The latest asylum seeker ‘solution’ proposed in Australia continues to gather a lot of attention in Australian politics. The links below are to articles that look at the policy from varying prospectives. The first article is an in-depth look at the situation in Papua New Guinea.
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As the Kevin Rudd experiment continues to be a winner for Labor, the Liberals are beginning to face the leadership change question themselves, with a possible shift from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull becoming popular among voters.
Military hostilities against insurgents may result in Christian casualties and persecution.
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, October 22 (CDN) — With Burma’s first election in over 20 years just two weeks away, Christians in ethnic minority states fear that afterward the military regime will try to “cleanse” the areas of Christianity, sources said.
The Burmese junta is showing restraint to woo voters in favor of its proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but it is expected to launch a military offensive on insurgents in ethnic minority states after the Nov. 7 election, Burma watchers warned.
When Burma Army personnel attack, they do not discriminate between insurgents and unarmed residents, said a representative of the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers relief aid group in Chiang Mai, close to the Thai-Burma border. There is a large Christian population in Burma’s Kachin, Karen and Karenni states along the border that falls under the military’s target zone. Most of the slightly more than 2 million Christians in Burma (also called Myanmar) reside along the country’s border with Thailand, China and India.
The military seems to be preparing its air force for an offensive, said Aung Zaw, editor of the Chiang Mai-based magazine Irrawaddy, which covers Burma. The Burmese Air Force (BAF) bought 50 Mi-24 helicopters and 12 Mi-2 armored transport helicopters from Russia in September, added Zaw, a Buddhist.
Irrawaddy reported that the BAF had procured combat-equipped helicopters for the first time in its history. Air strikes will be conducted “most likely in Burma’s ethnic areas, where dozens of armed groups still exert control,” the magazine reported, quoting BAF sources.
“Armed conflicts between ethnic armies and the military can flare up any time,” said Zaw. “However, to boost the morale of its personnel, the military is expected to attack smaller ethnic groups first, and then the more powerful ones.”
Seven states of Burma have armed and unarmed groups demanding independence or autonomy from the regime: Shan, Karenni (also known as Kayah), Karen, Mon, Chin, Kachin, and Arakan (also Rakhine).
The junta has designated many areas in this region as “Black Zones” – entirely controlled by armed ethnic groups – and “Brown Zones,” where the military has partial control, said the source from FBR, which provides relief to internally displaced people in states across the Thai-Burma border.
“There are many unarmed Christian residents in these zones where Burmese military personnel attack and kill anyone on sight,” the source said.
A Karen state native in Chiang Mai who identified himself only as Pastor Joseph, who fled Burma as a child, referred to the junta’s clandestine campaign to wipe out Christians from the country. At least four years ago a secret memo circulated in Karen state, “Program to Destroy the Christian Religion in Burma,” that carried “point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state,” reported the British daily Telegraph on Jan. 21, 2007.
“The text, which opens with the line, ‘There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practiced,’ calls for anyone caught evangelizing to be imprisoned,” the Telegraph reported. “It advises: ‘The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilize its weakness.’”
Persecution of Christians in Burma “is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism,” the daily noted.
The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the FBR. Three months ago, Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalions 370 and 361 attacked a Christian village in Karen state, according to the FBR. In Tha Dah Der village on July 23, army personnel burned all houses, one of the state’s biggest churches – which was also a school – and all livestock and cattle, reported the FBR.
More than 900 people fled to save their lives.
Vague Religious Freedom
The Burmese regime projects that close to 70 percent of the country’s population is ethnic Burman. Ethnic minorities dispute the claim, saying the figure is inflated to make a case for Burman Buddhist nationalism.
The new constitution, which will come into force with the first session of parliament after the election, was passed through a referendum in May 2008 that was allegedly rigged. It provides for religious freedom but also empowers the military to curb it under various pretexts.
Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 360 (a), however, says this freedom “shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice,” apparently to bar religious groups from any lobbying or advocacy.
Further, Article 360 (b) goes on to say that the freedom “shall not debar the Union from enacting law for the purpose of public welfare and reform.”
Adds Article 364: “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden. Moreover, any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this Constitution. A law may be promulgated to punish such activity.”
Furthermore, Article 382 empowers “the Defense Forces personnel or members of the armed forces responsible to carry out peace and security” to “restrict or revoke” fundamental rights.
The Burmese junta is expected to remain at the helm of affairs after the election. The 2008 constitution reserves one-fourth of all seats in national as well as regional assemblies for military personnel.
A majority of people in Burma are not happy with the military’s USDP party, and military generals are expected to twist the results in its favor, said Htet Aung, chief election reporter at Irrawaddy.
Khonumtung News Group, an independent Burmese agency, reported on Oct. 2 that most educated young Burmese from Chin state were “disgusted” with the planned election, “which they believe to be a sham and not likely to be free and fair.”
They “are crossing the border to Mizoram in the northeast state of India from Chin state and Sagaing division to avoid participating,” Khonumtung reported. “On a regular basis at least five to 10 youths are crossing the border daily to avoid voting. If they stay in Burma, they will be coerced to cast votes.”
There is “utter confusion” among people, and they do not know if they should vote or not, said Aung of Irrawaddy. While the second largest party, the National Unity Party, is pro-military, there are few pro-democracy and ethnic minority parties.
“Many of the pro-democracy and ethnic minority candidates have little or no experience in politics,” Aung said. “All those who had some experience have been in jail as political prisoners for years.”
In some ethnic minority states, the USDP might face an embarrassing defeat. And this can deepen the military’s hostility towards minorities, including Christians, after the election, added Aung.
For now, an uneasy calm prevails in the Thai-Burma border region where most ethnic Christians live.
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.
Orthodox church members strike two evangelical worship buildings, beat evangelist unconscious.
NAIROBI, Kenya, April 15 (CDN) — Evangelical Christians in an area of Ethiopia unaccustomed to anti-Christian hostility have come under attack from Ethiopian Orthodox Church (EOC) members threatened by their existence, Christian leaders said.
In Olenkomi, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) west of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa, two church buildings were attacked by an EOC mob in Olenkomi town, Oromia Region, on Jan. 27 – leaving one evangelist unconscious and other Christians fearful of Orthodox hostility. Area Christians fear the assailants will not face justice due to the EOC’s powerful presence and impending elections.
A Mekane Yesus Church building was destroyed in the assault, while a Brethren Church structure suffered damages.
Attacks against evangelicals in the area are rare, but recently Christians have come under immense pressure as they face isolation and verbal threats, church leaders said. Located in the West Shoa Zone of Oromia Region, Olenkomi is a small town where most people there and in surrounding areas belong to the EOC. All officials in government are EOC members, and evangelical Christians encounter difficulties obtaining land for church buildings, church leaders said.
The attack followed an accidental fire from liturgical candles that burned an EOC building. EOC members blamed evangelicals, and in the ensuing assault evangelist Abera Ongeremu was so badly beaten the mob left him for dead. Another three Christians also sustained minor injuries.
Ongeremu was visiting from Neqemite, 260 kilometers (161 miles) away. After the mob stoned the Brethren Church, they next targeted Mekane Yesus Church, where Ongeremu was staying in guest quarters. A member of the mob took a Bible from his guest room and told him to burn it.
“How can I burn the book that showed me life?” the shocked Ongeremu asked.
He said that he told the mob that they could do anything they wanted, but he was not going to burn the Holy Bible. The attackers tied his hands and legs together and threw him back into the room, sprinkling diesel on the walls and roof and locking him in before setting it on fire, he said.
“I thought it was my last,” Ongeremu said. “I now understand nothing will happen to you without the will of God. That was not the day God allowed for me to die.”
Some of the assailants argued that Ongeremu should not die by burning, but by beating. Two of them dragged him out of the room and continuously beat him, covering his face in blood. He sustained wounds on his skull and right arm.
“After repeated beatings I lost consciousness,” he said. “I didn’t know how and when they left me. I only recall they argued about how to kill me.”
Federal police were summoned from Ambo – the nearest town some 50 kilometers (31 miles) away – to disperse the mob, but too late to avert the injuries and damages after their rugged journey of nearly three hours.
Prior to the attacks, according to church leaders, there was no substantial build-up of tension between the two groups, though EOC priests had expressed anger about the expansion of evangelical churches and had questioned why teachers from evangelical backgrounds were prevalent in the high school in Olenkomi.
Most of the teachers at Olenkomi Secondary High School are evangelical Christians, according to church leaders, who said this circumstance was solely coincidental. Although teachers of evangelical faith are prevalent in the school, they are forbidden by law to promote their faith in class.
The EOC members had been constructing a building for a church in Olenkomi, but because of funding shortfalls they revised the plan and built a temporary structure. Evangelical church leaders said EOC priests had seized the land without formal process, but sources said the EOC’s strong presence in the area kept evangelical church officials from protesting brazen construction efforts.
The EOC’s small structure was being used for liturgical purposes.
“The shelter-like house has faced fire disaster in various incidents,” said a church leader in Olenkomi. “The materials used to build it, and the curtains they hung on walls exposed the shelter to several fire incidents. The [candle and lantern] lights the priests used for liturgy were causing problems. We heard that a number of times the fire had lit curtains, and the priests stopped before it spread.”
Such a fire broke out on the day of the attack, this time out-pacing the frantic efforts of the priests. The fire consumed curtains inside the house and spread to roofs and walls. To douse it the priests went to a nearby government-owned water tank operated by an evangelical woman. She granted them water, and the structure did not burn entirely.
When they later returned to wash, however, they put their hands inside the tank and sullied the public water source. When the operator objected, the EOC members spoke derogatorily of her as a “Pente” and began to spread the rumor that she was responsible for the burnt structure, church leaders said.
EOC members quickly formed into groups of various sizes, sources said, and rolled into town chanting, “This is the day to destroy Pentecostals and their churches!” They first went to the Brethren Church, located by the side of a highway that stretches through Olenkomi to western Ethiopia.
“When we first heard stones falling on the roof, we thought the wind was tearing up iron sheets,” said one evangelist. “We also heard a loud noise from outside. It was around 12:30 p.m. I opened the main door to check what was happening. The whole compound was filled by men and women who carried stones and sticks. It was a very scary sight.”
They were stoning the church building, forcing the praying believers to escape through a back door. The assailants continued breaking doors and windows, thinking worshippers were trapped inside.
Local police arrived, the evangelist said, but they failed to disperse the violent mob.
“Despite firing into the air, the officers didn’t do anything serious to stop the mob,” he said. “They later said it is beyond their capacity and would call Federal Police from Ambo town. The anti-riot police arrived two and half hours later, practically after the mob effectively carried out all the destruction.”
Of the attack on Mekane Yesus Church, one church leader said the mob broke in and set fire on everything they found.
“They gathered benches, office chairs and tables, documents, musical instruments, public address system, choir uniforms and other materials and set them on fire,” he said. “They also lit fire to the church building, which reduced it to ashes.”
The mob was not finished. They proceeded to the high school, where they attacked Christian teachers as students rushed to defend them. Church leaders said the targeting of the school was evidence that the attack had been planned before with well-considered aims.
With Ethiopia scheduled to hold parliamentary elections on May 23, government officials don’t want to upset voters by punishing those behind the attacks, church leaders said. It is likely that officials would pressure church leaders from both camps to settle for the sake of stability, but Christians fear that in doing so their complaints will be overlooked.
Some suspects have been identified, but church leaders don’t expect they will be punished.
“It is like hitting a fire ball,” said a church leader from Brethren Church. “When you hit the fire, it would round back to you. It can even burn you. You may also distribute the fire to new places.”
In spite of the violence, evangelical Christians have engaged in “fervent witnessing ministry and prayer,” he said.
“It awakens us to think, pray and unite,” he said. “There is no good in persecution. But God turned it around for the good of us. The persecution was intended to destroy our commitment, but it rather built our faith.”
As election day draws closer, said the leader, EOC priests could easily motivate followers to attack.
“That would be bad times for believers,” he said. “Let’s pray for people in Olenkomi to know the will of God and repent from evil from which they assume to serve God.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Over 150 assaults reported, many in southern part of country.
NEW DELHI, December 31 (CDN) — After unprecedented large-scale attacks on Christians in the previous two years, 2009 brought hardly any respite as the minority faith faced an average of more than three violent attacks a week.
There were at least 152 attacks on Christians in 2009, according to the “Partial List of Major Incidents of Anti-Christian Violence in India” released by the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
“The trend of attacks on the Christian community by rightwing Hindu groups goes unabated,” said Dr. Dominic Emmanuel, the spokesperson of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. “Overall, the Christian community still feels insecure.”
Emmanuel also noted that none of the states that have “anti-conversion” laws have repealed them. The north-central states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Orissa in the east, Gujarat in the west and Himachal Pradesh in the north have anti-conversion laws, which Hindu hardliners routinely use to arrest Christians on spurious accusations of “forcible conversion.”
“If 2007 and 2008 went down in history as the most blood-soaked ones in the history of modern Christianity in India, 2009 surely rates as the year of frustrating confrontations with the law and tardy governance and on justice for the victims of communal violence,” said Dr. John Dayal, a Christian and human rights activist and member of the government’s National Integration Council.
Dayal referred to violence that erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district during the Christmas week in 2007, killing at least four Christians and burning 730 houses and 95 churches. The attacks were carried out to avenge an alleged attack on a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP) leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.
Violence re-erupted in Kandhamal in August 2008 after the assassination of Saraswati by a Maoist group, as rightwing Hindu groups falsely blamed Christians for it. This time, the violence killed more than 100 people and resulted in the incineration of 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
No Longer a Haven
A disturbing new trend emerged this year as southern India, which had long been considered a haven for Christians, recorded the highest incidence of anti-Christian violence. Of the total 152 incidents, 86 were reported from southern states, mainly Karnataka with 48, Andhra Pradesh with 29, Tamil Nadu with five and Kerala with four.
Northern and central states, seen as the stronghold of rightwing Hindu extremists, recorded 42 incidents of violence, half the number in the south.
There were 15 attacks in Madhya Pradesh state, 14 in neighboring Chhattisgarh, three each in Uttar Pradesh and the Himalayan states of Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir, and one each in the national capital Delhi and neighboring Haryana state.
In the west, seven attacks were reported: six in Maharashtra and one in Gujarat. In the northeast, four attacks were reported: three in Assam and one in Manipur.
Karnataka recorded the highest number of violent incidents as the first-ever victory of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state elections in 2007 emboldened rightwing Hindu extremist groups. Karnataka became the first southern state with a stand-alone BJP government in the history of India.
Anti-Christian violence in Andhra Pradesh rose to new heights after a Christian, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, became the chief minister of the state in May 2004. To target him politically, rightwing Hindu groups attacked Christians while accusing them of converting Hindus to Christianity. This year Reddy died on Sept. 2 in a helicopter crash.
The incidence of Christian persecution in the north and the central states declined apparently due to the BJP’s defeat in the April-May general elections and a growing realization among a section of the BJP leadership that violent incidents no longer please voters. But the hard-line section of the BJP and groups linked to the party, such as the VHP and its youth wing Bajrang Dal, carried on with their hardcore anti-Christian stand.
Impunity in Orissa
Orissa state in the east, which witnessed two massive spates of attacks on Christians in 2007 and 2008, saw only two recorded violent incidents this year.
The morale of Christians in Orissa, however, remained low as few assailants in the 2008 rampage were brought to justice.
“The courts in Kandhamal make a mockery of the judicial process, and the murderers lord it over the witnesses and victims while judges and law look on,” Dayal said. “The church remains helpless, its puny effort at giving strength to the witnesses falling far too short.”
Of 787 cases registered by Orissa police, 100 are being handled by two-fast track courts in Kandhamal. Around 35 cases have been heard, resulting in around 50 convictions and more than 190 acquittals. Manoj Pradhan, a legislator for the BJP, has been exonerated “for lack of evidence” in six cases, most of them involving murder charges.
Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the growing number of acquittals was producing a culture of impunity, “where those who commit crimes against Christian minority do not fear punishment by law.”
“As the elected representative of the Orissa state assembly [Pradhan] has been let off in murder cases,” George said. “People want to know what has happened to the long arms of justice.”
Dayal, who was in Kandhamal recently, said that of the more than 4,640 houses burned in 2008 violence, only 200 have a roof over the rebuilt walls as 2009 ends.
“And perhaps at the end of the next year, another 2,500, God willing, will have been rebuilt,” he said. “But around 2,000 houses will even then remain unfinished.”
Dayal added that more than 20,000 men, women and children of Kandhamal continue to live as refugees or homeless people in various cities, working at odd jobs and sometimes begging.
“Some girls have already been pushed into the evil of human trafficking,” he said.
Most people in Kandhamal remain without jobs, and the rehabilitation process, in which the church is participating, still is a long distance from covering all victims, Dayal said, adding, “The state government seems to have called it a day with the barest minimum done in this sector.”
Emmanuel of the Delhi Archdiocese said that since the BJP is not in power at the federal level, some of their front organizations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal will harass Christians in order to remain in the news.
“Christianity teaches us to hope in God,” Emmanuel said. “We can only hope that 2010 will be a better year for Christians, but in practical terms it really does not appear that things would be any better as the ranks of rightwing Hindu fundamentalists keep their pressure.”
There are around 24 million Christians in India, or roughly 2.3 percent of the over 1.1 billion people.
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
The Bible cautions that “The first to state his case seems right until another comes and cross-examines him,” reports Baptist Press.
Unfortunately, this proverb has become increasingly actionable in recent years as Christians and their beliefs are being presented unfavorably — alternately as a monolithic bloc and then as fragmented and waning in numbers — by a media that at times is not too sophisticated and at other times apparently is just malicious. Even some evangelicals have shown a disappointing lack of discernment in claiming to know evangelicals (the “I am one of them” credential), but then advocating views that seem at odds with what is obvious or established about evangelicals.
Probably the most egregious example of late was the media’s representation of the American Religious Identity Survey 2008 (pertaining to adults) released in March 2009 by Trinity College of Hartford, Conn.
The cover of Newsweek proclaimed “The decline and fall of Christian America” and the magazine reported that according to the survey, “the percentage of self-identified [adult] Christians has fallen 10 percent since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent.”
Editor Jon Meacham opined, “This is not to say that the Christian God is dead,” he said, “but that [H]e is less of a force in American politics and culture than at any other time in recent memory.”
He conceded that the U.S. is “decisively shaped by religious faith,” but offered that “our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago,” adding that he thought this was a “good thing” for both the political culture and Christianity. In his view “the decline and fall of the religious right’s notion of a Christian America creates a calmer political environment” and in his estimation this perceived shift “may help open the way for a more theologically serious religious life.”
In examining the A.R.I.S. data, the Washington Post simply stated “15 Percent of Americans Have No Religion” but offered the same data as Newsweek that “the percentage of [adult] Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990.”
“The increase in people labeling themselves in more generic Christian terms corresponds strongly with the decline in people identifying themselves as Protestant, the survey found,” Michele Boorstein wrote.
She offered one insight to help explain the shift, but stopped short of any meaningful analysis.
“People calling themselves mainline Protestants, including Methodists and Lutherans, have dropped to 13 percent of the [adult] population, down from 19 percent in 1990. The number of people who describe themselves as generically ‘Protestant’ went from approximately 17 million in 1990 to 5 million.”
The headline in USA Today read, “Most religious groups in USA have lost ground, survey finds” adding to the chorus about the “percentage of people who call themselves in some way Christian has dropped more than 11% [of adults] in a generation.
“These dramatic shifts in just 18 years are detailed in the new American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS)…. It finds that, despite growth and immigration that has added nearly 50 million adults to the U.S. population, almost all religious denominations have lost ground since the first ARIS survey in 1990.”
The writer, Cathy Grossman, offered some contextualization by recognizing the shift in our population from immigration, but she fell short in pursuing what this shift means to the changes reported by the A.R.I.S. 2008 study. Later she also observed that sexual abuse by Catholic clergy might have contributed to some changes in the numbers of those who identified themselves as Catholics, but said nothing about other similar influences that might have shaped respondents’ answers to the poll.
Even the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, weighed in.
He applauded the USA Today account of the A.R.I.S. 2008 findings and lauded the A.R.I.S. methodology. He also tagged on his observation that “denominations and denominationalism are in decline, the cultural influence of Christianity continues to slip, more people are describing themselves as non-religious (now at 15%) and minority religions are increasing in popularity (like Islam and Wicca).
“Baptists are shown to be an aging group that continues to lose the younger generations and leaders,” he added.
What each of these assessments misses is what the research actually said, and even what the study’s principal investigators concluded about their findings.
On the first page of the report, researchers Barry Kosmin and Ariela Keysar offered this conclusion in the highlights section of their study:
“Overall the 1990-2008 ARIS time series shows that changes in religious self-identification in the first decade of the 21st century have been moderate in comparison to the 1990s, which was a period of significant shifts in the religious composition of the United States.”
The researchers might have been too passive in their assessment that the changes from 2001 to 2008 were “moderate” compared to the “significant shifts” from 1990 to 2000.
Look, for instance, at the common data highlighted by the mainstream media that “the percentage of [adult] Americans identifying as Christians has dropped to 76 percent of the population, down from 86 percent in 1990.”
The data points are factual, but the way the data are presented is not.
The reality is that the percentage of adult Americans who claimed to be Christians dropped from 86 percent in 1990 to 77.7 percent in 2001 and THEN to 76 percent in 2008. In other words, almost none of the change happened in the last 8 years of the study. Even Kosmin and Keysar stated that “the most dramatic changes in the balance of religious sentiments seem to have occurred during the 1990s.”
Moreover, these percentages do not reflect an exodus from Christianity or an ineffectiveness of the faith.
The A.R.I.S. data show the absolute number of adult Christians actually increased from 151,225,000 in 1990 to 159,514,000 in 2001 (a gain of nearly 8.3 million) and grew to 173,402,000 in 2008 (increasing by nearly 14 million). During this same time the U.S. adult population as a whole grew by 32.5 million in the 1990s and by 20 million from 2001 to 2008.
What a different perspective the numbers actually present.
In the time from 2001 to 2008, the U.S. adult population grew by 20 million and 14 million of these were Christians!
Taken in the whole, Newsweek got the story absolutely wrong. The proper interpretation is not a “fall and decline of Christian America” but that the fall or decline has substantially stopped (or at least dramatically slowed). To be frank, an objective interpretation shows we have not become a post-Christian America, but does suggest that perhaps that we are no longer moving toward becoming a secular America.
Such a conclusion is even more plausible from a true look at the growth of “nones” (those claiming no religious identity or connection). Most mainstream media proclaimed the numbers in this category had nearly doubled in 18 years, with the “nones” portion of the U.S. adult population leaping from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 15.0 percent in 2008.
But the truth is almost all of the gains occurred in the 1990s (8.2 percent to 14.1 percent) and less than one percent of the shift happened from 2001 to 2008 (0.9 percent to be exact).
There are other elements of the study that also received almost no mention.
In discussing some of these points, I do not mean to suggest that the study was poorly designed or that the methodology was lacking in any respect. However, every study has limits to what can be inferred from the information it presents because of limits in the design or other aspects of the study.
For instance, the three A.R.I.S. surveys that compose the whole work were self-reporting. In other words, respondents described themselves; the data were not obtained from formal observations by trained investigators using set criteria to categorize participants’ actual behavior.
Likewise, the A.R.I.S. project is not a longitudinal study of a single sample of people, but a series of three surveys that gathered information from different samples in different time periods, each contextualized by different circumstances that should be examined for how they informed respondents’ answers. At any other point during the two long time spans between surveys, given a different set of influences, the very same respondents could have responded remarkably different than they did at the actual moment in time they responded for the 2001 and 2008 surveys, respectively. Essentially, there are three data points out of an 18-year period and graphing a trend using just these three plotted coordinates is a guess at best.
Consider that the 2008 survey was conducted from February through November, during a highly contentious presidential campaign in which faith voters were a highly sought-after constituency. Ironically, during this same season, religion was highly negatively portrayed, and this could have been an interacting factor.
For example, look at the data reported about the absolute numbers and the percentages of the adult population for those who identified themselves with the United Churches of Christ. In 1990, 0.2 percent (or 438,000) claimed affiliation, climbing dramatically to 0.7 percent (or 1,378,000) in 2001, and dropping almost as dramatically to 0.3 percent (or 736,000) in 2008.
What might explain such a dramatic swing in the numbers for this denomination?
During the same time the 2008 survey was being conducted, then Sen. Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was the subject of almost nightly reports on television, daily articles in America’s newspapers and hourly commentary on radio. Although some defenses were offered on behalf of Obama for his relationship to the controversial figure, there was no positive press for Wright. In fact, after attacks by his Democrat rivals as well as GOP candidates citing Wright’s anti-white tirades and anti-America rhetoric, in May 2008, Obama dropped his 20-year membership with his home church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Chicago. Wright’s denominational affiliation was repeated in nearly every news report.
It can’t be stated definitively that this was a factor, but it certainly appears that it could have been a major influence in how participants in the study responded when contacted by phone.
But Wright was not the only person of faith who came under fire. During the two months just prior to the February start of the 2008 study, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon, was a popular subject in the mainstream media and much of the coverage repeated the criticisms of him for the more controversial aspects of his faith tradition. Likewise, Southern Baptist Mike Huckabee was portrayed more as a former Baptist minister with conservative views on marriage and the unborn (sometimes favorably and sometimes not for these views), and less as a governor with 10 years of executive experience. Then there was the mainstream media’s almost totally negative portrayal of vice presidential candidate and evangelical Sarah Palin.
Given these almost constant negative portrayals just before and also during the timeframe for the 2008 survey, the wonder is that the data didn’t show more than just a small negative change among those who identified themselves as Christians.
Numbers are important but only in context of the circumstances which shaped them.
This is true when assessing Christianity in America and also when looking at what research shows about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
JAKARTA, May 18 (Compass Direct News) – An Islamic group in West Sumatra province, Indonesia, has issued threats against Dominikus Supriyanto, the only Catholic to win a seat in the district legislature in recent general elections, warning him that he should convert to Islam if he wants to retain the seat.
On April 23, after results were announced, a group identifying itself as the Islamic Forum of West Pasaman attacked Supriyanto’s home, slinging stones and breaking several windows. Supriyanto, who was in the house at the time, said the attackers also shouted threats and demanded that he become a Muslim if he planned to stay in politics.
Supriyanto reported the incident to police and requested protection. After a brief investigation, police concluded that the attackers had most likely acted on behalf of unsuccessful election candidates.
Elections took place on April 9, but the election commission has only recently confirmed the names of those who will take up positions at district, provincial and national levels.
Supriyanto stood as a candidate for the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) in West Pasaman, West Sumatra, and won a seat in the district legislature from 2009 to 2014. The district is 98 percent Muslim, but Compass sources said voters supported Supriyanto because of his rapport with the Muslim community.
Supriyanto’s party supports pancasila, Indonesia’s national policy of tolerance for all religions.
Earlier this year, supporters of other candidates engaged in a so-called “black campaign,” warning that Supriyanto would likely “Christianize” West Pasaman if elected.
Despite such accusations prior to and following the elections, Supriyanto is determined to retain his seat.
“I was elected not just by Christians and Catholics, but by Muslims,” he told Compass. “I’m going to remain Catholic no matter what happens.”
Supriyanto has requested support from fellow party members in Jakarta.
The bishop of Padang diocese, Monsignor Martinus Situmorang, said Supriyanto had won the vote fairly and that if threats continued the diocese would take the issue to a national level.
Members of the Islamic Forum, meanwhile, have pledged to demonstrate publicly against Supriyanto during his inauguration in July.
Report from Compass Direct News