Christian Mission in India Accused of Forced Conversions

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Villagers sign statement refuting charges against Amit Vikas Trust.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, May 31 (Compass) -- Police are currently investigating seven staff members of a Christian mission, the ATMIK Vikas Trust (AVT), in India’s northern state of Uttar Pradesh. A group of disgruntled trainees have accused the staff of “running a gang to convert poor Hindus” by promising them employment.

The complainants in the case lost their jobs in November 2004.

The former employees claim they each gave the mission 20,000 rupees ($465) when they signed up for a training program. They also allege that the Christians had “converted” them under the guise of finding them jobs.

Following the termination of their employment with a Christian company, the plaintiffs allege, they were beaten and threatened with death when they went to the mission and asked that their money be returned.

The seven accused are Pastor Yashwant Paul and his wife Monica of the Evangelical Church of God (ECOG); Squadron Leader (retired) M.M. Philip and ex-civil servant Mr. Lalchhuangliana, both AVT trustees; Dr. Raju Abraham, director of Kachawa Christian Hospital in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh; Lieutenant Colonel Arun Kumar (retired) and Mr. Gurpreet Singh.

AVT is a registered trust formed for the purpose of providing religious instruction and social development.

Pastor Paul denies the charges. “My wife and I are involved in running a church, and we have not accepted any amount from anyone. Nor have we lured anyone into Christianity,” he told Compass.

Paul and his wife were asked to vacate their rented house after two national dailies, the Amar Ujala and the Dainik Jagran, carried stories about the allegations against them.

Squadron Leader Philip told Compass, “This is simply an expression of frustration by our ex-employees.

“We provide Biblical teachings and focus on the personal transformation of a trainee, but some come in with false expectations. They think they will get a job and money, and when such expectations are not met, they think they have been wronged.

“These employees were laid off because we could not see any transformation in their lives,” he explained. “But I suspect that some Hindu fundamentalist organization is using the situation to harass us.”

The seven Hindu plaintiffs submitted affidavits to the Judicial Magistrate of Hapur Taluka in Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh on January 31.

Based on the affidavits, the court ordered local police to investigate the AVT mission under Section 156(3) of the Criminal Procedure Code. The police then registered a complaint against the accused for criminal breach of trust, voluntarily causing hurt and criminal intimidation.

If convicted, the AVT defendants could face imprisonment of up to seven years, a fine or both.

The seven plaintiffs have identified themselves in the affidavits as poor and unemployed Hindus who were lured into Christianity.

“The AVT and the ECOG is a gang which is involved in an illegal work of luring poor and unemployed people like us into Christianity by promising good, permanent jobs,” the affidavits stated. “All the [accused] are Indians, but in reality, they are agents of foreign countries, and are openly working towards making India a slave to foreigners.”

The affidavits further claimed that AVT had demanded a refundable security deposit of 20,000 rupees from each of the complainants, in return for arranging permanent jobs with a salary of 10,000 rupees per month.

“I borrowed the amount and gave it to them on April 5, 2002, in the office of the ECOG. There were several witnesses with me,” said Ramesh Chandra, one of the plaintiffs.

“On August 12, 2002, I, along with 14 others, was sent to the city of Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh, and we were trained in Christianity until September 2. We were told that we would be given jobs in factories belonging to Christians, and therefore we needed the Christian training.”

Chandra complained that when he and others came back from the training, they were given laborers’ work at a salary of 2,000 rupees per month.

“They also asked us to be baptized, saying we would not get jobs otherwise,” Chandra alleged.

“I and others were laid off by the AVT on November 28, 2004. But our security deposit was not returned to us. And when we went to the AVT office on January 24, 2005, to ask for the money, the accused and their goons beat us and threatened us with false accusation and death,” he said.

When Compass spoke with Paul, he said the village chief and other villagers had signed a statement saying that the plaintiffs never came to the village to demand money and that no beatings had taken place. Paul also said the mission had not asked for security deposits from participants in the program.

The case has not yet gone to court.

Uttar Pradesh has one of the smallest populations of Christians in India, with only 212,000 Christians in a total population of 166 million, according to 2001 census figures.