The Group Formerly Known as the Children of God Cleaning Up Their Act
The following article reports on reforms taking place within the former Children of God sect, now known as The Family International (TFI).
The Group Formerly Known as the Children of God Cleaning Up Their Act
The following article reports on reforms taking place within the former Children of God sect, now known as The Family International (TFI).
Hindu nationalists continue to oppress Christians in Kandhamal district, report says.
NEW DELHI, November 11 (CDN) — More than two years after losing relatives and property in anti-Christian violence, there is no sense of relief among survivors in India’s Orissa state, as many are still ostracized and pressured to “return” to Hinduism, according to a private investigation.
“Despite the state administration’s claim of normalcy,” the preliminary report of a fact-finding team states, “a state of lawlessness and utter fear and sense of insecurity” prevails among Christians of Kandhamal district, which saw a major anti-Christian bloodbath in 2008.
The team, consisting of local attorney Nicholas Barla and another identified only as Brother Marcus, along with rights activists Jugal Kishore Ranjit and Ajay Kumar Singh, visited four villages in three blocks of Kandhamal on Nov. 5.
In Bodimunda village in Tikabali, the team met a pastor who said he has been closely watched since Hindu extremists forced him to become a Hindu. The pastor, whose name the report withheld for security reasons, said he had to convert to Hinduism in 2008 “to save his old mother, who could not have escaped the violence as she was not in a position to walk.”
He is still closely watched in an effort to prevent him from returning to Christianity. While the attorneys and activists were still at the pastor’s house, a man who identified himself as from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate) came to inquire about his visitors. The pastor felt compelled to tell them that they were “bank officials.”
In the same village, Hindu nationalists have also imposed a de facto ban on any private or public vehicle to ferry Christians or their belongings, said the report.
The team met the family of a paralyzed Christian, Bamadev Pradhan, whom auto-rickshaw drivers refused to take to a hospital when he recently ran a high fever. Eventually a Christian driver took him to the only hospital in Tikabali, around eight kilometers (nearly five miles) from his village of Bodimunda, but as the Christian was driving back, some local men confiscated his vehicle.
With the help of the auto-rickshaw union, the driver (unnamed in the report) got the vehicle released after paying a fine of 1,051 (US$24) rupees and promising that he would not transport any Christians in the future.
Another Christian said area Hindus extremists prohibited Christians from procuring basic necessities.
“We are not allowed to bring housing materials or food provisions or medicines, and nor are we allowed to buy anything from local shops,” he said. “We do not have any shop of our own. Here, we are struggling to live as human beings.”
The team also met a Hindu who had to pay 5,000 rupees (US$112) to get his tractor returned to him, as he had transported housing material for the construction of the house of a Christian.
In the house of a Christian in Keredi village in Phulbani Block, the team found a picture of a Hindu god. The resident, who was not identified in the report, explained that he had to display it in order to protect his family from harm.
The team found pictures of Hindu gods also in the house of a Christian in Gandapadar village in the Minia area, Phiringia Block. A woman in the house told the team that local Hindu nationalists had given her pictures of Hindu gods for worship.
“We have kept them, as they often come to check whether we have reconverted to Christianity,” she said.
Almost all Christians the team met complained that the local administration had done little to protect them and suspected that officials colluded with area Hindu nationalists.
Released on Nov. 8, the report asserts that Christians have been barred from taking water from a government well in Dakanaju village, under G. Udayagiri police jurisdiction in Tikabali Block. The village head, Sachindra Pradhan, has promised to take action “at the earliest,” it added.
Violence in Kandhamal and some other districts of Orissa state followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. The rampage killed over 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, according to estimates by human rights groups.
The spate of attacks began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) active in the district claimed responsibility for it.
John Dayal, a Christian activist in Delhi, told Compass that “the apparatus of 2008 remains undisturbed.” The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was part of the ruling state alliance with the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD) party at the time of the violence. Although the BJD broke up with the BJP in 2009, blaming it for the violence, the former cannot be excused, said Dayal.
“While the BJP is mainly to be blamed, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is not entirely innocent,” Dayal said. “Not just that he allowed the BJP and RSS cadres to run amok when they were part of his government, turning a blind eye to their very visible anti-Christian activities, but he was his own home [interior] minister and cannot really shirk command responsibility for the carnage together with his BJP ministerial colleagues and senior officers.”
Kandhamal district Magistrate Krishan Kumar, who was on a tour at press time, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts.
Of the 648,201 people in Kandhamal district, 117,950 are Christian, mostly Dalit (formerly “untouchables” in the caste hierarchy in Hindu societies), according to the 2001 Census. Hindus, mainly tribal people and numbering 527,757, form the majority.
Report from Compass Direct News
Manoj Pradhan arrested; three more cases pending against Hindu nationalist.
NEW DELHI, September 10 (CDN) — A Hindu nationalist legislator was arrested yesterday after a court pronounced him guilty of playing a major role in the murder of a Christian during anti-Christian carnage in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district in August 2008.
The Fast Track Court II in Kandhamal convicted Manoj Pradhan of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the murder of a 30-year-old Christian, Bikram Nayak, who succumbed to head injuries two days after an attack by a mob in the Raikia area of Budedi village on Aug. 25, 2008.
Judge Chitta Ranjan Das sentenced Pradhan to six years of rigorous imprisonment for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder” under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code and imposed a fine of 15,500 rupees (US$335) for setting houses ablaze.
Pradhan, who contested and won the April 2009 state assembly election from jail representing Kandhamal’s G. Udayagiri constituency, was not initially accused in the police complaint in Nayak’s murder, but his role emerged during the investigation, according to The Hindu.
One of the primary suspects in violence that followed the assassination of Hindu nationalist leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008, Pradhan was initially arrested in Berhampur city in neighboring Ganjam district in December 2008. The violence began a day after Saraswati’s killing when Hindu nationalist groups blamed Christians for his murder, although Maoists (extreme Marxists) claimed responsibility for it.
In spite of this week’s conviction, the Orissa state unit of the BJP said the case against Pradhan was weak.
“The case is not strong,” Orissa BJP President Jual Oram told Compass by telephone. “Pradhan was merely present at the scene of crime.”
Pradhan was named in at least 12 police complaints concerning murder and arson. But after he won the election, he was released on bail.
This is the 36-year-old Pradhan’s second conviction. On June 29, Kandhamal’s Fast Track Court I sentenced him to seven years in jail in a case concerning the murder of another Christian, Parikhita Nayak, also from Budedi village, who was killed on Aug. 27, 2008. Though not convicted of murder, Pradhan was found guilty of rioting and causing grievous hurt in the Parikhita Nayak case.
The June 29 judgment led to his arrest, but the Orissa High Court granted him bail eight days later.
The BJP will challenge the convictions in a higher court, Oram said.
Last month Kanaka Rekha Nayak, widow of Parikhita Nayak, complained that despite the conviction of Pradhan and an accomplice, they were immediately given bail and continued to roam the area, often intimidating her.
Rekha Nayak was among 43 survivors who on Aug. 22-24 testified in Delhi before the National People’s Tribunal (NPT), a private hearing of victims of the Kandhamal violence organized by the National Solidarity Forum, a confederation of 60 non-profit groups and people’s movements.
Nayak said local politicians, including Pradhan, hit her husband with an axe. Her husband’s body was later chopped into pieces, she recalled as she sobbed during testimony at the tribunal, headed by Justice A.P. Shah, former chief justice of Delhi High Court.
The fast track courts set up especially to hear cases related to the anti-Christian violence have acquitted Pradhan in seven cases for lack of evidence. Three more cases are pending against him.
The state BJP’s Oram said Christians had created “hype” about the cases against Pradhan to “trouble us.” He added, “The state government is not doing anything to arrest and try the killers of the Swami.”
The NPT tribunal asserted that between August and December 2008, about 2,000 people were “forced to repudiate their Christian faith.”
The tribunal cited government figures asserting that during the violence from August to December 2008, more than 600 villages were ransacked, 5,600 houses were looted and burned, 54,000 people were left homeless, and 38 people were murdered in Kandhamal alone. It also noted that human rights groups estimated that over 100 people were killed, including women, disabled and aged persons and children, and “an un-estimated number suffered severe physical injuries and mental trauma.”
While there were reports of four women being gang-raped, many more victims of sexual assault were believed to have been intimidated into silence, the tribunal concluded.
As many as 295 church buildings and other places of worship, big and small, were destroyed, and 13 schools, colleges, and offices of five non-profit organizations damaged, it said, adding that about 30,000 people were uprooted and living in relief camps, with many of them still displaced.
“More than 10,000 children had their education severely disrupted due to displacement and fear,” it reported. “Today, after two years, the situation has not improved, although the administration time and again claims it is peaceful and has returned to normalcy.”
The Christian community was deliberately targeted by Hindu nationalist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), the Bajrang Dal and the active members of Bharatiya Janata Party,” the tribunal concluded.
The jury also observed that cries against religious conversions were used as for political mobilization and “to incite horrific forms of violence and discrimination against the Christians” of Dalit (formerly “untouchables” according the caste hierarchy in Hinduism) origin.
“The object is to dominate them and ensure that they never rise above their low caste status and remain subservient to the upper castes,” it added.
The jury accused police of complicity, which “was not an aberration of a few individual police men, but evidence of an institutional bias against the targeted Christian community.”
“The jury is constrained to observe that public officials have colluded in the destruction of evidence, and there is testimony directly implicating the District Collector [the administrative head of a district] in this misdemeanor.”
The jury expressed concern over the lack of mechanisms to protect victims “who have dared to lodge complaints and witnesses who have courageously given evidence in court,” as they “are unable to return to their homes.”
“There is no guarantee of safe passage to and from the courts. They are living in other cities and villages, many of them in hiding, as they apprehend danger to their lives.”
It also noted mental trauma in children.
“There has been no trauma counselling for the affected children and adolescents in Kandhamal. Even today they have nightmares of running in the jungle, with the killers in pursuit, are scared of any loud sound and are afraid of people walking in groups or talking loudly.”
Bollywood lyricist Javed Akhtar, who was part of the tribunal, said that incidents such as the Kandhamal carnage against religious minorities continued to happen with “alarming frequency” in India.
“As citizens of this democracy, we should hang our heads in shame,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Greens and Independents to Hold Balance of Power in Both Houses
It would seem that the likely outcome of the 2010 federal election in Australia is that of a hung parliament, with government going to the party that gains the support of one or two possible Greens members of parliament in the lower house, and three other independent members of parliament in the lower house. It seems likely that the Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate.
The Greens have now clearly become the third major political party behind the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Liberal Party (Lib) – National Party (Nat) coalition. They have now gained a representative in the lower house with the seat of Melbourne in Victoria falling to Adam Bandt. It is possible that the seat of Grayndler in New South wales (NSW) could also fall to the Greens, with ALP member Anthony Albanese in a close fight with Sam Byrne of the Greens.
The three other certain independents, all former National Party members, are Bob Katter (Kennedy – Queensland, Tony Windsor (New England – NSW) and Rob Oakeshott (Lyne – NSW)
The ALP has also lost large numbers of seats in Queensland ( QLD – Flynn, Leichhardt, Forde, Bonner, Dickson, Herbert, Longman, Brisbane and Dawson) and seats in NSW (Bennelong, Macarthur, Macquarie and Gilmore), one in the Northern Territory (Solomon), one in Western Australia (Hasluck) and possibly one in Tasmania (Denison) to independent Andrew Wilkie. It would seem that a total of 18 or 19 seats have been lost by the ALP. They have gained two in Victoria, winning La Trobe and McEwan.
The ALP’s greatest hope would seem to be the seat of Boothby in South Australia, which still appears too close too call. At this stage Denison in Tasmania remains an ALP seat, but it also remains too close to call.
It seems to me that there will be 73 seats to the ALP (possibly 72 if Grayndler falls to the Greens in NSW), 73 seats to the Coalition, one seat to the Greens (possibly 2 if they pick up Grayndler in NSW – who would lean to the ALP) and 3 to the Independents (all formerly National Party members who would likely lean to the Coalition). If these predictions prove to be true, it would seem that the Coalition will be able to form a minority government with the support of the Independents.
After the promise of the ALP in the previous election and the result that occured, the ALP should have held office for at least two terms. However, the ALP has failed to deliver and instead gave Australia a very lazy, poor and mediocre government. Under Kevin Rudd the ALP successfully steered Australia through the financial crisis, for which Australians should be very thankful. However, there has also been poor management of ecomomic stimulus projects, environmental issues and other projects, which have left many Australians disillusioned with the government. This of course led to the downfall of Kevin Rudd prior to the election and the elevation of Julia Gillard to the Prime Ministership of the country. This was too little too late to save the ALP from electoral disaster and the Australian people have delivered swift punishment for their failure to deliver what we had hoped for under the Kevin Rudd led ALP government.
Perhaps the experience of a hung parliament and a minority government, from whichever side of politics, will result in someone or some party standing up with a real commitment to governance and leadership in Australia. At the moment there seems little of both and the Australian people are largely disillusioned with both major parties. The ALP should prepare itself for major defeats in state elections over the next couple of years, especially in New South Wales and Queensland, where voters are fed up with poor government – not that the alternatives are much better.
Muslim extremist groups had threatened church for two years.
SUKKUR, Pakistan, July 29 (CDN) — A dozen masked men shot five Christians to death as they came out of their church building here on July 15, two months after a banned Islamic extremist group sent church leaders a threatening letter, relatives said.
Pastor Aaron John and church members Rohail Bhatti, Salman John, Abid Gill and Shamin Mall of Full Gospel Church were leaving the church building after meeting to discuss security in light of the threats they had received, said the pastor’s son, Shahid John.
“As we came out of the church, a group of a dozen armed gunmen came and opened fire at us,” said Shahid John, who survived a bullet in his arm. “Fear struck the area. The police arrived 45 minutes after the incident, and we waited for over 45 minutes for the ambulance to arrive.”
Besides Shahid John, five others were wounded in the attack.
In May church leaders received a letter from Islamic extremist group Sip-e-Sahaba (formerly Sipah-e-Sahaba until it was banned) warning the Christians to leave the area, said Kiran Rohail, wife of the slain Rohail Bhatti.
“It said to vacate the land, Christians are not welcomed here, they are polluting our land,” Kiran Rohail said.
The Sip-e-Sahaba and Sunni Tehrik extremist groups are both linked with an area madrassa (Islamic school) whose students had been threatening the church since 2008, Christian sources said.
“In 2008 a group of Muslim students started making threats for the church to vacate the land, as there are only 55 Christian families living in the area,” said the pastor’s widow, Naila John, who also lost her son Salman John in the attack.
The masked gunmen of July 15 had young physiques like those of students, Christian sources said, and their manner of attack indicated they were trained extremists.
The madrassa students that have threatened the church since 2008 belong to the Sunni Tehrik extremist group, the sources said.
Pastor John and Bhatti had reported the threats of the past two years to police, but officers at the local station did not take them seriously, said Naila John.
When they received the threatening letter in May, Pastor John, his son Salman, Bhatti, Gill, Mall and another member of the church, Arif Gill, went to the police station to register a First Information Report (FIR), according to Shahid John.
“Police just took the application but didn’t register the FIR,” he said. “The station house officer just provided two police constables for security.”
On the evening of July 15, the pastor called a meeting to discuss needed security measures, his widow Naila John said. The meeting ended around 7:30 p.m., when they left the building and were sprayed with gunfire.
“No FIR has been registered due to the pressure from the local Islamic groups,” said Kiran Rohail, referring to Sunni Tehrik, Sip-e-Sahaba and the local mosque. “The police came and took our statements, but they didn’t show up again.”
An independent government source confirmed the shooting deaths of the Christians, adding that local Islamist pressure had prevented media from reporting on it.
The church began in 1988, and Pastor John had been leading it since 2001.
Sukkur, in southwest Pakistan’s Sindh Province, has been the site of previous violence against Christians. Last June or July, area Christians said, students from the local madrassa beat Pastor Adnan John of Multan, severely injuring him, after they saw him walking in front of the mosque wearing a cross and holding a Bible. In another instance, the Muslim students prevented Christian students from holding a Christmas program at a park.
In 2006, some 500 Muslims burned down two churches in Sukkur and a convent school on Feb. 19, reportedly over rumors that a Christian threw a copy of the Quran into a trash can. A crowd wielding gasoline bombs torched St. Mary’s Catholic Church and St. Savior’s Church of Pakistan after media and government sources floated the rumor, but local sources said the violence occurred after a Muslim was arrested for burning pages of the Quran and trying to frame his Christian father-in-law, Saleem Gill, with the deed.
After torching the inside of St. Savior’s, the mob turned on Pastor Ilyas Saeed Masih’s home, then went five minutes away to destroy the 120-year-old St. Mary’s edifice.
Report from Compass Direct News
Five men threatened to kill her unless her father allowed one to marry her.
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan, June 16 (CDN) — Five Muslims here kidnapped and raped a Christian girl after threatening to kill her unless her father allowed one of them to marry her.
Lazarus Masih said one of his three daughters, 14, was kidnapped on May 29 by five men identified only as Guddu, Kamran, Waqas, Adil and Ali.
Police recovered her on June 6 in a raid on the home where she was being held, though the suspects escaped.
“They threatened that if I don’t get her married to Guddu, they would kill her,” Masih said. “One of them said, ‘We attended an Islamic religious convention, and the speaker said if you marry a non-Muslim or rape a non-Muslim girl, you will get 70 virgins in heaven.”
He said that when he and his wife returned from work at around 11 a.m. on May 29, their 14-year-old daughter was not at home; his other daughters had been at school and said they did not know where she had gone.
During the family’s search for her, they heard from Masih’s brother-in-law, Yousaf Masih, that he had seen five Muslim men follow her earlier that morning.
“In the morning around 7:30 a.m., I saw that [name withheld] and another girl were sitting in a rickshaw and five Muslim guys – Guddu, Kamran, Waqas, Adil and Ali – followed the rickshaw,” Yousaf Masih told the girl’s father.
Family members said the suspects took her to a house near Islamabad, where they gave her a drug that rendered her unconscious, and raped her. A medical report confirmed that she was given drugs and raped.
Lazarus Masih, who lives with his daughters and wife in Mohalla Raja Sultan, Rawalpindi, filed a First Information Report at the Waris Khan police station on June 1 against all five men. He said Guddu, Kamran and Waqas sell and use drugs.
He also contacted advocacy organization Ephlal Ministry, which along with representatives of Life for All and Peace Pakistan met with police chief Mazhar Hussain Minhas and demanded immediate action for the recovery of the girl.
“This is a very sad incident, and we will do whatever we can to recover the girl,” Hussain Minhas told them.
Devastated family members said the girl remained frightened and was not speaking to anyone.
“It is such a shame that the religious leaders teach inhuman acts,” said the Rev. John Gill of Shamsabad Catholic Church. “This incident has ruined the life of an innocent child.”
The family formerly belonged to the Catholic parish but now affiliates with a Protestant church, New Life Ministry in Rawalpindi.
Al Shabaab militants execute pastor; government-aligned Islamists burn house containing Bible.
NAIROBI, Kenya, March 24 (CDN) — Islamic militants in Somalia tracked down an underground church leader who had previously escaped a kidnapping attempt and killed him last week, Christian sources said.
Islamic extremist al Shabaab rebels shot Madobe Abdi to death on March 15 at 9:30 a.m. in Mahaday village, 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of Johwar. He had escaped an al Shabaab attempt to kidnap him on March 2.
Abdi’s death adds to a growing number of Christians murdered by Islamic militants, but his was distinctive in that he was not a convert from Islam. An orphan, Abdi was raised as a Christian.
Sources said the militants prohibited his body from being buried, ordering that it be left to dogs as an example to other Christians. Al shabaab, which is fighting the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed, has embarked on a campaign to rid the country of all non-Muslims.
“The al Shabaab say, ‘Leaving Abdi’s body outside is a warning to all that a murtid [infidel] is a disgrace to Muslims,’ hence creating fear to whoever would like to choose Christianity,” said a source.
In 2009 Islamic militants in Somalia sought out and killed at least 15 Christians, including women and children. This year, on Jan. 1 Islamic extremists shot an underground church leader to death. Having learned that he had left Islam to become a Christian, al Shabaab members murdered 41-year-old Mohammed Ahmed Ali after he had left his home in Hodan, on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
The transitional government in Mogadishu fighting to retain control of the country treats Christians little better than the al Shabaab extremists do. While proclaiming himself a moderate, President Ahmed has embraced a version of sharia (Islamic law) that mandates the death penalty for those who leave Islam.
Ahmed was formerly the leader of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist array of sharia judges and militants that vied for power after losing control of much of southern Somalia at the end of 2006. A contingent of the ICU reached a power-sharing agreement with the TFG in January 2009 that resulted in the election of Ahmed as president.
The ICU still exists under the auspices of Ahmed’s TFG, and alleged members of the ICU last month set fire to the house of an underground church member they suspected of having left Islam. The gutted house is located on the outskirts of Mogadishu.
Having learned that there was a Bible and Christian pamphlets inside, the angry militants stormed the house in Hamarwien district of Mogadishu on Feb. 17 at 1:15 p.m. as a warning to those who dare possess any Christian literature, sources said.
“Since there is no law and order in this country, there is no one we can turn to for protection,” said the owner of the house, who requested anonymity and has relocated to another city. “But we know that we’re covered with the blood of Jesus Christ.”
The assailants looted the home before setting it afire. Area residents tried to extinguish the blaze, which left the house uninhabitable.
“I saw smoke coming out of the house, then I ran outside and I saw two men coming out of the house with a bucket of gasoline,” said a neighbor who sought anonymity. “One of the men was shouting, ‘Allah Akbar! Allah Akbar [God is Greater],’ then they entered a waiting car and drove off.”
An eyewitness told Compass that after the looting, the ICU extremists belonging to the TFG locked the doors before setting it on fire. At the time of the attack, there was one New King James Version of the Bible, along with some copies of Christian pamphlets that had been printed off of the Internet, according to sources.
They said they did not know who leaked information about the existence of Christian literature in the house.
“There were Christian books in the house at the time of the looting and arson attack,” said one church leader.
Islamic militants have displayed an unusual brutality in hunting down suspected converts to Christianity, with leaders of the underground church movement being executed as a means of discouraging others from joining the growing church.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hindu nationalists try to burn Christians alive for protesting offensive Jesus banners.
NEW DELHI, March 3 (CDN) — Attacks on Christians last month in Punjab state following protests against banners depicting Jesus drinking and smoking were eerily similar to the anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in 2007 and 2008, according to a fact-finding mission.
“I was struck by the similarities between the attacks in northern Punjab state and the violence in eastern Orissa state in 2007 and 2008,” said Dr. John Dayal, a member of the All India Christian Council (AICC) fact-finding mission, which released the report yesterday.
Dayal pointed out that factors such as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being part of the ruling coalition, police inaction, coordination of attacks and support of the local merchant community for Hindu nationalist groups in the anti-Christian attacks in Punjab reminded him of mayhem in Orissa’s Kandhamal district.
“I have been in Orissa almost a week a month since December 2007 and have become quite familiar with the range of right-wing groups’ violence techniques,” Dayal, a member of government’s National Integration Council, told Compass. “The strategy of the assailants in Punjab was eerily reminiscent of what was practiced and perfected against churches in Orissa.”
Violence erupted in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district during Christmas week of 2007, killing at least four Christians and burning 730 houses and 95 churches. The attacks came in retaliation for an alleged attack on a Hindu extremist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati. More blood was shed there in August-September 2008, after the assassination of Saraswati by a Maoist group, as Christians were falsely blamed for it. The attacks killed more than 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
Following the Feb. 20 attacks, the AICC fact-finding team visited the affected region from Feb. 22 to Feb. 25. In its report, it gave an account of the attacks in Batala town near Amritsar city in Gurdaspur district in west Punjab, where most Christians are from Dalit (formerly “untouchable” according to Hinduism’s caste hierarchy) backgrounds.
It reported that supporters of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar burned the 1865-built Church of the Epiphany belonging to the Church of North India (CNI) denomination on Feb. 20. They also tried to destroy a nearby Salvation Army church, built in 1958, and attacked its pastor, Gurnam Singh, leaving him seriously injured.
The Sangh Parivar is the family of outfits under the umbrella of India’s chief Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), seen also as the parent body of the BJP.
“Even as the larger group of attackers focused on burning the CNI church, a group of men armed with sticks and rods came to the house of the CNI deacon,” the report notes. “The deacon, Victor Gill, and his wife Parveen, hid themselves under the bed. The assailants damaged the doors, tried to enter the room forcibly, and told the couple they would be burnt alive if they did not come out.”
At the same time, the report notes, Hindu nationalists at a second CNI house overturned a scooter, took gas from it and doused teacher Christopher Morris and his daughter Daisy with the fuel while her mother, Usha, cringed in their home.
“They tried to set the two on fire, but the matchbox had also been soaked in the petrol, and despite three attempts to strike a match, the matchsticks would not ignite, saving the family from being burnt alive,” the report states.
Provoked and Attacked
Christians were attacked while they were trying to enforce an area-wide closure of markets to protest a picture of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer in one hand a lit cigarette in another. It appeared on roadside banners in preparation for a Hindu festival, Ram Navami (the birthday of Rama), which falls on March 24 this year.
“The banners were sponsored by a coalition of local political, media and business leaders, together with the trading community, which is almost entirely Hindu,” said the report without identifying the sponsors.
“The Sangh Parivar reacted to the Christian protest by mobilizing shopkeepers and youth ‘to teach a lesson to Christians,’” the report states. “Otherwise, local shopkeepers routinely enforce closures.
The Rev. Madhu Chandra, AICC’s regional secretary, also a fact-finding team member, told Compass that the banners were apparently put up to provoke Christians and then launch attacks on them. The fact-finding team included attorney M. Adeeb of the Human Rights Law Network and Marang Hansda of the AICC.
The offensive picture of Jesus was taken from a cursive writing exercise book for Class I of a private school in Shillong, the capital of the northeastern state of Meghalaya, reported the Press Trust of India on Feb. 18. Published by Skyline Publication, the book used the picture to illustrate the alphabet “I” for the word “Idol.”
When some parents of the students noticed the picture, they reported it to the school authorities, which reported it to police. Christians, who constitute 80 percent of Meghalaya’s population, protested. On Feb. 18, police registered a case against the Delhi-based publisher and confiscated the books.
In Batala town in Punjab more than 1,500 miles away, however, the same picture was appeared on banners, causing tensions.
The Tribune, a regional newspaper, reported on Feb. 20 that Christian youth tried to forcibly implement the market shut-down, or “closure,” and looted shops. But Chandra of the AICC said the district officials the fact-finding team met were not sure if the allegation was true.
“The officials asked us if the newspaper reports were true,” he said. “But we also read it in newspapers only.”
Dayal said that Hindu nationalists used the market shut-down to attack Christians.
“Instead of sympathizing and cooperating with the protest – as merchants do when the Sangh Parivar or the ruling Shironami Akali Dal party calls for closures on routine intervals – they sought to teach the Christians a lesson,” said Dayal.
He added that in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district, Hindu nationalist groups likewise befriended merchants, mostly tribal or aboriginal people, and turned them against Dalit Christians.
The fact-finding report deplored police inaction. When the mob tried to burn Morris and his daughter Daisy, said the report, “police were watching” but did nothing to help.
It quoted Pastor Gurnam Singh as saying, “We pleaded with the police to help, but they did not.”
Police were outnumbered by rioters, as happened in Kandhamal in Orissa, remarked Dayal.
Despite intelligence reports of Christian anger and the Hindu nationalist groups’ plans to counterattack, authorities said they “could not enforce a quick curfew until late on Feb. 20 because most of the police were sent to the Pakistani border nearby, where Home Minister P. Chidambaram inaugurated a defence outpost.”
By the time the police returned and a curfew was imposed, “violence had already occurred,” the report states.
“No police report has been filed on the attempted murders, even as the top police and administrative officers enforced a one sided ‘peace accord’ on the local Christian leadership,” the report notes. “Christians were instructed not to press for charges immediately so that a number of Christian youth who were arrested – together with a few Hindu men – could be released. Police forcibly cleaned up the Church of the Epiphany. They removed burnt furniture and made the presbyter whitewash the walls to remove traces of fuel oil used in the blaze. This was done before a formal enquiry could be conducted by the government.”
Referring to the police inaction, Dayal pointed out that “the BJP, as in Orissa during 2007 and 2008, is in power in Punjab as member of the coalition government with the regional Shironami Akali Dal party.
Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Prakash Singh Badal has asked his officials to unravel the “entire conspiracy,” the report states.
There are around 300,000 Christians in Punjab, or roughly 1.2 percent of the total population.
Report from Compass Direct News
Acquittals increasingly surpass convictions due to shoddy or corrupt police investigators.
NEW DELHI, December 7 (CDN) — Christian leaders in India have called for a special investigations team to counter the shoddy or corrupt police investigations into anti-Christian violence in Orissa state in August-September 2008.
Of the 100 cases handled by two-fast track courts, 32 have been heard as of Nov. 30, resulting in 48 convictions and more than 164 acquittals. A legislator for the main Hindu extremist party has been exonerated “for lack of evidence” in six cases, most of them involving murder charges. The number of cases registered total 787.
“Christians are extremely shocked by this travesty of justice in Orissa,” attorney Bibhu Dutta Das told Compass.
The government of Orissa set up two fast-track courts in Kandhamal district headquarters for cases related to the violence that began in August 2008 after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in Jalespetta on Aug. 23, 2008. The chief minister of Orissa state has admitted that Hindu extremist umbrella group Sangh Parivar was involved in the anti-Christian violence (see sidebar below), and Christian leaders have said they are increasingly concerned over verdicts in the fast-track courts based in Phulbani.
Among those exonerated “for lack of evidence” was Manoj Pradhan, a legislator from the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who was acquitted of murder on Nov. 24. He was accused of killing Trinath Digal of Tiangia village on Aug. 25, 2008.
Thus far, Pradhan has been cleared in six of 14 cases against him.
“Manoj Pradhan has been let off in all the major cases against him, mostly murder cases, for lack of evidence,” attorney Das told Compass. “Now only small cases of arson remain against him.”
Attorneys said acquittals have resulted from police investigations that were intentionally defective to cover up for Hindu extremist attackers. In many cases, for example, police have fraudulently misrepresented the ages of suspects so they would not match with those denoted in the victims’ First Information Reports, leaving the court no option but to let the alleged culprits go.
Nine people were convicted, and five suspects, including Pradhan, were acquitted “for lack of evidence” on Nov. 18 for burning the house of Ratha Nayak in Mlahupanga village, Kandhamal on Aug. 27, 2008. Those convicted were sentenced to four years of prison and fined 3,500 rupees (US$75) each.
In a previous case, witnesses had testified to the involvement of Pradhan in the kidnapping of Kantheswar Digal – subsequently murdered on Aug. 25, 2008 – in Sankarakhole village, Phulbani district, but their testimony failed to convince the court to condemn the BJP politician.
Pradhan was arrested and jailed in October 2008 and was elected as BJP Member of the Legislative Assembly from the G. Udayagiri constituency while in jail.
On Nov. 24, Judge C.R. Das acquitted six suspects: Budhdeb Kanhar, Purander Kanhar, Gadadhar Kanhar, Sudhir Pradhan, Ajibana Pradhan and Dadhi Mallick. They were accused of killing Meghanad Digal and his wife Priyatama from Dutukagam village, Tikabali on Sept. 25, 2008.
Judge S.K. Das sentenced 12 persons to four years of prison along with a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$43) each on Nov. 28 for torching houses and shops at Sirtiguda village, under Nuagaon police jurisdiction, on Sept. 13, 2008.
Indo-Asian News Service reported that on Nov. 30 Sanjeev Pradhan was convicted of torching the house of Shravan Kumar Digal of Penagari village on Aug. 25, 2008. Sanjeev Pradhan was sentenced to prison for five years and fined 7,500 rupees (US$160).
Special Investigation Team Sought
Christian leaders are calling for a special investigation team like the one created after communal violence wracked Gujarat state in 2002.
“The need of the hour is a special investigation team, for the investigations of the Orissa police have caused doubts,” attorney Das said.
He added that the cases should be transferred out of Kandhamal, as Christian leaders feel justice cannot be served in the district’s Hindu extremist atmosphere.
Many of the Christians displaced as a result of the violence have yet to return to their villages. The archbishop of Bhubaneswar-Cuttack, Raphael Cheenath, told media that out of 50,000 people displaced, about half have returned, “but they are facing housing problems. The state government should take it up earnestly.”
Dr. John Dayal of the All India Christian Council stated in a Dec. 4 report that “several thousand of the 50,000 Christian refugees are still to return home. Many cannot, as they have been told they have to convert to Hinduism before they will be accepted in the villages. The threats and coercion continue till today.”
He added that most of the more than 5,000 houses destroyed in December 2007 and August-October 2008 mayhem have yet to be rebuilt.
Attorney Das told Compass many of those who fled their village fear returning home.
“It is true that in many cases, the pre-condition of converting to Hinduism and facing violence if they do not has been the factor that has prevented the people from returning to their homes,” he said. “The fear of being attacked again has also stopped many from going into their villages. The government has not been very successful in instilling trust in the Christian community that such incidents can be prevented in the future.”
Orissa police yesterday arrested a man accused in the rape of a nun during the violence in Kandhamal. Gururam Patra was reportedly arrested in Dharampur.
He was accused of leading a mob that attacked the nun at on Aug. 25, 2008. Police have so far arrested 19 people in the incident, with another 11 still at large. The 29-year-old nun has told police she was raped and paraded naked by a Hindu extremist mob, and that officers only stood by when she pleaded for help.
Official Names Hindu Nationalist Groups in Orissa Violence
NEW DELHI, December 7 (Compass Direct News) – The ruling party of Orissa state, which labelled last year’s mayhem in Kandhamal district as “ethnic violence,” has publicly admitted that Hindu nationalist groups were behind the killings and arson of Christians and their property.
“It is learnt from the investigation into the riot cases that the members of the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh], the VHP [World Hindu Council] and the Bajrang Dal were involved in the violence that took place last year,” Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told the state legislative assembly last month.
Patnaik, in response to a question by a member of the Communist Party of India, also disclosed that police had arrested 85 people from the RSS, 321 members of the VHP and 118 Bajrang Dal members in the attacks. He said that only 27 members from these groups were still in jail.
The others were either bailed out or acquitted for lack of evidence, which Christians say is due to shoddy or corrupt investigation by police and prosecutors (government attorneys).
Soon after violence in Kandhamal broke out in August 2008, Patnaik blamed it on “conflict of interest” between Dalits (people at the bottom of the caste hierarchy in Hinduism and formerly known as “untouchables”) and tribal people.
National media speculated that Patnaik was seeking to deflect attention from the Bajrang Dal, which had been accused of the attacks on the Christians. The Bajrang Dal (Army of Hindu God Hanuman) is the youth wing of the VHP, which is seen as part of the RSS family.
Local Christians had suspected the role of the RSS and related outfits since the violence began on Aug. 24, 2008 – one day after Hindu nationalist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed by Maoists (extreme Marxists) and RSS members blamed Christians for it.
The RSS is a Hindu nationalist conglomerate whose political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was part of the ruling coalition during the 2008 eruption of the violence that killed more than 100 people, mostly hacked to death or burned alive, and incinerated more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions.
Patnaik’s party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP in March 2009, a month before state assembly and national elections were held. The BJD, which fought the two elections alone, won a majority in the state assembly and most seats in parliament from the state.
It was only after the coalition’s break-up that the BJD began to hint at the culpability of the RSS and related groups.
“It was important to break up with the BJP, because I don’t consider them healthy any longer for my state after Kandhamal [violence] – which I think is very apparent to everyone,” Patnaik told CNN-IBN, a private TV news channel, on April 19.
A state government-constituted panel, the Justice Mohapatra Commission of Inquiry, is probing the Kandhamal violence but has yet to issue its final report.
Meantime, a report of another panel, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, said that top leaders of the BJP, the RSS, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal “meticulously planned” the demolition of the 17th century Babri Mosque 17 years ago.
More than 2,000 people were killed in communal violence across the country following the demolition of the mosque on Dec. 6, 1992. The incident polarized voters along religious lines and subsequently contributed to the BJP’s rise in Indian politics.
The Liberhan report, presented to parliament on Nov. 25, indicted several Hindu nationalist leaders, including former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, current Leader of Opposition in the People’s House L.K. Advani, VHP leader Ashok Singhal and former RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan.
Observers said the indictment of extreme Hindu nationalists, however, has come too late, as the BJP no longer seems to be powerful at the national level.
Report from Compass Direct News
Hard-line cleric leads campaign in Maharashtra, ideological capital of Hindu nationalism.
MUMBAI, India, October 27 (CDN) — Hundreds of tribal Christians and adherents of aboriginal religion from villages in Maharashtra state were reportedly “reconverted” to Hinduism yesterday in the Mumbai suburb of Thane at a ceremony led by a Hindu nationalist cleric.
Swami Narendra Maharaj’s goal was to “reconvert” 6,000 Christians in the so-called purification ceremony, reported The Hindustan Times, which put the number of “reconversions” at around 800. Hindu nationalists believe all Indians are born Hindu and therefore regard acceptance of Hinduism by those practicing other religions as “reconversion.”
Maharaj, a Hindu cleric known for opposing proclamation of Christ, has allegedly led anti-Christian attacks in tribal regions. On March 15, 2008, his men reportedly attacked two Catholic nuns, Sister Marceline and Sister Philomena, from the non-profit Jeevan Jyoti Kendra (Light of Life Center) in Sahanughati, near Mumbai.
The attack took place in a camp to educate tribal women on HIV/AIDS, which also provided information on government welfare programs, according to Indo-Asian News Service. The assault in Sahanughati, Alibaug district was followed by a mass “reconversion” ceremony in the area on April 27, 2008, said Ram Puniyani, a well-known civil rights activist in Mumbai.
Rightwing Hindu groups are mostly active in tribal areas. Hindu nationalists attack Christians in tribal areas because they provide social and development services, regarded as competition by rightwing Hindus seeking to woo tribal voters, said Anwar Rajan, secretary of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) in Maharashtra’s Pune city.
Kandhamal district in the eastern state of Orissa, where a massive spate of anti-Christian attacks took place in August-September 2008, is also a tribal-majority area. At least 100 Christians were killed, 4,600 houses and churches were burned, and over 50,000 people were rendered homeless in the violence.
Sociologists maintain that India’s tribal peoples are not Hindus but practice their own ethnic faiths. Hindu nationalists run Ekal Vidyalayas (one-teacher schools) in tribal regions to “Hinduize” local villagers and repel conversions to other faiths. These schools are operating in over 27,000 villages of India.
An anonymous spokesman of Maharaj said the plan for yesterday’s event was to “reconvert” 6,000 Christians to achieve the larger goal of “bringing back” 100,000 Christians, according to the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
The rightwing spokesman in Maharashtra, a western state where Hindu nationalism originated decades ago, claimed that Maharaj and his followers had overseen the conversion of more than 94,000 Christians “back to their original faith” and plan to complete the target of 100,000 in the next two years.
Maharaj, whose followers call him Jagat Guru (Guru of the World), told PTI that those who “reconverted” were not coerced.
“We are not having a religious conversion here – it’s a process of purification,” Maharaj was quoted as saying. “We taught them the precepts of the Hindu religion, and they decided to convert to Hinduism on their own after repentance. They were not forced.”
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.
The Hindustan Times reported yesterday’s ceremony included rituals involving cow’s milk, seeking forgiveness from ancestors, installation of idols of the Hindu gods Ganesh and Vishnu, and an offering ritual performed by priests from Ayodhya, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Ayodhya is believed to be the birthplace of the Hindu god Rama.
Home of Hindu Nationalism
The basic philosophy of Hindu nationalism was expounded by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, popularly known as Veer Savarkar, in 1923 through the publishing of a pamphlet, “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?” Savarkar, who is from Maharashtra, argued that only those who have their ancestors from India as well as consider India as their holy land should have full citizenship rights.
A follower of Savarkar, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar, also from Maharashtra, further developed the Hindu nationalist philosophy through a book, “A Bunch of Thoughts,” in 1966. He claimed superiority of Hinduism over other religions and cultures of the world.
“In this land, Hindus have been the owners, Parsis and Jews the guests, and Muslims and Christians the dacoits [bandits],” he said.
The emergence of Hindu nationalist ideology from Maharashtra came in reaction to the politics of social justice by Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar and Mahatma (Jyotirao) Phule, said Irfan Engineer, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies in Mumbai and an expert on religious conflicts. Phule led a mass movement of emancipation of lower castes, mainly Shudras and Ati-Shudras or Dalits, in the 1870s. Ambedkar, known as the architect of the Indian Constitution, began movements against “untouchability” in the 1920s.
Also born in Maharashtra was the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, or RSS), India’s most influential Hindu nationalist conglomerate. It was founded in 1925 in Nagpur by Dr. K.B. Hedgewar.
Hindu society has traditionally had four castes or social classes, namely Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. While Shudras belong to the lowest caste, Dalits were formerly known as “untouchables” because the priestly Brahmin class considered them to be outside the confines of the caste system.
During British colonial rule in the Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1947, sections of the Brahmins felt the British were sympathetic towards the Dalit reformist movement, said Engineer of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Mahars, Maharashtra’s largest Dalit people group, have been very organized and powerful since then.
The PUCL’s Rajan said that the Brahmins have long portrayed minorities as enemies of Hinduism.
“Since the Dalit reformist movement is essentially against the Brahmin hegemony, the Brahmins had to react and get organized,” Rajan said. “As a part of their strategy to weaken the reformist movement, Brahmins projected minorities as the ‘real’ enemies of all Hindus, including Dalits and other lower castes, diverting attention away from the atrocities they meted out on them.”
Most of the founding leaders of Hindu nationalism, including Savarkar, Hedgewar and Golwalkar, were Brahmins. Since communal troubles benefited Hindu nationalists politically, the use of divisive issues became routine for them, Rajan added.
After two successive defeats of the Bharatiya Janata Party, political wing of the RSS, in general elections in 2004 and 2009, differences between the moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement – which blame each other for the party’s downfall – have deepened to unprecedented levels.
In frustration, the extremists have accelerated their activities, especially in Maharashtra, the ideological capital, said Dr. Suresh Khairnar, a well-known civil activist from Nagpur.
Report from Compass Direct News