Christian Families Attacked in Maharashtra, India

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Believers asked to renounce faith; women and children beaten by Hindu extremists.

by Vijayesh Lal

NEW DELHI, May 20 (Compass) -- Hindu extremists physically attacked 11 Christian families from Jamanya village in Jalgaon district, Maharashtra state, on May 16, when they refused to give up their faith. Sources said the mob tried to disrobe women in the group; women and children were also beaten by the mob.

On May 15, village officials summoned the families to a panchayat, or community court. The families were asked to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ for the common good of the village, and accused of bringing bad luck to the village by embracing the Christian faith.

Officials from both Jamanya and other villages threatened the Christians until mid afternoon, attempting to persuade them to renounce their faith.

At about 3:30 p.m., according to one witness, a mob began chasing the Christian men out of the village. As they were running, the mob caught and beat some of them with heavy sticks.

According to the same witness, when some of the men returned to their homes after dark, they found groups of villagers outside each home, armed with weapons. The men fled again, this time to other villages where they sought shelter.

On the following day, the mob -- angered over the escape of the men -- targeted the women and children. Some children fainted after receiving severe beatings. The mob also tried to disrobe the women.

Meanwhile, the men managed to contact other Christians in the area who took them to the Yawal district police station, where they filed a complaint against the panchayat leaders. Not to be outdone, village officials filed a case against the Christians at the same police station, accusing them of forced conversions and disrupting the peace.

Compass spoke to the police inspector assigned to the case. He confirmed that two complaints had been filed, but the complaints had not yet been processed as First Information Reports, which were needed to commence investigations in a case.

The police had also called the victims and complainants to the police station in order to record their statements, and appointed a small force in the village to maintain law and order.

A Christian in the village told Compass that agitation against the Christian community was initiated three years ago. In 2003, the Christian families had to pay a fine of 11,000 rupees ($250) for adopting Christianity. This was followed by a period of relative peace until the incident on May 15.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and the Bajrang Dal -- both known for their hostility and sometimes violence towards Christians -- have a strong presence in Jalgaon district. Sattar Singh, the Jamanya village leader who initiated the May 15 attack against the small Christian community, also has ties with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

Police are just beginning their investigations into the case, and local Christians have said they will continue to push for a resolution to the hostility they have faced for the past three years.