Hindu Extremists Attack Church in Himachal Pradesh, India

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

World Hindu Council threatens to burn pastor and church members to death.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, November 14 (Compass) – Hindu extremists attacked 62-year-old Pastor Feroz Masih in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh on November 4, accusing him of “forcibly converting” Hindus and severely beating him.

The attackers then forced Masih to sign a document saying he was willing to participate in a ceremony planned for Sunday (November 20), in which all 60 members of his church would be converted back to Hinduism.

If the pastor and other church members refused to take part, the extremists said, they would be burned to death.

The attack and beating occurred as Masih, a former Hindu, was traveling to nearby Norha village to comfort a believer who was mourning the death of a family member.

Masih’s son, Ramesh, told Compass that about 10 members of the World Hindu Council (VHP or Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, stopped his father and accused him of forced conversion.

Verbal arguments soon gave way to violence; the mob beat Masih so severely that he sustained internal injuries, requiring medical treatment. At press time he was still recovering.

Masih, along with his son, leads a local chapter of the Believers’ Church in India, which meets in their house at Baijnath town, five kilometers from Norha village. About 60 believers attend the worship service every Sunday.

Following the attack, the extremists told Masih they would come to his house on Sunday and conduct a Hindu program in which the Gita, the Hindu scripture, would be read and all Christians would be converted back to Hinduism.

“Then they forced my father to sign a paper saying that he was willing to reconvert himself and his church members to Hinduism,” Ramesh Masih said. “They also warned him that he, along with all the believers, would be burned alive if they refused to reconvert. They also threatened to burn down the believers’ houses.”

Masih and his son sent a letter of complaint to officials at the Baijnath police station, the district collector of Kangra district, and the National Commission for Minorities.

The letter urged police to protect Christians in Baijnath and said Christians would hold the administration responsible for any loss of life or property on Sunday.

“We will not allow the VHP to hold a reconversion meeting or any religious function in our house,” Masih wrote.

The letter included the names of six of the attackers, all residents of Baijnath sub-district: Harbans Lal, Madan Lal, Santosh Kumar, Ravi Kumar, Jitender Kumar, and Bablu Kumar.

The police, however, regarded the beating as a “minor incident,” according to Constable Rakesh Kumar of the Baijnath police station.

“An official complaint [regarding the attack] has not been registered, and no one has been arrested,” he told Compass.

Kumar said the VHP had attacked Masih on the basis of a complaint made by a local resident, Prakash Chand, who came to the police station alleging that Masih had forcibly converted his wife two years ago. “We are satisfied that Masih did not convert her by force,” Kumar added.

Masih’s son, however, said the beating followed reports in the local media alleging that Masih was forcibly converting Hindu villagers.

He denied the claims made against himself and his father.

“We simply preach the message of peace and joy as given in the Bible. All the believers who attend the worship ... have embraced Christianity out of their own will,” he said.

VHP extremists had previously threatened Masih and pelted stones at his house in April.

The Masihs are still waiting for a police response to the death threats issued by VHP members.

Himachal Pradesh has one of the smallest Christian populations in India. According to 2001 census figures, Christians number only 7,687 in a total population of 6 million.

Copyright 2005 Compass Direct