Christians attacked by mob near Bombay

Wednesday, May 10, 2000

INDIA, 10 May 2000 (Newsroom) – More than 60 Christians attending a two-day religious convention were beaten by a mob of suspected Hindu nationalists in a village about 100 miles northeast of Bombay. None of the injured were hospitalized.

A mob of 80 to 90 people, whom witnesses said were members of Shiv Sena (Shiva’s Army), attacked a girls hostel run by The Evangelical Alliance Church (TEAC) at Abuna village in Nashik district in the state of Maharashtra. Shiv Sena is a pro-Hindu rights, religious-political organization.

Jonathan Chavan, a missionary with Indian Evangelical Mission (IEM) who has been working in the Nashik district for nearly 10 years, four members of TEAC, and another 60 Christians were watching a movie Tuesday night when the attack occurred, said Gladson Anchan, an administrative officer at IEM. IEM, a 35-year-old indigenous mission organization created by the Evangelical Fellowship of India, has been working in the region for several years, setting up churches with other evangelical missions.

The Indian Evangelical Mission also is working with the tribals of Dangs district, south Gujarat, about 100 miles west of Nashik district. Christians in the Dangs district have been the victims of frequent attacks by Hindu groups in the past. TEAC is part of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), an evangelical, non-denominational, international mission with 1,000 missionaries in more than 40 countries.

Anchan, quoting reports from Chavan and IEM missionary Solomon Swami Doss, said the Christians were watching Campus Crusade for Christ’s "Jesus" film about 9:30 p.m. when Chavan tried to make a telephone call, but found the line dead. The line had been disconnected by the attackers, Anchan said.

Within 20 minutes as many as 90 men believed to be area residents and members of Shiv Sena entered the hostel campus, smashed lights, destroyed the film projector, and set fire to several vehicles, including a new mini bus owned by another mission group, Rural Literature Distribution Mission. The assailants also used iron bars and sticks to damage the buildings and furniture, Anchan said, causing about $9,000 damage.

When Chavan confronted the attackers, he was slapped and beaten, Anchan said. Some of those attending the convention escaped, and some hid in bathrooms, bolting doors despite threats that the attackers would set fire to the building. According to Anchan, the attackers shouted references to Hindu deities.

Anchan, speaking from the national headquarters of IEM in the south Indian city of Bangalore, said that the mob beat Christians attending the conference with stones and sticks, leaving wounds all over their bodies.

The missionaries said police stationed at the Abuna outpost showed little interest in helping them. Local Christian leaders said that some of the attackers were sighted later in area villages.

Nashik, a district of 1 million people, is located on the banks of the Godavari River and has religious significance for Hindus. Maharashtra is governed by the Congress Party, which opposes the coalition government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu nationalist allies.

Shiv Sena, whose symbol is a roaring tiger, ruled Maharashtra for four years before losing the 1999 local elections. Shiv Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray, who lives in Bombay, once told Time magazine that the 120 million Muslims in India were free to leave India for Pakistan.

Congress Party officials in Maharashtra have tried to restrain the Shiv Sena, whose members in the past have been accused of digging up stadium fields to prevent the Pakistan cricket team from playing against India and other acts of vandalism in the name of Indian culture. Maharashtra is the homeland of Marathi-speaking people, who were known for their warrior skills and devotion to Hinduism in the 17th century.

"The Sena is an extremely complex organization," said Prakash Akolkar, who wrote a book about the group. "Even today a large number of Maharashtrians have a soft corner for the Sena, because it was seen as the voice of the Marathi people."

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Used with permission.