‘Convert or die’ threats prevent Christian families from returning to home villages.

NEW DELHI, February 18 (Compass Direct News) – In the wake of anti-Christian violence in Orissa state last year, hard-line Hindus in Kandhamal district have forced nearly half of 40 Christian families in one village to convert under threat of death, area Christians said.

Bareka village resident Goliath Digal, 58, told Compass that the Hindu hardliners have taken 18 Roman Catholic families to a Hindu temple and performed Hindu rituals on them, forcing them to sign statements that they had converted of their own will.

“During the riots, all our belongings had been taken away and we were left with nothing,” Digal said. “Now they are threatening to murder us if we do not become Hindus.”

Of the 22 other families in Bareka, 16 have returned to the village from relief camps but are living in fear, Digal said, and the rest have fled to Berampur, Jharsuguda and to nearby villages with no plans to return. He added that he and others with farmland near the village have not been able to cultivate crops out of fear and opposition.


Fear of Return

In G. Udayagiri refugee camp, 55-year-old Vipin Nayak of Tiangia Budaripura village said that all 400 Christian families from the hamlet have remained in the camp except for five families who were allowed to return after being forced to become Hindus.

“We cannot enter the village until we become Hindus – if we do return, we risk our lives,” said Nayak, whose brother, Vikram Nayak, was killed in the anti-Christian violence that lasted for more than two months.

The Hindu hardliners have ordered the Christians to enter the village carrying Hindu scripture, the Bhagwat Geeta, in their hands if they want to return to the village, he said. Many Christians have tried to sneak into the village and were kidnapped and had their heads tonsured, Nayak said.

In Tikabali relief camp, 20-year-old Geetanjali Digal told Compass that Hindu extremists are telling villagers, “Once again we will attack, and riots will take place. We burned your houses, this time we will kill you all. Nobody will be left alive.”

Another source told Compass that one of the most dangerous hamlets is Badimunda. “Christians cannot step into the village at all,” said the source.

Prabhasini Nayak, a 20-year-old Christian resident of Kakamaha village, Panganaju, who remains in G. Udayagiri relief camp, said Hindus have threatened to impose monetary punishment on her Hindu uncle and his family if they make contact with her and Christian members of her family.

“The fundamentalists have threatened my uncle’s family to have no ties with us,” she said. “If they are found doing so, they will have to pay a fine of 5,000 rupees [US$100] to the fundamentalists.”


Peace Committees Fail

The district collector of Kandhamal, Dr. Krishna Kumar, said his office has received 68 to 70 complaints of forcible conversion of Christians to Hinduism, “and in all such cases police complaints have been registered and action is being taken.”

Christian leaders from Kandhamal said the government has set up meetings of “Peace Committees” to aid refugee camp dwellers to return to their home villages, but in many places the presiding officials failed to show up.

Kumar, however, told Compass that reconciliation has begun in various places. “Peace Committees have been very successful,” he said.

Area Christian leaders maintained that the Peace Committees will help little as there is almost no willingness by hard-line Hindus to tolerate Christian presence.

“‘Only Hindus and no Christians’ is the new slogan of Hindu fundamentalists in the area,” said one pastor on condition of anonymity. “Christians have to become Hindus or leave.”

Last month, India’s Supreme Court ordered the Orissa state government, led by an alliance that includes the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, to ensure protection for the state’s Christian minority.

The violence last year resulted from Hindu extremist organizations blaming Christians for the murder of Hindu leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23. Police, however, have charged Maoist extremists for the killings. A Communist Party fact-finding team estimated at least 500 people were murdered. More than 50,000 people were left homeless as some 5,000 houses were burned or destroyed, and 252 churches were destroyed.

Dr. Kumar said that smaller, transitional relief camps have been established in various blocks of the district, closer to villages, so that in time residents might be emboldened to venture freely back to their homes.

Asserting that only 1,500 people are left in refugee camps, Dr. Kumar said that 75 percent of those who fled have returned to their villages.

But Christian leaders from the district said that people who have left relief camps have not returned to their villages but migrated to safer places, especially the larger cities of Berhampur, Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. They estimated that most are working as day-laborers and are not earning enough to survive.

Geetanjali Digal of the Tikabali relief camp told Compass that the camp still provides a key source of food.

“They have burnt our house,” Digal said. “All that we had is burnt. We have put a small tent in the place of our house that was burnt, but for food we go to the camp. My father is unable to get any work.”

Prabhasini Nayak of G. Udayagiri refugee camp said many people in the camps are eagerly awaiting government compensation to rebuild their homes so that they can start life anew.

“We are one of them,” she said.

Report from Compass Direct News


Recent Incidents of Persecution

Karnataka, November 18 (Compass Direct News) – Police on Nov. 16 arrested a pastor and charged him with “hurting religious sentiments” in Vangasandra, Hosur Road, Bangalore, after a mob of Hindu extremists stormed into his house church service and struck him. Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that at 11 a.m. a mob of nearly 25 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) barged into the house church service and repeatedly slapped the pastor, identified only as Sujnanamm, and shouted filthy curses at the 15 other Christians present. Laxminarayan Gowda, GCIC regional coordinator, told Compass that the extremists beat one of the Christians who tried to help the pastor. The intolerant Hindus forced Pastor Sujnanamm, with his nose bleeding, to go with them to the Madivala police station and registered a false complaint of forcible conversion against him, Gowda said. “On being questioned about his Christian activities, Sujnanamm told the police that he was a student at BBBC [Bhirian Baptist Bible College],” Gowda said. “This angered the police, who summoned the Rev. Edwin Chilli, president of the BBBC, to the police station and charged him under Section 506 for criminal intimidation.” At press time both Christian leaders were still in jail.

Karnataka – Police arrested three Christians on Nov. 12 on charges of attempted Christian conversion by allurement in Cox Town, Bangalore. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that a Christian man identified only as Chandrasekhar and two Christian women, identified only as Kamlamma and Sandhya, all of Pavithra Agni Church, went to a slum area in Jeevanahalli to pray for a sick couple. On their way back home, nearly 20 Hindu extremists belonging to the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swamyamsevak Sangh attacked them, snatched their bags, verbally abused them and falsely accused them of forcible conversion, then phoned a local police station. The Frazer Town Police took the three Christians to the police station and arrested them for “hurting religious sentiments” and “uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person.” The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported that an employer of the slum dwellers identified only as Mr. Gowda also filed a complaint against the Christians for allegedly inducing people to convert to Christianity by fraudulent means. The two women were remanded to custody, and Chandrasekhar was sent to a jail the next day. The three Christians appeared in court on Nov. 13 and were ordered to remain in police custody till Nov. 28, according to the EFI.

KarnatakaHindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) on Nov. 9 falsely accused a pastor of forced conversion, beat him and verbally abused Christian women in Banavara, Arasikere Taluk, Hassan district. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that pastor Ravi Charles of Jesus Prayer Hall was summoned to perform the funeral service of a church member, a convert from Hinduism identified only as Girijama. As the pastor, his wife and other Christians reached the house of the deceased, an argument broke out among family members on whether the funeral was to proceed under Christian or Hindu rites. Hindu relatives informed VHP extremists. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the VHP extremists arrived, accused the pastor of forced conversion and started beating him, as well as verbally abusing the Christian women. The extremists called police, who detained them for four hours and released them without charges.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 4 arrested Benjamin Bommai, 52, of the Manonidhi Institute of Nursing (MIN) in Chamarajanagar district, on charges of forced conversion. MIN Manager Shailaja Krupanidhi told Compass that police summoned Bommai for questioning regarding a case filed by Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal in 2006 for distributing gospel tracts at Manonidhi College. The extremists had charged Bommai with trying to forcibly convert students. “On Nov. 4, Bommai was only called for enquiry – he did not distribute tracts or anything, but police arrested him,” said Krupanidhi. Bommai appeared before the district magistrate and was later sent to the Chamrajanagar jail. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that police arrested Bommai for promoting enmity between different groups of religion under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code. “Bommai was released on bail the next evening,” said Krupanidhi.

Uttarakhand – Hindu extremists vandalized a church, severely injured a pastor’s ear drum and stole donation and offering bags on Nov. 3 in Dehradun. According to the Evangelical Fellowship of India, about 30 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal barged into the worship hall of Bethesda Church and damaged Bibles and gospel literature and furniture. The assailants took the church’s offering and donation boxes along with important papers. The extremists also attacked Asher Wasker, a pastor from God’s Church in neighboring Rajpur, who had come to the aid of the attacked church. Pastor Wasker suffered internal injuries and his right ear drum was severely injured. Bethesda Church’s caretaker and Pastor Wasker filed a complaint with the help of area Christian leaders, and three Hindu extremists were arrested for voluntarily causing hurt and damage, for trespassing and wrongful restraint, for theft and for defiling a place of worship.

Karnataka – Police on Nov. 2 disrupted the Sunday worship service of a house church in Thimannakatte village, Haveri district, based on an accusation of forced conversion. According to the Christian Legal Association, police barged into the house church of the Dheiwah Ministry because villagers had accused pastor Rangaiah Nagaraj of forcible conversion. Police warned the pastor to obtain prior permission in order to conduct future worship meetings. But Inspector Krishan Junoor later said the pastor could continue to conduct worship meetings under police protection, adding that normalcy had returned to the area. No arrests had been made.

Andhra Pradesh – Nizambad district police detained a pastor for one-and-a-half days on a complaint of forced conversion filed against him by Hindu extremists on Oct. 24 in Nandipet Mandal, Nizambad. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that at about 8 a.m., 20 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the house of pastor Martin Luther of Believers Church and attacked him, dragging him to the police station and accusing him of forcible conversion. The pastor was released after local Christian leaders met with Sub-Inspector Shiva Shankar.

Madhya Pradesh – Police on Oct. 12 arrested a pastor on charges of “fraudulent conversion” in Dhamnod town, Dhar District. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a complaint from a local resident led police to raid pastor Ganesh Bharud’s house church, seize Bibles, hymnals and gospel tracts, chase away the 25 Christians assembled for Sunday worship and force Bharud to the Dhamnod police station. A GCIC representative told Compass that the local resident had accused Bharud of inducing people to convert with false promises of an overseas job. Police officials told Compass that Bharud was released on bail on Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m.  

Report from Compass Direct News