Christmas Season Attacks Worry Christians in India

Hindu extremists launch two assaults and claim hundreds of ‘reconversions.’

NEW DELHI, December 22 (CDN) — With at least two violent attacks and alleged “reconversion” of over 1,700 Christians in the week leading up to Christmas, a sense of fear is growing among India’s minority Christian community.

On Sunday (Dec. 20), Hindu extremists attacked a church during worship in western Maharashtra state’s Sindhudurg district and a Christmas exhibition in Gwalior city in central Madhya Pradesh state. The following day, extremists claimed having converted over 1,700 tribal (aboriginal) Christians “back” to Hinduism in western Gujarat state.

“Christmas is a favorite time for violence against Christians in India, as it intimidates the Christian community at large,” said Dr. John Dayal, member of the government’s National Integration Council, headed by Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh.

Dayal pointed out that the first mass attack on Christians in India took place in Gujarat’s Dangs district during Christmas in 1998, setting the stage for future attacks through the season.

“Then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee [of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP] went to see the damage [in Dangs], but instead of commiserating with the victims, he called for a national debate on conversions,” Dayal said. “That political philosophy has been behind the festive season attacks on the Christian community.”

The Rev. Anand Muttungal of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Madhya Pradesh said the attacks around Christmas could be a reaction to increased and favorable coverage of Christians and churches in newspapers and television channels during the festival season.

“Rightwing extremists cannot tolerate this, and they cannot stop it either,” he said. “So, in frustration, they launch attacks.”

On Christmas Eve of 2007, eastern Orissa’s Kandhamal district witnessed a massive spate of anti-Christian attacks that killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.

Arson in Madhya Pradesh

The assailants in the Dec. 20 attack in Madhya Pradesh state have been identified as members of the extreme rightwing outfit Bajrang Dal. Muttungal said members of the Hindu extremist group shouted Hindu slogans and burned artwork depicting biblical scenes at an annual Christmas fair organized by the Catholic Church in Gwalior city.

The mayor of Gwalior had inaugurated the two-day fair on Saturday (Dec. 19), and it was organized with due permission from authorities, he said.

“The incident has spread panic among Christians in the state,” reported Indian Catholic, a news portal run by the Catholic Church in India.

The portal quoted Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal as saying that the attack “is a matter of serious concern for Christians, especially when we are preparing to celebrate Christmas.”

Three of the attackers were arrested, and two of them were sent to judicial custody by a local court.

Also on Sunday (Dec. 20), around 60 men barged into the New Life Fellowship (NLF) church in Kankauli area in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district and beat the pastor, his wife and a few other Christians, according to NLF Pastor Atul Bhore. The church meets at the privately owned Anant Hotel in Kankauli.

“The attackers, all men, accused us of converting Hindus,” the 37-year-old pastor told Compass. “Then they beat us, including my wife, with their hands and legs. My back is still in pain.”

The attackers were allegedly led by a local leader of the Hindu extremist Shiv Sena party, identified as Vaibhav Naik. Also taking a lead role in the attack was a local leader of the ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Rupesh Nagrekar.

The NCP is part of the ruling state coalition with the Congress Party. As policy, both parties renounce the Hindu nationalist ideology of the opposition Shiv Sena party and its ally the BJP. But involvement of local leaders of the two “secular” parties is not uncommon in Maharashtra.

An official from the Kankauli police station said police were on the lookout for the attackers, and that they would be arrested soon.

A Christian from the NLF church said police were initially reluctant to take action against the attackers.

“The police warned us against ‘conversions,’ as if the allegations made against us were true,” the Christian said. “Only after Dr. Abraham Mathai from the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission intervened did the police show interest in prosecuting the attackers.”

‘Reconversions’ in Gujarat

Following these two attacks, yesterday (Dec. 21) Hindu extremist group Shree Sampraday Seva Samiti (Service Committee of the Hindu sect Shree Sampraday) claimed to have “reconverted” 1,747 people to Hinduism in Gujarat state’s Surat city, reported The Times of India newspaper.

“The camp to reconvert tribals, who had embraced Christianity, was held in the city for the first time, and nearly 5,000 people from Maharashtra and Gujarat participated in the ceremony,” the newspaper reported.

About 10 Hindu priests chanted mantras at a fire ritual, around which sat those willing to “get back” to Hinduism, it stated, adding that participants were given a meditation word and sacred thread to mark their “reconversion.”

“We organized the event in Surat to promote Hinduism in urban areas,” one of the organizers, Yashwant More, told the newspaper. “We have a series of events planned in the near future to hold such reconversion camps in urban areas of Gujarat. In January, events are planned in Vadodara and Silvassa.”

Gujarat has an anti-conversion law, known as the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, which mandates all those seeking to convert, as well as clergy involved in any “conversion ceremony,” to seek prior permission from district authorities. No permission was sought for the event, noted the newspaper.

Christians complain that anti-conversion laws, in force in four other states including Madhya Pradesh, have been enacted only to harass Christians and are rarely used against Hindu nationalist groups.

Sociologists say that India’s tribal peoples, who have long practiced their own ethnic faiths, are not Hindus. Hindu nationalists are active mainly in tribal regions to “Hinduize” local villagers and repel conversions to other faiths.

Many reports of “reconversions,” however, have been found to be false. In 2007, Hindi-language daily Punjab Kesari reported that four Christian families in Nahan town, in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, had “reconverted” to Hinduism. But a fact-finding team of the All India Christian Council revealed that none of the members of those families had ever converted to Christianity.

More than 80 percent of India’s 1.1 billion people are Hindus; Christians make up a meager 2.3 percent of the population.

Opposition and attacks will not dampen the spirit of Christmas, said Dayal.

“The birth of Christ is a harbinger of salvation, and this salvific promise goads us on to celebrate Christmas without fear,” he said. “We will not be cowed, or scared, or intimidated into retracting from our faith and from celebrating the birth of the Messiah.”

Report from Compass Direct News 


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, September 17 (Compass Direct News) – A mob of about 300 people attacked and torched a Christian prayer hall on Sept. 7 in Bada village, Davangere district just after prayers concluded at about 9 a.m., according to the The Hindu. The assailants broke the asbestos ceiling and windows and set fire to material inside, including Bibles, a cross and a pulpit, the daily reported. A pastor identified only as Lukas E., who was at the site of the attack, described the attackers as “locals” but refused to name them. Police have registered a case, though the pastor said he did not wish to file charges against anyone because they were his “own people.” Villagers who accused the pastor of “converting the locals” by luring them with gifts and by “demeaning Hindu gods and religious customs” told the newspaper that the attack was “spontaneous.” A police official told Compass that 10 persons have been taken into custody. The incident occurred even as prohibitory orders were in force for an area within a 200-meter radius of three other prayer halls in Davangere town, which have been under attack since mid-August. The Hindu nationalist Hindu Jagarana Vedike had threatened to forcibly close down these “unauthorized places” if the district administration did not do so by Sept. 6, stated the daily.

Karnataka – Police on Sept. 6 arrested a pastor in Terekere, Chikmagalur district. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that on Aug. 31 nearly 40 Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists had disrupted Sunday worship of Emmanuel Church and threatened pastor C.S. John, warning him to hold no further Christian worship. On Sept. 6 nearly 25 intolerant Hindus came to Emmanuel Church, shouting anti-Christian slogans and making false conversions allegations against Pastor John. A GCIC representative told Compass that the Hindu extremists forced Pastor John to a local police station and filed a false complaint against him for “malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings,” and insulting a class of people’s religion or religious beliefs. With GCIC intervention, the pastor was released on bail on Sept. 8.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Sharon Church in Holalkere block of Chitradurga district, Karnataka beat the pastor, dragged believers out of Sunday worship and forcibly applied Kumkum red circles on their foreheads. As is customary in India, police were mute spectators. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that as pastor N. Kumar had finished preaching, nearly 25 intolerant Hindus led by area extremists identified only as Srinivas, Hanumantha and Basavaraj barged into the church shouting “Jai Bajrangi [Hail Lord Hanuman].” Armed with wooden clubs and saffron flags, the extremists slapped Pastor Kumar and made false accusations of forcible conversions. According to GCIC, the extremists threatened the assembly of around 35 believers that they had to convert to Hinduism or else be smacked with clubs. Grabbing him by his collar, the extremists dragged the pastor outside the church, other frightened believers were made to follow, and kumkum was applied to their foreheads. The believers were warned that they would be tonsured if they worshipped in Sharon Church again. The watching policemen then took Pastor Kumar to Hollakera police station. The GCIC brokered a compromise between the Hindu extremists and the church: Pastor Kumar did not file a complaint, and the extremists agreed not to harass the believers. Kumar was given first aid at Hollakera government hospital for a bleeding ear.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists on Aug. 31 stormed Full Gospel Church at Sharavati Nagar, Old Hubli, beating a pastor and others and making false allegations of forced conversions. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), reported that as worship was going on a group of nearly 30 extremists led by D. Kabadi, Jagadish Katti Satish and another person barged in shouting Hindu devotional chants, walked up to the dais and slapped and punched the Rev. David Perumal. When pastor Thankaraj Dhansingh rushed to the aid of Perumal, he too was repeatedly hit on his head and back. The Hindu extremists cursed congregants and chased them away. Police arrived and took Rev. Dhansingh and Perumal to the police station, with the intolerant Hindus following shouting anti-Christian slogans. With the GCIC’s intervention, a First Information Report was filed against the extremists, George said. Perumal was admitted to a medical clinic for treatment. At press time no arrests had been made.

Karnataka – About 30 Hindu extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) on Aug. 24 handed over a pastor and 10 others to the Frazer town police station for preaching the gospel and pressured police to file a case against them in Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the pastor, identified only as Nelson, and the 10 others were preaching and distributing gospel tracts in Doddigunta when the extremists began threatening them and took them to a police station, where they were arrested for “hurting religious sentiments,” statements conducive to public mischief and unlawful assembly. The Christians were released on bail after two days.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists on Aug. 27 disrupted a prayer convention, accused a pastor of forced conversions and beat him in Kala Bhavan, Gadag. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) disrupted the two day-prayer meeting held with prior police permission, brutally beat a pastor identified only as Santosh and dragged him to the police station. The extremists forced the pastor to give a written statement saying he would not conduct future prayer meetings or share the gospel with anyone. He was released after he was forced to submit a written statement to police. Again on Aug. 28, the intolerant Hindus threatened the pastor at his house, saying that they would burn him and his family if they did not leave the area within 24 hours. The pastor filed a police complaint. GCIC told Compass that a First Information Report was not filed, and that the two parties reached a compromise.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 27 arrested a pastor on charges of hurting religious sentiments and “uttering words with intent to insult the religion of any class” after Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists filed a false complaint of forcible conversion against him in Arasikere, Hobli, Davangere. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that nearly 100 extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal came by van to the Full Gospel Assembly Church. Pastor K.P. Rajshekar was not at the church building, and the Hindu extremists angrily asked four Christians identified only as Nagappa, Umesh, Yogaraju and Mallesha Naik, about allurements they supposedly received to convert to Christianity. Asha Devi, a GCIC representative, told Compass that the extremists also forced the four believers to the Yellamma Temple, smeared vermillion on their foreheads and made them bow to Hindu idols. “However, they have not renounced Jesus Christ,” Devi told Compass. As is customary in India, police jailed the victims of Hindu extremist aggression. At press time, the GCIC was seeking their release on bail. The extremists had also demanded that the four Christians provide details about the pastor and other families who worshiped there and subsequently went to Pastor Rajshekar’s house, dragged him out and shoved him into the van along with his wife Anapoorna and daughter Geetha. They took them to a police station and filed bogus charges of fraudulent conversion against the pastor and his family.

Karnataka – Police on Aug. 24 detained a pastor after Hindu extremists stormed an evangelistic meeting, attacking the pastor and bringing forth false witnesses to testify against him in Ramalingeshwara Camp, Koppal district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Pastor Jeeva Prakash of the Bethesda Prayer House was preaching at a gospel meeting in Ramalingeshwara Camp, where nearly 100 believers had congregated, when a mob led by two local extremists identified only as Virupakshappa and Giri of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the assembly shouting curses. They slapped Prakash and attempted to make him chant “Jai Sri Ram [Hail Lord Rama].” In spite of repeated hitting and punching on his stomach and head, Pastor Praskash staunchly refused to give in, at which point the extremists dragged the pastor and a few others to a police station, the report stated. GCIC regional coordinator Laxminarayan Gowda told Compass, “The extremists brought two persons identified only as Chinnappa and Lakshmamma, who falsely testified that Prakash had promised them money to attend the meeting.” With GCIC intervention, the pastor and believers were released at around 10:45 p.m. without being charged.

Orissa – Evangelist Prem Dan Khora was arrested on Aug. 22 after Hindu extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) filed false complaints of “forcible” conversion and destruction of idols against him in Dasamantapur, Koraput district. According to the Global Council of Indian Christians, Khora was distributing gospel tracts in the area when Hindu extremists from the VHP were demonstrating against a commission set up to probe the December 2007 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district. The extremists snatched the tracts and thrashed him for nearly an hour, leaving him barely conscious. They dragged him to the police station, where he was arrested for “hurting religious sentiments” and trespassing. GCIC told Compass that the whereabouts of the evangelist remained unknown at press time.

Maharashtra – Kashinath Kadale, a tribal Christian laborer, was allegedly beaten and hanged to death by seven anti-Christian assailants from Jamblipada village in Thane district on Aug. 21, the national daily Times of India reported. At midnight the attackers barged into the house and thrashed the couple, with Kadale’s wife Tai escaping and returning hours later only to find her husband hanging from the roof. She filed a complaint with Jawahar police, saying they were sleeping in the house when they were attacked by seven unknown men. The Rev. Sanjiv Andrap, the village pastor, was quoted by Times of India as stating that the reason for the attack was that the villagers opposed Christian families and wanted them to leave the village. Over the last three years, on five occasions villagers had tried to evict the Christian families from the village, the daily reported. But the report stated that Inspector Rajendra Naik of the Jawahar police station said that the allegation made by the deceased’s wife was untrue, that the couple was drunk and “abused” the seven people who were going past their house. According to the police investigation, the seven people had an argument with the couple and later left. Abraham Mathai, vice-chairman of the minority commission told Compass that tribal peoples in the Thane area are constantly vulnerable to attacks from the local Hindu extremists.

Karnataka – Hindu extremists in Chikka Savananoor village, Gadag district on Aug. 20 beat an evangelist, made false accusations of forced conversion, dragged him to the village temple and tied him to a pillar to mock him. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Nagaraj Yellappa Limbuji, a private tutor who worships in Shalom Prayer Hall, was en route to work when a group of nearly 20 intolerant Hindus stopped him on the road and made false allegations of forcible conversions. The extremists slapped Limbuji before taking him to the village temple and tying him to one of the temple pillars. The GCIC’s Sajan K. George told Compass that the extremists kept him tied to the pillar for nearly one and a half hours, continuously mocking and cursing him. “One of the believers in the village informed the police, who arrived and set him free,” George said. “Limbuji has refused to register a complaint as he has forgiven the extremists.”

Andhra PradeshHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh on Aug. 17 demolished the half-built Jesus Prayer House Church building in Uppal hills, Hyderabad. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that nearly 20 extremists led by Shekar Reddy marched towards the church structure under construction and, armed with iron rods, began harassing pastor David Raj, who was supervising construction. They made false accusations of forced conversion. Reddy also claimed that the land belonged to Hindus and that Christians had no right to worship or construct a church in the area. The intolerant Hindus shoved Raj to the ground and began demolishing the church building. Lion Francis, regional GCIC coordinator, told Compass that Pastor Raj filed a complaint at Uppal police station, but at press time no arrests had been made.

Uttarakhand – Six Christian workers and a Bible college student were beaten by a group of Hindu fanatics on India’s Independence day, Aug. 15, reports The Persecution Times. The mob became enraged after they saw Bible college student Rasul Sarvak passing out gospel literature with a team of other students from the college. When the mob attacked, the other students were able to escape, but Sarvak, the youngest in the team, was captured and beaten as the intolerant Hindus tried without success to force him to deny his faith in Jesus. “You are trying to make our country a Christian nation,” they yelled at him. They dragged Sarvak to the police station, where officers placed him in custody to protect him from the furious mob. Four Gospel for Asia (GFA) workers arrived at the police station for Sarvak’s release, but the fanatics stopped them outside and beat them at length in the presence of police. Two more GFA workers drove up to the police station and were also brutally attacked, with one of them suffering a severe eye injury. The mob vandalized the GFA vehicle and threw it in a ditch. They then turned to the vehicle used by the first group of GFA workers and tried to burn it, but police at last stopped them. The Hindu extremists left, and police transported Sarvak and the six GFA workers to another station to keep them safe. There, some local Christians came and filed paperwork, and the group was released.

Report from Compass Direct News