By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- Samuel Thomas, the leader of one of India's main evangelical mission organizations, remained jailed Thursday, April 13, on charges of anti-Hindu activities, after a court denied him bail, but his wife told BosNewsLife she is not giving up hope, yet.
"Our hope is in Him," Shelley Thomas said, a reference to Jesus Christ who she regards as the driving force behind Hopegivers International (HI) and its Indian affiliate Emanuel Mission International (EMI).
Samuel Thomas, the president of US-based HI and EMI, was detained in the volatile Indian state of Rajasthan on March 16 after authorities accused him of creating "communal disharmony" for his alleged involvement in publishing a perceived anti-Hindu book.
The Christian leader denied the charges and suggested the real reason for his detention is his organization's work among Dalits, also known as "the untouchables", the lowest caste in India's ancient system of Hinduism. There has been concern among Hindu groups over the growing number of Christians among Dalits and tribals in India.
Thomas said before his detention that Rajasthan's hard-line Hindu government is trying to shut down EMI operations, including Hopegivers-supported orphanages, the hospital and leprosy or HIV-AIDS outreaches, printing presses, bookstores, churches, schools and other institutions.
His 72-year old father and HI-founder, Bishop M.A. Thomas, who was wanted on similar charges, received temporary "relief" from prosecution Thursday, April 13 from the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi till April 21, HI spokesman Bill Bray told BosNewsLife. "The arrest warrent on Bishop M.A. Thomas was lifted and Bishop Thomas is free until his scheduled court appearance on April 21. This means that he can attend to the humanitarian affairs of the Emmanuel Mission and Hopegivers-supported hospitals and schools," he said.
Bray described the move as "the first breakthrough we have seen from the central government since this crisis began February 20. He said he hopes it will help to end a siege around the embattled EMI Hope Home for mainly 'Dalit' orphans. "For the first time in 53 days our leadership can freely move about and care for the [2,500] orphan children, the students and the patients in our hospital," which are part of the complex in Kota, Rajasthan.
"This is a wonderful answer to prayer and we are praising the Lord and more determined than ever to resist in the power and might of the Lord," Bray told BosNewsLife. "Now we need to pray for Bishop Thomas to have wisdom and be protected from terrorists who want to take his life," he added, a reference to a militant group that reportedly offered a bounty of $26,000 for his head.
The HI official said he hopes Samuel Thomas will be released soon as well, but admitted it was an uphill judicial battle. Samuel Thomas and other Christian prisoners in Kota "were denied bail again on April 10 and are appealing to Jaipur where we expect bail to be denied again and they will appeal before the judge next on April 24," Bray explained. "The radicals in the government seem determined to maintain protracted delaying tactics to force the Christians to quit and close down their humanitarian outreaches."
One of the largest Indian Christian advocacy groups expressed concern Thursday, April 13, over the arrest of Samuel Thomas. The "denial of bail to Dr Samuel Thomas is a violation of basic rights of freedom of an individual," said Sajan George, the National President of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) in an interview with BosNewsLife.
He said Thomas was "is the first Christian leader arrested for his role in the capacity building of Dalits in India by transforming the orphans, widows and lepers." George added that the "dramatic and high handed arrest reminds of the [former] Taliban regime," in Afghanistan he added.
"The state government of Rajasthan is using government machinery to target" Thomas. Sam is the first Christian leader arrested for his role in the capacity building of Dalits in India by transforming the Orphans,widows and lepers.
The tensions surrounding the missionaries come at a time when Rajasthan introduced the 'Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrik Vidhayak,' or Rajasthan Religious Freedom Bill, which forbids conversion activities "by allurement" "fraudulent means" or pressure, punishing "violators" with up to five years in prison and a hefty fine.
Evangelical Christians have denied mass conversions and say those who convert do so out of their own will, in part to escape the rigid Hindu caste hierarchy.
The law, adopted last week, was backed by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which embraces "Hindutva", which teaches that all Indians should be converted to Hinduism, and critics say the legislation seems bias towards the Christian community.
Authorities in Rajasthan state have defended banning religious conversions as they "were weakening communal harmony." (With BosNewsLife News Center, BosNewsLife Research and reports from India).
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