India: Hindu Extremists Free to Attack Christians in Thane District

Monday, November 12, 2007

Police are mere spectators; Maharashtra official’s promise of protection proves empty.

MUMBAI, India (Compass Direct News) -- A rash of violence in Maharashtra state last weekend, Christian leaders say, is typical of a growing history of unchecked, Hindu extremist crimes against Christians in Thane district.

In a scene repeated for years in the area with impunity, Hindu extremists armed with wooden clubs barged into the worship service of the Mumbai Diocesan Missionary Movement in Kuttal village of Wada on Sunday (November 4) and beat several members brutally enough that they required hospital treatment.

When Pastor Suresh Suttar went to the police station to file a complaint against the extremists, officers instead detained him. Unable to find any evidence to file charges against him, they released him on Monday (November 5), said Dr. Abraham Mathai, vice chairperson of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission.

The club-wielding extremists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its affiliated organizations, the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (VKP or Forest Dwellers Welfare Council) and the Bajrang Dal (youth wing of the VHP) were left free to pursue future victims. The Christians – Vishnu Barad and his wife Aruna Barad, Vandhana Barad, Nirmala Barad, Ramdas Ahad and Neelesh Barad – were left with swollen arms and legs, a bruised and swollen chin, bruises and abrasions to the temple and forehead and a bruised chest.

After the Hindu extremists had stormed into the service shouting curses and anti-Christian slogans, they struck the believers with their fists and clubs, snatched Bibles and tore pages from them and flung chairs. Some of the extremists marched up to the dais and slapped Pastor Suttar, raising the oft-repeated but baseless charge of luring poor tribal peoples to convert to the Christianity.

Collusion with Goons

“This attack took place despite an assurance on Friday, November 2, from state Home Minister R.R. Patil that the police would take action against attacks on tribals,” said Mathai, who is also general secretary of the All India Christian Council.

After visiting the victims in the hospital, Mathai told Compass that Vishnu Barad had informed him that he and his wife regularly received warnings from villagers not to attend prayer meetings.

“These are simple and poor people, and the fundamentalist goons roam about the area with impunity threatening these tribal Christians,” Mathai said. “What is even more outrageous is these Christian people get slapped with charges for disrupting peace.”

Mathai questioned why local police choose not to curb violent attacks on peaceful tribal Christians. He has implored Home Minister Patil to determine how constables in the rural Thane district remain in their posts for 15 to 18 years in the face of such unconscionable inaction.

Mathai said Patil told him that he has asked Konkan range Inspector General K.K. Pathak to submit a detailed report within eight days and that police would conduct an inquiry “on a priority basis.”

Local police denied that they take no action to defend the Christians. District Head Constable Y.T. Karale of Wada police station, Thane district, told Compass that officers have their hands full with “frequent skirmishes” between villagers and Christians.

“When the warring parties are brought to the police station, we try to arrange some settlement between them,” Karale said. “To pacify the villagers, we often make the Christians sign a bond before an executive magistrate for keeping the peace and good behavior, only as a preventive security measure against further offenses.”

Authorities thus blame Christians for provoking the Hindus by practicing their faith, Christian leaders said.

“I’m afraid that the police are proving to be unfair and ineffective,” Mathai said. “I was also told that the local police in another village had urged the tribals not to attend prayer meetings, as that may lead to further attacks.”

Widespread Criminality

The belt of tribal people in Thane district “is in the grip of the extremists groups who intimidate and terrify the poor tribals,” Mathai told Compass.

Hindu extremists attacked Christians in Vikramgarh last month; last week they attacked them in Manor and Mokhada, he said. Vivian Correia of the state Minorities Commission told Compass that last month pastor Vasudev Deshmukh of Maharashtra Village Ministries, in Thane district’s Mokhada village, was threatened by local villagers accompanied by Hindu extremists from the VKP and Bajrang Dal.

“They threatened to cut the water and electric supply to the pastor’s house church if he continued services there,” Correia said. “They made false accusations of luring poor Hindu tribals to convert.”

Pastor Deshmukh told Compass that he was unable to hold the worship service last Sunday (November 4) as a group of extremists and villagers hovered nearby, poised to attack.

“There were women also in the group who had chile powder in their hands to throw in the eyes of any one who came to service,” Pastor Deshmukh said. “In any case, none of the believers came for Sunday worship, as they were terrified of being assaulted by the extremists.”

On October 23, Hindu extremists beat pastor Victor Periera of Vikramgarh (see Compass Direct News, “India Briefs,” November 6); after a few days, police slapped notices on 11 of the people attending the prayer meeting for “disrupting peace in the area,” said Mathai.

After the attack on Pastor Pereira, Mathai said, worship services were cancelled the following two Sundays (October 28 and November 4).

Correia said attacks on Christians also took place last Friday (November 2) on prayer services in private homes in Manor and Mokhada villages.

“These extremists barged into the homes of the believers and disrupted the prayers and chased the believers away,” Correia said. “In most of these cases, tribal Christians are targeted and beaten for attending community prayer meetings, while the police mostly choose to be spectators.”

Mathai, for his part, said he is at a loss to explain how the area became an extremist hotbed. The tribal belt of Thane district is not close to the Gujarat state border – “the Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] laboratory” from which many extremist elements originate, he said.

Copyright © 2007 Compass Direct