Sexual assaults follow one husband’s refusal to recant; BJP cries ‘forced conversion.’
by Vishal Arora
NEW DELHI, June 2 (Compass Direct) -- With the encouragement of a local chief and the apparent backing of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, villagers in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh on Sunday (May 28) gang-raped two Christian women after the husband of one refused to deny Christ.
The incident took place at 10 p.m. at Nadia village in Khargone district’s Bhagwanpura block. The victims are converts who attend house prayer meetings of the Indian Evangelical Team (IET).
A Christian source requesting anonymity told Compass that villagers had beaten up Gokharya Barela, the husband of one of the victims, at 3 p.m. on Sunday and took him forcibly to Sirvil village, about two kilometers from Nadia, where the Panchayat (village court) gathered and asked him to forsake Christianity.
When he refused to give in to their demands, the village head, Pandya Patel, ordered that Barela be made to drink wine. Villagers forced him to drink about half a bottle, releasing him with a warning that he should move out of the village.
Patel had also told the villagers and they could feel free to rape Christian women, saying no one would save them.
“The five perpetrators and village head Patel are supported by a member of the state legislative assembly from the BJP, who lives in Pipal Jhopa village, about 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Nadia,” said the Christian source.
That night three men went to the house of Gokharya Barela, dragged his wife to nearby bushes and raped her. When her husband and his friend Gudia Gyansingh, also a Christian, tried to save her, other villagers accompanying the rapists beat them. They slapped and punched the two Christians numerous times and forced them to say “Ram-Ram,” a common greeting among certain Hindus.
Before Barela’s wife was raped, two other Hindu villagers went to the house of Garsia Barela, also a Christian, and dragged his wife onto the verandah and raped her, the source said.
Garsia Barela’s mother was the only one at home with the victim at the time of the attack, but she was unable to save her daughter-in-law because of her advanced years.
Superintendent of Police of Khargone district I.R.S. Borna told Compass that two women were raped by five men. “Our team is investigating,” he said, “but no one has been arrested yet.”
The women were able to name the alleged rapists, identified only as Lulla, Nandla, Kalu, Rewal Singh, and Sakaram – all from the same village.
After raping the two women, according to the source, the Hindu attackers threatened the victims and other Christians that they would be killed if they filed a police complaint.
‘Forced Conversion’ Accusations
The next day, May 29, leaders of the BJP reportedly submitted a memorandum to District Collector S.K. Pal accusing Christian missionaries from neighboring Maharashtra state of coming into the region to convert Hindus “by force.”
The source also said that the BJP was conspiring to implicate a worker of the IET in a false case of “forced conversion.”
Sajan George, national convener of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the perpetrators’ BJP backers were making the accusations “to insulate them from any future action by government agencies.”
George urged the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Minorities and the National Human Rights Commission “to wake up and act fast to restore the human dignity of these Christians.”
Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council and member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, said the attacks have to be seen in terms of both religious intolerance of the Sangh Parivar (organizations affiliated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and in the pattern of violence against women as the most vulnerable of Indian society.
“There seems to be a parallel law and justice administration system working in the states ruled by the BJP, which has no respect for religious freedom,” Dayal said. “The state governments are also callous and slow in registering cases even when the matter is brought to their attention.”
The central government does not ordinarily intervene unless there is mass violence, he said. “We are seeking the highest legal advice possible to see how freedom of faith issues and violence connected with atrocities on minorities can become a central subject so that direct intervention is possible,” Dayal added.
A similar incident took place in a Jamanya village in Maharashtra last year. Radical Hindu villagers attacked 11 Christian families, sexually assaulting the women, on May 16, 2005, when they refused to give up their faith.
These families were later ostracized by their fellow Hindu villagers. (See Compass Direct, “Christian Families Attacked in Maharashtra, India,” May 20, 2005; and, “Christians in India Accuse Hindu Villagers of Sexual Assault,” June 21, 2005.)
Copyright 2006 Compass Direct