Ground-breaking for ‘reconversion rally’ leads to attack on Christian house church.
NEW DELHI, May 20 (CDN) — Hindu nationalist organizations in Madhya Pradesh state have declared their intentions to rid Mandla district of all Christian influence by starting preparations for a large “reconversion” event next year.
A similar event in Dangs district, Gujarat state in 2006 was filled with Christian hate speech. As a result of anti-Christian sentiment stirred at the April 22 ground-breaking ceremony for the Madhya Pradesh “reconversion” rally to be held next February, Hindu nationalists attacked a house church in the district’s Bamhni Banjar village on May 2, Christian leaders said.
More than 100 Hindu devotees from Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra attended the ground-breaking ceremony in Mandla, reported Patrika newspaper. A source present disclosed that leaders announced a list of objectives to be achieved before the festival, with one prominent agenda item being to drive away Christian pastors, evangelists and foreign aid workers from the district.
The newspaper quoted four Hindu leaders who have spoken out against foreign Christians and renewed their oath to obtain “reconversions” from supposed Hindus who had become Christians. The leaders pledged to “cleanse Mandla of Christians” and cleanse the Narmada River by means of the kumbh.
The Maa Narmada Samajik Kumbh (Mother Narmada Social Kumbh, with kumbh literally meaning, “pot”) is scheduled for Feb. 10-12 on the Narmada, a river that flows through Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.
After anti-Christian speeches at the ground-breaking ceremony, Mandla district reported its first attack against Christians in Bamhni Banjar village on May 2, said Pastor Rakesh Dass.
“This is a repercussion of the inaugural pledges revived by the Hindu community,” Pastor Dass told Compass.
Around 40 Hindu nationalists from the Bajrang Dal surrounded the house of Pastor Bhag Chand Rujhiya, who has led a home fellowship for five years, and accused him of forceful conversion as they shouted anti-Christian slogans. Using abusive language, they pelted his house with stones as about 60 people were attending a worship service, Pastor Dass said.
“The mob was carrying deadly weapons like knives and rods,” he said.
The mob left but soon returned with police, and officers took Pastor Rujhiya and his wife into custody. Their three frightened and crying children followed them to the police vehicle, Pastor Dass said. The couple was detained for around three hours and questioned while the Hindu mob gathered in front of the station and demanded that the pastor be handed over, with some shouting that they wanted to kill him.
The 60 church members also arrived at the police station, protesting the arrest of the pastor without evidence, and the Hindu mob began to try to persuade them to return to Hinduism.
“How much have these Christians paid you?” said some of the Hindu nationalists, according to Pastor Dass, who said they added, “We will pay you double the amount for returning back to Hinduism.”
Police finally dispersed the mob and sent the pastor and his family away after forcing them to sign statements that they would no longer lead Sunday worship or pray with friends or relatives inside their house, and that they would not evangelize again in the area.
As the family returned, motorcyclists harassed them with intent to harm, said Pastor Dass.
Pastor Rujhiya, 36, and his family went into hiding. He returned to Bamhni Banjar on May 7, though he said he was still fearful as threats from Hindu nationalists continued.
“My wife and children say that we are ready to face whatever comes our way,” he said. “We will not renounce our faith.”
Pastor Rujhiya told Compass that local police have refused to provide any kind of security for him and his family. Officers have also refused to file a First Information Report, saying they do not register complaints for such “trivial matters.”
Bamhni Banjar police station constable T.L. Jagela refused to comment to Compass, though he acknowledged that the couple had been forced to sign the pledges to forego evangelism and Christian activities in their home. Asked the reasons for the forced pledges, he said only that his senior officers “would know.”
Christian leaders in Mandla submitted a memorandum to Superintendent of Police Kamal K. Sharma requesting his intervention. He promised local Christian leaders that he would look into the matter, but he told Compass, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”
Sharma denied any knowledge of the attack on Pastor Rujhiya’s home or of the memorandum.
The violence against Christians in Madhya Pradesh state signals a major onslaught in the offing, warned Kurishinkal Joshi, president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Sangh, an assembly of Christians in the state.
If Christians do not come forward to protest such atrocities, “the next Kandhamal will be in our state,” Joshi told some 1,500 people at the meeting in Indore, the state’s commercial capital, on May 2.
Organizers of the kumbh hope for some 2 million participants, though attendance at such events often falls short of projections.
Originally the kumbh was a gathering of holy men to discuss Hinduism. Since then Hindu nationalists led by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have steered the traditional definition toward their own ends. RSS leader Mukund Rao said the “social kumbh” began in 2006 with the Shabri Kumbh in Dangs, Gujarat – described as an attempt to counter the influence of foreign Christian workers in the area. It resulted in propaganda against Christians and heightened tensions.
Besides hate speeches before, during and after the event, the kumbh also led to the beating of Christians, with many abandoning the area, and much loss of Christian property, including graveyards. Christian graves were dug up and crosses desecrated.
A Compact Disc produced by the Shabri Kumbh Samaroh Aayojan Samiti (Organizing Committee) entitled “Shri Shabri Kumbh 2006: Spirituality along with the Wave of Patriotism,” was banned by the Supreme Court of India because it incites “Hindus against the Christian community and suggests that Christians be attacked and beheaded.”
The CDs were widely circulated, distributed and openly sold in the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra, as well as in northeastern states.
Report from Compass Direct News