves better," the senior cleric said.

Referring to full-page government advertisements released in papers a month ago before the anti-conversion bill - which hands out stiff prison terms and cash penalty to organisations and individuals forcing conversions - was passed by the state Assembly, Mascarenhas said it contained "a spurious quote of Mahatma Gandhi without naming the source to vilify the Christian community".

Calling it a first for any chief minister, the cleric said the state government ad accused Christian missionaries of converting poor Dalits and tribals who are described as "simple and mute as cows", and sarcastically asked if the Das government had come into power with votes from these simple creatures. The ad, in Hindi, also called Christian adivasis "rice Christians", he said.

The senior cleric wrote that the church had not responded to the provocations of the chief minister not because it was afraid or weak.

"We are not speaking about ourselves, we are speaking about the people of Jharkhand," he said, wondering why so much money was spent on full-page ads sowing hate when healthcare for children in the state lay in a shambles.

Mascarenhas also questioned if there was any hidden logic behind Jharkhand's new land acquisition amendment bill that was passed with the religion bill on the same day "in record time, practically without discussion".

"One wonders if the hatred-filled advertisement and the Freedom of Religion Bill were smokescreens for the real act of the amendment to land acquisition Act. Is there something more than meets the eye, especially since the governor had earlier refused to sign amendments to the CNT and SPT Acts," he asked.

Jharkhand is the eighth Indian state to pass a bill to restrict the conversion of a citizen's religion.

Click Here for Source

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why Jharkhand’s anti-conversion bill is against Constitution and not necessary

It is a difficult time to be a part of the minority community in India today with threats of various sorts coming from different quarters. But a new assault on them is the approval by the Jharkhand Cabinet of a stringent anti-conversion law, titled in characteristic double-speak, as the Religious Freedom Bill, 2017. It contains stiff jail sentences and fines for converting people through “allurement” or “coercion”. 

A day before this Cabinet decision, residents of Jharkhand awoke to front-page advertisements with pictures of Mahatma Gandhi, and a toxic quote attributed to him attacking conversions by Christian missionaries. As a columnist wrote in an online publication, the words were pulled out of context and distorted. Gandhi must not be appropriated by an ideology that is violently opposed to all he stood far: An India with full religious freedom and equal rights. And it is intensely worrying that taxpayers’ money is used to foment hatred against a segment of people of the state.

Christians constitute a small 4.3% of the population of Jharkhand. The same tribal family may have adherents of the animist Sarna faith (comprising nearly 13% of the population), Christians and persons who identify themselves as Hindus. Left to themselves, tribal families and communities live with peace with this diversity of faith practices. But the propaganda of the Right-wing, now backed by the state government, aggravated by the draconian anti-conversion law, will tear apart these families and communities. 

The proposed anti-conversion law in Jharkhand has fostered enormous disquiet among Christians everywhere in India. The ultra Right-wing regards Islam and Christianity to be a “foreign” religion, and therefore requires its adherents to respect “Hindu” culture and practices. But to advance its political juggernaut objectives, it has built alliances with Christian community leaders in some parts of India, such as Kerala and north-eastern states. However, particularly in large tribal states of central India like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, the political strategy of choice has been to target, defame and intimidate Christians, with violence against their shrines, priests, nuns and women, and with laws that criminalise conversions to Christianity.

But it must be stressed that Jharkhand will not be the first government to pass an anti-conversion law if this is voted for by the state assembly. Anti-conversion laws were passed in Orissa in 1967 under a Swatantra Party government; in Madhya Pradesh in 1968 under the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal coalition (which included the Jan Sangh); and in Gujarat in 2003 and Chhattisgarh in 2006 under BJP governments. The Jayalalithaa government in Tamil Nadu passed the law in 2002 but repealed it in two years after its passage in 2004. The only Congress government to pass such a law was in Himachal Pradesh in 2006. Rajasthan passed an anti-conversion law in 2006, but the governor refused to sign the law. Arunachal Pradesh passed such a law in 1978 under the People’s Party of Arunachal, but it was never enforced as rules have not been framed to date.

Members of the Constituent Assembly took great care to uphold the freedom of religious belief in India’s Constitution. After extended debate, it decided that this freedom should not just be to practise and profess one’s faith, but also to propagate it. KM Munshi declared that “under freedom of speech which the Constitution guarantees, it will be open to any religious community to persuade other people to join their faith”.

However, organisations like the RSS never reconciled to this fundamental guarantee of the Constitution. They rail against the “menace” of Christian conversions allegedly funded by big foreign money. It matters little that the facts don’t bear out their claims. Christians constituted 2.5% of India’s population in 1981, and 2.3% in 1991, 2001 and 2011. If large-scale conversions were indeed occurring, their numbers would have swelled. This sustained misinformation has resulted in profound and sometimes violent schisms between Christian and other tribal people.

In this divisive competition for the religious allegiance of India’s poorest and most vulnerable people, marked by stridency and hate, it is important to recall the gentle counsel of one of the world’s tallest public figures, the Dalai Lama: “It does not matter which God you worship, or even if you worship no God. What is important is to be a compassionate human being”.

Harsh Mander is author, Looking Away: Inequality, Prejudice and Indifference in New India

The views expressed are personal

Click Here for source

Friday, June 30, 2017

Christian accused falsely of insulting Hindu religion in Madhya Pradesh

Four Christians including a Pastor have been charged with insulting the Hindu religion in Sidhi in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh last month. They have been accused of defiling Hindu idols and treating them with disrespect. The accused completely denies the charges and calls it an “evidence planted story”.

Pastor Geeta Dixit

Pastor Geeta Dixit, 46, Rajpal Gharwaar, his wife Asha Gharwaar and another Christian Ruby Toppo have been falsely blamed of the act according to Pastor Geeta Dixit.

All four have been booked under Indian Penal Code 295 (Injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 294 (obscene acts or words in public), 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation) 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention).

A first information report (FIR) was filed against the four in the month of April, wherein Rajpal Gharwaar was detained by the police for two days before he was bailed out. 

This is the second time in the end of last month that another FIR has been filed against the four with Geeta Dixit named as the main accused. Both the times, the complainants were Rajpal Gharwaar’s mother, elder brother and his wife and younger brother. “They all live next door to Rajpal’s house,” said Geeta Dixit while narrating the complete story to Global Christian News.

Asha and her husband come from a Hindu ‘Rajput’ family. Asha became a follower of Christ 10-years ago after she started to visit Geeta’s church along with her ailing sister, who was also the wife of Rajpal’s elder brother, in the year 1993. Asha and her sister committed their life to Christ and faced opposition from their families. Unfortunately, Asha’s sister passed away after two years and Rajpal’s brother remarried. 

“Rajpal’s younger brother was at the verge of dying, when he was carried to my Church on a stretcher. He was prayed-upon by the Church members and God healed him completely. Rajpal’s mother and other family members have been coming to Church occasionally, whenever they were facing difficult times and wanted prayers.

“Asha’s husband Rajpal regularly got his wife to Church but never entered the Church himself until two months ago, when he saw a dream one night that Jesus descended from the sky and Asha and his children were lifted up above the ground and carried by Jesus and Rajpal was left all alone. He also saw Jesus raise a dead man to life.

“Rajpal woke very restless and wanted answers. He spoke to Asha and then to me about his dream. I advised him to repent for his sins and explained him the meaning of his dream,” narrated Geeta.

It was when Rajpal took baptism early April that his mother and brothers started to raise questions and registered a false case against Geeta, Ruby, their own son Rajpal and Asha.

“They got a Hindu idol and putting mire on it, presented it as a witness to the police, blaming me and the others of disrespecting Hindu gods,” said Geeta.

Geeta denying the allegations said, “It is completely a fabricated story. We have not desecrated the idols.”

Geeta, who is a widow and has three daughters, feels harassed and mentally traumatized because of the false case that she has to fight along with the three others.”

Geeta and the others have to appear for their first court hearing on 17 August, 2017.

The Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantrya Adhiniyam (Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act) prohibits religious conversion through force, allurement and fraudulent means. Changing one’s religion without informing the authorities is also punishable under the Act.

Madhya Pradesh is one of the five states in India besides Gujarat, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh which has enforced the anti-conversion laws. 

Click Here for Source

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Christian Families Get Beaten and Were Denied Water in India

Christian families were beaten by villagers, forced to take part in Hindu rituals and had the water for their crops cut off in the latest horrifying persecution in India. The families that were targeted in the attack are from Jalalabad village, Ghazipur District in the northern state of Utter Pradesh.

The incident happened on April 25 when a mob led by the village president and his advisers beat up a group of Christians with sticks. Pushpa Kumari, one of the victims, said the mob forced them to eat basil leaves and drink water from the Ganges River that was considered holy.

They were also made to deny Christ. At least 13 young Christians caved in to pressure and reconverted back to Hinduism. The four couples who refused were beaten up. Their water supply was also cut off, leaving their crops exposed to temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius.

During a confrontation at the police station, the victims were accused of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. One of the victims, Manoj Kumar, denied this, saying the Christians just gathered at his house on Sundays as they were unable to go to town for worship.

An amicable settlement was reached that both sides will follow their own respective religious practices peacefully, and no charges were filed. But the water problem wasn't settled. Villagers still refused to sell water from their boreholes, and the Christians' crops were left to die.

"We are ready to pay the hourly price, but the president and villagers have decided to not let us irrigate. Our field is going dry; it's burned dead," Kumar said. Last June 14, Gupta told the Christians if they want water, they have to stop following Christ and holding their worship services.

The oppression against Christians has long been common in India. In 2014, it ranked 28th on the Open Doors World Watch List of Countries where Christians faced the worst persecution. The persecutions enormously increased since then and the country is now ranked 15th.

Click Here for source

Monday, June 26, 2017

Christians beaten up in Kondagaon

9 Christians were beaten up by fundamentalists at Kondagaon, Chhattisgarh on 23rd June 2017.

The villagers, under the influence of Hindu fundamentalists had accused the Christians of practising witchcraft. The beaten up Christians included women.

Christians were also told that they must abandon their Christian faith or else they will be killed.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nun detained in India, in latest anti-Christian incident

MUMBAI, India - A religious sister in India has been charged with human trafficking after she accompanied four young women on a train in central India on June 13.

The Railway Police and Hindu nationalists stopped the women in the state of Madhya Pradesh as they were travelling to Bhopal.

Hindu nationalists accused the nun of trying to convert the others to Christianity.

The police said one of the girls was a minor, although Sister Bina Joseph maintains all were over the age of 20.

Madhya Pradesh state, which is over 90 percent Hindu and less than 1 percent Christian, is ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also controls the national government.

The BJP has strong links to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a militant Hindu nationalist organization. Groups affiliated with the RSS participated in the detention of Joseph and the women accompanying her to Bhopal.

In two separate incidents in May, groups of Christians in the same state were taken into custody, charged with trying to convert Hindus to Christianity, after being stopped on trains.

“I strongly condemn this harassment by rogue elements who profess their political allegiance-alliance with the ruling party,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.

He told Crux the detention of the nun was “absolutely wrong,” and violated her rights as a citizen of India.

“The Catholic nun was travelling in a public transport, and was subjected to harassment, intimidation and humiliation by the police,” the archbishop continued.

“This behaviour of the police is strongly condemned, the minority community, is being targeted by fringe elements of the ruling party and in any devious manner, the ‘conversion’ allegations are levied against the minority Christian community, even in the case of travelling, as in this case,” Cornelio said. 

He told Crux the Government is not doing enough to curb “these fringe elements,” who he says are taking advantage of the fact that the BJP is in power. 

“Scores of poor students from remote rural areas study in our schools and reside in our hostels and they need to travel,” he said.

The Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, passed in 1968 and amended in 2013, makes it mandatory to seek government permission before conversion. The law imposes jail time for alleged “forced” conversions.

Cornelio said it seems that in the present time, even travelling by public transport is being linked to conversion.

“I strongly condemn this harassment of the minority,” the archbishop said.

Sister Tripti, the vice provincial of the Carmelite Sisters of St. Teresa, the order in which Joseph belongs, told Crux the religious sister was detained until midnight after spending nearly 12 hours at the railway police station, together with the three young women.

The one determined by the authorities to be a minor was turned over to a child services agency.

Charges were filed after the young woman’s relatives filed a complaint, which Father Stephen Maria, a local priest, told Crux was made under pressure from “right wing extremists.”

Tripti said despite the harassment, the order will continue in its mission.

“These girls hail from impoverished families from remote rural areas, and were enroute to Bhopal for their own empowerment,” Tripti said. “This incident, however, does not deter us. We will continue to serve the poor.”

Click Here for source