Christians Attacked, Charged with Illegal Conversion

Friday, April 14, 2006

In Madhya Pradesh state, Hindu extremists brutally beat Christians; police take no action.

April 13 (Compass Direct) -- Extremists attacked two Christian schools and a private Christian gathering last week in Madhya Pradesh state and accused several Christians of carrying out "illegal conversions."

Christians responded with a protest march in Jabalpur city on Monday (April 10), demanding justice.

In a memorandum submitted to District Collector Sanjay Dubey, the Christian community called for the arrest of several Dharam Jagran Sena (DJS or Army for Religious Revival) members who launched three attacks in Jabalpur city on April 5, 6 and 7. Christians denied the charge of illegal conversions.

In the final attack, which took place at around 9 p.m. on April 7, “police stormed a prayer meeting in the home of an Assemblies of God church member, Nitin Bergman,” lawyer Ralph Ambereesh Robertson told Compass. “Then they took the seven Christians who were present to the police station.”

The seven were Bergman and his wife, Sushma Bergman; Ram Chandra Pandey and his wife, Anju Pandey; Sandeep Singh; Jantika Dan; and the Bergmans’ maid, Sunita Thakur.

Police said a complaint had been lodged accusing the seven of illegal conversions under the Madhya Pradesh Dharma Swatantraya Adhiniyam (Freedom of Religion) Act.

When the Rev. Kishan Singh, pastor of the affected church, heard of the arrest at midnight, he went immediately to the police station with two dozen church members. As they approached the police station, however, a crowd of about 80 people shouting anti-Christian slogans blocked their way into the station.

The mob started beating the Christians with their hands, legs and belts as police looked on. Seven Christians, including Pastor Singh, sustained internal injuries in the attack, despite the pastor’s emotional appeals for the mob to leave them alone.

Police released the accused Christians the following morning, after the mob had dispersed. They took no action against the mob for beating Singh and his companions.

The victims identified eight of the attackers by name and reported them to Superintendent of Police Srinivas Rao. At press time police had not arrested any of the attackers; rather, they were concentrating on an investigation against the accused Christians.

Schools Attacked

In other attacks last week, DJS members stormed the Christ Church Boys School at Thaiyavali Chowk on April 6, reprimanding them for not closing the school to mark Ram Navmi, a Hindu festival held that day.

The DJS members physically assaulted a teacher and threatened principal Ladly Matthew in front of the students and staff. They also shouted slogans accusing Christians of being “anti-national” and unconcerned about the feelings of Hindus.

The school resumed classes after the interruption and chose not to lodge a complaint.

On April 5, extremists of the same group barged into the Christian High School operated by the Methodist Church in India at Naudara Bridge, accusing the school staff of forced conversions.

Ramakant Mishra, a former teacher at the school, arrived before the extremists and began shouting that he had been forced to convert to Christianity.

Mishra had earlier lodged a complaint against school staff members in 2002, alleging that they were attempting to convert him. An investigation by the police and the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission found the allegation was false.

When the state government cut funding for English-medium schools in 2002, Mishra was one of several teachers who lost their jobs. He was later re-employed, but according to school staff members, he regularly threatened to implicate the school in a false case if he were not promoted.

Mishra filed a case at the Omti police station on the day of the April 5 attack, naming three school staff: Sunil Singh, a clerk; Shakuntala Martin, a manager; and Sanjeev James, a teacher.

Police were still investigating the complaint at press time.

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