The link below is to an article reporting on the discontinuation of toilet rolls in Finland that had Scripture verses printed on them.
Chhattisgarh, India, August 31 (CDN) — Police in Sivaho Dhamtari on Aug. 29 arrested three Christians after Hindu extremists filed a complaint against them of luring people to convert to Christianity by offering them money and “false hope.” A source reported that the extremists had recently launched a series of attacks against Pastor Dilip Chakravarty, Ganga Ram and Shankar Lal of the Church of God, accusing them of forceful conversion and trying to force Ram and Lal to “reconvert” back to Hinduism. Ram and Lal sustained fractures on their hands and legs from the attacks. Area Christian leaders said no forceful conversion took place. The three Christians were charged with 295 (a) of the Indian Penal Code for “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion” and were sent to Dhamtari district jail the same day.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal disrupted the worship meeting of Ebenezer Assembly of God Church and beat Pastor Ravi George and a church member identified only as Ramu on Aug. 29 in K.R. Nagar, Mysore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 20 extremists broke into the worship meeting, snatched Bibles and a mobile phone from Pastor George and started beating those present. The Christians received hospital treatment for serious head and hand injuries. Pastor George submitted a police complaint.
Karnataka – Christians in Madalawada, Haliya face a social boycott and the Rev. Philip Rock of St. Sebastian Church was charged with “causing disharmony” after Christians refused to follow Hindu rituals. In an effort to stop the spread of cholera in the village, local Hindu leaders On Aug. 24 urged villagers to pray to a Hindu deity and told them not to work on two Tuesdays and three Fridays, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians. Rock advised the Christians not to observe the Hindu rituals, and they resumed their daily activities. The Hindu extremists boycotted the Christians’ businesses and grocery shops, kept students from attending Christian schools and refused to repair Christians’ farm equipment. A police investigation is underway.
New Delhi – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal attacked Pastor Isaac Laal on Aug. 22 in Bhavana, Dariyakala Pura, New Delhi as he was returning home from a Sunday church service. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that armed extremists stopped him and took him to Municipal Corporation hall where about 150 RSS members were meeting. The extremists accused Laal of forceful conversion and severely beat him, leaving the pastor with internal injuries. The investigating officer of Bawana police station told Compass that police are investigating but no First Information Report has been registered.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists on Aug. 20 beat a pastor after falsely accusing him of “allurement” in the conversion of villagers in Bhendwad, Belgaum district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor David Kalagade of Jeevan Jala Prayer Mandiram was conducting a prayer service at another Christian’s house when 40 area extremists barged into the house at about 8 p.m. and accused him of bribing villagers to convert. Pastor Kalagade told Compass that the extremists tore up Christian literature and dragged him to the village council. Police were summoned, but the extremists could not substantiate their claims that people were given 500 to 1,000 rupees (about US$10 to US$20) to embrace Christianity. Police called the pastor to the police station on Aug. 21 and, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, forced him to sign a statement that he would not convert people in the village. Police official Anil Kumar told Compass that police also took a written statement from the extremists pledging that they would not create disturbances for the Christians. GCIC sources told Compass that the extremists were closely monitoring the daily activities of Christians.
Maharashtra – Police on Aug. 20 deported five South Korean students on the basis of the complaint of “propagating Christianity” on Aug. 16 by Hindu extremists in Pune. Manifesting one’s faith is legal in India. The Indian Express reported the police as saying that the five Koreans were distributing pamphlets in Pimpri Chinchwad, which led to a quarrel with local Hindu extremists. Area Christians said the Koreans were leading Bible studies in Christian homes and were distributing pamphlets on health issues to those who wanted them.
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 19 detained a pastor after Hindu nationalists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) beat him while he was showing a film in Mahalingapura, Bagalkot district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Hanok Mahadev Inachi of the New Apostolic Church and two Christian students identified only as Sarah and Gauri were showing a film, “Oceans of Mercy” to villagers when a mob of over 200 RSS extremists attacked. The Hindu extremists repeatedly struck the pastor on his back and took the film projector, a DVD player, generators, amplifier and a speaker box worth nearly 100,000 rupees (US$2,135), which police later forced them to return. Pastor Inachi told Compass that the extremists pushed, shoved and struck his back as they forced him to the Mahalingapura police station. He was released the next morning without charges but was forced to sign a statement pledging that he would not enter the village again; the two women were also given a warning.
Madhya Pradesh – Police on Aug. 16 filed charges against a pastor under the state’s “anti-conversion law” after local Hindu extremists disrupted his house church meeting in Nisarpur village, Dhar district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as independent Pastor Balu Sasya and an assistant pastor identified only as Raju were leading nearly 30 Christians in prayer and worship, about 35 extremists stormed the church, shouting slogans and slapping Raju. Falsely accusing the pastors of forcibly converting villagers, the extremists forced Sasya and Raju to the Nisarpur police station and filed a false complaint against them, GCIC reported. A GCIC regional coordinator told Compass that both Sasya and Raju were in still in Badhawani jail at press time.
Tamil Nadu – Police arrested Pastor S. Martin Rajasekaran after Hindu extremists along with police disrupted a prayer meeting on Aug. 15 in Tanjore. Barging into the prayer meeting led by Pastor Rajasekaran, the extremists chased away the Christians, seized a church amplifier and loud speakers and locked the house, according to the All India Christian Council (AICC). The pastor had been threatened and driven away from his rented house six times by the extremists and insulted and manhandled many times, according to the AICC, but all his complaints to police were ignored.
Madhya Pradesh – Two Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal, Ram Naresh Rai and Santosh Namdin, threatened a Christian convert on Aug. 15 in Dhanora, Lahknadon. Achelal Jhariya of Light of the World Church told Compass that the extremists filed a complaint against him of forceful conversion, claiming that he was constructing his house for conversion activities. Jhariya said the extremists went to the property site and told him to stop worshipping Jesus and warned him to stop construction or they would destroy all his belongings. The Christian said he was not building the house for any conversion activities, though such activities are legal in India, and reported the matter to police. Officers promised him security.
Karnataka – Police arrested two Christians after Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal accused them of forceful conversion and disrupted their worship meeting on Aug. 15 in Mandya district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists led by Hanumant Raj, local president of the Bajrang Dal, forcefully entered the worship meeting in Shesha Gowda’s home and started abusing the Christians. They filed a complaint against the Christians of forceful conversion in K.R. Pete police station. Police took 12 Christians to the station for questioning, releasing 10 without charges. Pastor Satish and Evangelist Ravi Pas, however, were arrested under Section 295 and 298 of the Indian Penal Code for “defiling a worship place with intent to insult religion of any class” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person respectively.”
Karnataka – Police on Aug. 13 detained Christians after accompanying Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members to a church and standing by as the BJP extremists disrupted their worship in Birur, Chikmagalur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the Indian Pentecostal Church pastor identified only as Dileep, along with 10 other Christians including three women and a young child, were taken to the Kadur police station and interrogated for over four hours. During the interrogation, BJP extremists surrounded them and shouted false accusations of forcible conversion and other abusive statements at the terrified Christians. With GCIC intervention, the Christians were released at 8:30 p.m. with a strict warning, contrary to the religious freedom provisions in the Indian constitution, to refrain from conversion activities in the area.
Uttar Pradesh – Members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Aug. 8 disrupted a Christian prayer meeting in Mailani, Lakhimpur-Kheri district, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). Nearly 25 BJP extremists accompanied by police gathered at 11 a.m. at Life Prayer Centre, where nearly 600 Christians had congregated for worship. The intolerant Hindus shouted slogans and demanded that Pastor Robert Samson come out, EFI reported. Police dispersed the Christians and took Pastor Samson in for questioning, releasing him later that afternoon without charges but allegedly threatening to shut down the church, according to EFI. Police also prohibited the congregation from gathering the following Sunday. Using a loudspeaker, the BJP nationalists continued making public accusations of forcible conversion by Pastor Samson throughout the day, EFI noted.
Karnataka – Members of the extremist Hindu Jagaran Vedike, a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, on Aug. 8 disrupted a prayer meeting and falsely accused Christians of “forceful conversion” in Kanakagiri, Koppal district. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 7:30 p.m. nearly 60 extremists stormed into an Evangelical Church of India service led by Pastor John Harris in the home of a family interested in learning about Christianity that had been regularly attending the church for about a year. Ordering the Christians to go outside where broadcast media were waiting, the extremists verbally abused the Christians for their faith, told them to stop all worship meetings and falsely accused them of forcible conversion. The Hindu nationalists took the Christians to the police station and pressured officers to arrest them. Police forced the Christians to sign a statement that they would not conduct meetings in homes and threatened to file a case against them if they did.
Bihar – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 7 attacked Singhasini Church and threatened Christians in Raxual. A source reported that the extremists pasted several pictures of Hanuman, a Hindu god, on the church’s wall and demanded that Christians leave the area. The extremists further threatened the Christians that they would hoist the Hanuman flag over the church building if they continued to worship Jesus. With area Christian leaders’ intervention, no further harm came to the church.
Maharashtra – Armed Hindu extremists on Aug. 1 attacked a church meeting and beat Christians including women and children, seriously injuring two people in Orlem, Malad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that after a group of armed extremists barged into the Sunday worship meeting of the Church of North India’s St. Emmanuel Church, Ponkumar Nadar and Devashish Nagarwere sustained injuries that required treatment in a local hospital. The congregation was attacked with rods and other blunt weapons, according to the Catholic Secular Forum (CSF). Joseph Dias, secretary of CSF, told media that the Hindu extremists were drunk at the time of the attack.
West Bengal – Muslim extremists on Aug. 1 destroyed a vegetable field belonging to a Christian in Natungram, Murshidabad. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported the field belonged to Gaffar Sheik, a member of Believer’s Community Worship Center. Earlier, Raffiqul Sheik had warned Gaffar Sheik that if he continued to worship Christ, his crops would be burned. The extent of the damage was estimated at about 20,000 rupees (US$400). Police visited the site, and an investigation is underway.
Uttar Pradesh – Police detained Christian students after accusing them of forceful conversion on July 24 in Lukcnow. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that four students from Compassion for India Ministry were visiting the slum area when the police team led by an officer identified only as Tripati called their pastor to the police station. The officer accused the pastor and his team of forceful conversion and forced the Christians to report about their work in detail. Police took money from the pastor before releasing the students, reported the AICC. The students maintained that they were just distributing food to the needy in the poor area and that there was no forceful conversion.
Uttar Pradesh – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal barged into a Christian meeting shouting, “Jai Shri Ram [Praise lord Ram]” on July 23 in Kanpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists forcefully entered the two-day meeting organized by Pastor Samuel Sarkar of the Kanpur Pentecostal Church and stopped the service. Police came to the spot and took the two parties to the police station, where officers told the Christians to cancel their meeting, which was subsequently discontinued.
Report from Compass Direct News
Two years after political reforms, freedom of faith nowhere in sight.
MALÉ, Maldives, August 10 (CDN) — Visitors to this Islamic island nation get a sense of religious restrictions even before they arrive. The arrival-departure cards given to arriving airline passengers carry a list of items prohibited under Maldivian laws – including “materials contrary to Islam.”
After Saudi Arabia, the Maldives is the only nation that claims a 100-percent Muslim population. The more than 300,000 people in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago featuring 1,192 islets 435 miles southwest of Sri Lanka, are all Sunnis.
This South Asian nation, however, has more than 70,000 expatriate workers representing several non-Islamic religions, including Christianity.
Also, around 60,000 tourists, mainly from Europe, visit each year to enjoy the blue ocean and white beaches and normally head straight to one of the holiday resorts built on around 45 islands exclusively meant for tourism. Tourists are rarely taken to the other 200 inhabited islands where locals live.
Nearly one-third of the population lives in the capital city of Malé, the only island where tourists and Maldivians meet.
While the Maldivians do not have a choice to convert out of Islam or to become openly atheist, foreigners in the country can practice their religion only privately.
In previous years several Christian expats have either been arrested for attending worship in private homes or denied visas for several months or years on suspicion of being connected with mission agencies.
According to “liberal estimates,” the number of Maldivian Christians or seekers “cannot be more than 15,” said one source.
“Even if you engage any Maldivian in a discussion on Christianity and the person reports it to authorities, you can be in trouble,” the source said. “A Maldivian youth studying in Sri Lanka became a Christian recently, but when his parents came to know about it, they took him away. We have not heard from him since then.”
The source added that such instances are not uncommon in the Maldives.
“I wish I could attend church, but I am too scared to look for one,” said a European expat worker. “I have not even brought my Bible here; I read it online. I don’t want to take any chances.”
The British reportedly translated the Bible into the local language, Dhivehi, and made it available in the 19th century, as the Maldives was a British protectorate from 1887 to 1965. Today no one knows how the Dhivehi Bible “disappeared.”
“A new translation has been underway for years, and it is in no way near completion,” said the source who requested anonymity.
Religion Excluded from Rights
The 2008 constitution, adopted five years after a popular movement for human rights began, states that a “non-Muslim may not become a citizen of the Maldives.”
Abdulla Yameen, brother of the former dictator of the Maldives and leader of the People’s Alliance party, an ally of the opposition Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (Maldivian People’s Party or DRP), told Compass that the issue of religious freedom was “insignificant” for the Maldives.
“There’s no demand for it from the public,” Yameen said. “If you take a public poll, 99 percent of the citizens will say ‘no’ to religious freedom.”
Maldivians are passionate about their religion, Yameen added, referring to a recent incident in which a 37-year-old Maldivian citizen, Mohamed Nazim, was attacked after he told a gathering that he was not a Muslim. On May 28, before a crowd of around 11,000 Maldivians, Nazim told a visiting Indian Muslim televangelist, Zakir Naik, that although he was born to a practicing Muslim family, he was “struggling to believe in religions.”
He also asked Naik about his “verdict on Islam.” The question enraged an angry crowd, with many calling for Nazim’s death while others beat him. He received several minor injuries before police took him away.
“See how the public went after his [Nazim’s] throat,” said Yameen, who studied at Claremont Graduate University in California. When asked if such passion was good for a society, he replied, “Yes. We are an Islamic nation, and our religion is an important part of our collective identity.”
Asked if individuals had no rights, his terse answer was “No.” Told it was shocking to hear his views, he said, “We are also shocked when a nation legalizes gay sex.”
Mohamed Zahid, vice president of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, told Compass that the country has its own definition of human rights.
“It is to protect people’s rights under the sharia [Islamic law] and other international conventions with the exception of religious freedom,” he said. “We are a sovereign nation, and we follow our own constitution.”
Zahid and several other local sources told Compass that the issue of religious rights was “irrelevant” for Maldivians. “Not more than 100 people in the country want religious freedom,” Zahid said.
Politics of Religion
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a virtual dictator for 30 years until 2008, is generally held responsible for creating an atmosphere of religious restrictions in the Maldives, as he sought to homogenize religion in the country by introducing the state version of Sunni Islam. He also led a major crackdown on Christians.
The Protection of Religious Unity Act, enacted in 1994, was an endeavor to tighten the government’s control over mosques and all other Islamic institutions. The Gayoom administration even wrote Friday sermons to be delivered in mosques.
In 1998, Gayoom began a crackdown on alleged missionary activities.
“A radio station based out of India used to air Christian programs via the Seychelles, but the government came to know about it and ensured that they were discontinued with the help of the government in the Seychelles,” said a local Muslim source.
That year, Gayoom reportedly arrested around 50 Maldivians who were suspected to have converted to Christianity and deported 19 foreign workers accused of doing missionary work. A source said Gayoom apparently wanted to regain popularity at a time when his leadership was being questioned.
When the archipelago became a multi-party democracy in October 2008, new President Mohamed Nasheed, a former journalist and activist, was expected to pursue a liberal policy as part of the country’s reforms agenda.
Although Nasheed is the president, his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has only 28 members and the support of four independents in the 77-member People’s Majlis (Maldives’ unicameral Parliament). Gayoom, now in his 70s and the leader of the largest opposition party, the DRP, has a simple majority – which presents difficulties in governance. Nasheed pleads helplessness in implementing reforms, citing an intransigent opposition.
Today Gayoom’s party accuses President Nasheed of not being able to protect the country’s distinct identity and culture, which the opposition says are rooted in Islam. The Gayoom-led parliament recently sought to impeach the education minister for proposing to make Islam and Dhivehi lessons optional – rather than mandatory – in high school.
To pre-empt the impeachment move, the whole cabinet of Nasheed resigned on June 29, which caused a major political crisis that led to violent street protests. The Nasheed administration allegedly arrested some opposition members, including Gayoom’s brother, Yameen. Political tensions and uncertainties continued at press time.
Now that President Nasheed’s popularity is declining – due to perceptions that he has become as authoritarian as his predecessor – it is feared that, amid immense pressure by the opposition to follow conservative policies, he might begin to follow in Gayoom’s footsteps.
Both the ruling and opposition parties admit that Islamic extremism has grown in the country. In October 2007, a group of young Maldivians engaged government security forces in a fierce shootout on Himandhoo Island.
Nasheed’s party alleges that Gayoom’s policy of promoting the state version of Sunni Islam created an interest to discern “true Islam,” with extremists from Pakistan stepping in to introduce “jihadism” in the Maldives. The DRP, on the other hand, says that behind the growth of extremism is the current government’s liberal policy of allowing Muslims of different sects to visit the Maldives to preach and give lectures, including the conservative Sunni sect of “Wahhabis.”
Until the early 1990s, Maldivian women would hardly wear the black burqa (covering the entire body, except the eyes and hands), and no men would sport a long beard – outward marks of Wahhabi Muslims, said the Muslim source, adding that “today the practice has become common.”
Still, Islam as practiced in the Maldives is pragmatic and unlike that of Saudi Arabia, he said. “People here are liberal and open-minded.”
As extremism grows, though, it is feared that radical Islamists may go to any extent to extra-judicially punish anyone suspected of being a missionary or having converted away from Islam, and that they can pressure the government to remain indifferent to religious freedom.
How long will it take for the Maldives to allow religious freedom?
“Maybe after the Maldivian government legalizes gay sex,” the Muslim source joked.
Report from Compass Direct News