India Authorities To Prosecute Christian Missionaries in Orissa

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Thursday, June 23, 2005
By BosNewsLife News Center

BHUBANESWAR, ORISSA (BosNewsLife)-- Christian workers in India's tense state of Orissa faced an uncertain future Wednesday, June 22, after the Orissa High Court ordered the local government to ensure the prosecution of missionaries involved in forced conversions of Hindus to Christianity.

Human rights groups say the "forced conversion" charges are often used against Christian missionaries preaching the Gospel, and could mean widespread police actions.

In a statement obtained by the BosNewsLife Orissa Bureau, the Orissa High Court asked the state government Tuesday, June 21, to direct all the district prosecutors "to take appropriate actions" within two weeks in cases of allegedly conversions "by coercion" by invoking the provisions of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act.

The published court decision came after Anant Kumar Shatrusalya and 268 other Hindu activists filed a petition alleging forced conversions by Christian missionaries in the Orissa Gajpati district.


Missionaries fear the court order may be "misused by the Police and district administration against them," BosNewsLife learned. They suggest their work is often misunderstood as it involves preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ who they say loves Hindus too.

They argue people have to make a free "personal decision to accept Christ as their Personal Savior and Lord," and stress no person can be "forced" to become a Christian, as this would be against Biblical teachings.

This is the second time in less than three months that judicial intervention was sought over alleged coercion. On April 11, the Orissa High Court looked into the plight of 22 Hindu families at Mallabhandaja Village who were allegedly forced to convert to Christianity by missionaries.


That time the court directed the Orissa government "to clarify the steps taken to take care of the alleged victims families." Tensions have often run high between Christian and Hindu communities in Orissa, where Australian missionary Graham Steines and his two young sons were killed by an angry mob in January, 1999.

In a move criticized by churches and advocacy groups, the Orissa High Court last month cancelled the death sentence of a Hindu militant involved in the murders and instead ordered life imprisonment.

The court acquitted 11 of the others sentenced to a life term for burning alive Staines and his children in a remote village in the northeastern state. One other man retained his life sentence. Christians comprise just around two percent of Orissa's mainly Hindu population of roughly 37-million people, according to official estimates. (Satya Sundar Mishra is BosNewsLife India Reporter based in Orissa. Mishra, 26, is a Development Journalist of Orissa working on social and religious issues that are not yet on the radar screen of media and politicians. He has been working for a variety of key publications. The reporter can be reached via e-mail ).