India: Hindu Extremists Target Christian State Offical

Thursday, April 26, 2007

One anti-Christian incident a day reported in Andhra Pradesh.

NEW DELHI, April 25 (Compass Direct News) -- Hindu extremists in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh have raised the incidence of attacks on believers to an unprecedented high, including a slander campaign against the state’s chief minister, Dr. Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, a Christian.

Sam Paul, public affairs secretary of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said at least one anti-Christian incident occurs per day.

The leader of the AICC, which has its headquarters in Andhra Pradesh, believes that the rising number of attacks on Christians is linked to a campaign against Chief Minister Reddy by Hindu extremist groups linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers’ Corps, or RSS), whose political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is an ally of the Opposition Telugu Desam Party.

“Hindu extremists are accusing the chief minister and the state government ruled by the Congress Party of having a ‘Christian’ agenda,” Paul told Compass.

He said the extremists have an “agenda to disturb the peace of the Christian community and the general atmosphere in Andhra Pradesh,” in order to “ensure that the state does not progress and the chief minister is branded as a supporter of Christian missionaries trying to convert Hindus by the use of force and allurement.”

U.S. Hindu Protest

Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Compass that supporters of Hindu extremist organizations in the United States were planning to protest Chief Minister Reddy’s May 6 visit to the Donald Stephens Convention Center in Chicago.

Endorsed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, or VHP) of America, the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue, and the Indian American Intellectuals’ Forum, the planned protest will accuse Reddy of “Christianizing” Andhra Pradesh, “destroying Hindu temples” and “discriminating against the Hindu community.”

A Hindu website notes that actions of the state government ruled by the “evangelical Christian” suggest a “well-designed plan to decimate Hinduism through destruction of Hindu institutions and abetting of massive illegal conversions.”

“The entire state infrastructure is made available for these activities,” it says.

George condemned the planned protest and appealed to organizers to stop the hate campaign against Indian Christians.

Tirupati-Tirumala, Hotbed

The protest will focus on the alleged “conversion activities” of Christian missionaries in the Tirupati-Tirumala area in Chittoor district, which has become the hotbed of the anti-Christian campaign.

Tirupati is a temple town at the foothills of Tirumala, which is believed to be the abode of Hindu god Venkateshwara (one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu). Tirumala has seven hills, representing the seven heads of a huge serpent, Sesha Saye, on which god Vishnu is believed to reside.

Atop the Tirumala hills is the Venkateshwara Temple, one of the most revered Hindu sites in the country. Considering all religions worldwide, it is believed that the financial offerings and collections at this temple are second only to those of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

The BJP has accused Christian missionaries of converting Hindus in the university and hospitals inside the Tirupati-Tirumala area in connivance with the temple management committee and the support of the state government. Both Christian leaders and the temple management deny the charge.

The RSS and other extremist groups have held numerous rallies to raise the issue of alleged conversion activities of Christian missionaries in the area. Most recently, Hindu seers from a local group allegedly led by the Bajrang Dal, the Tirumala Tirupati Samrakshana Samiti (TTSS), held a rally and urged the state government to enact a law banning “conversion activities” in the temple town on April 3, reported regional daily The Deccan Chronicle.

The anti-Christian campaign picked up in April 2006, after the TTSS and other extremist groups led local Hindu seers to constitute a fact-finding committee headed by a retired judge of the state high court, Justice B. Bikshapathy, to investigate “anti-Hindu” activities in the Tirupati-Tirumala area.

The report, released in June, alleged that Christianity was being preached and “fraudulent” conversions were taking place in Tirupati and Tirumala. It also claimed that at least 40 Christian families were living on Tirumala and holding prayer meetings in their homes.

On June 25, 2006, police arrested four Catholic nuns acting on a complaint by a mob of 40 people, who objected to their visit in the Ruyya hospital in the temple town to distribute fruit and pray for the sick. The nuns had been visiting the hospital for the last 20 years.

Call to Prayer

“We need prayers for the church in Andhra Pradesh that it would stand firm amid the rising persecution,” the AICC’s Paul said.

According to the Census of India 2001, Andhra Pradesh’s population is over 76.2 million, out of which only 1.18 million are Christian.

Reddy, who was sworn in as the chief minister in May 2004 after a walking tour of rural villages for 64 days across the entire state, was named as the most popular chief minister in the country in a “Mood of the Nation 2006” poll conducted nationwide by national weekly India Today.

Reddy’s grandfather was the first in his Hindu family to accept Christ, through Father Rolls, a British missionary. Due to the conversion, the family was ostracized by the local community and they decided to move out of Balpanur village, near Pulivendla, Cuddapah district.

Persecution Led by RSS

Paul said that in most instances of attacks on Christians, groups linked to the Sangh Parivar (family of organizations having links with the RSS), such as the VHP, its youth wing Bajrang Dal and Akhil Bharatiya Vidhyarti Parishad (All India Students Council or ABVP), have been involved.

Paul added that these groups use the allegation of “forced” conversions against Christian workers as a pretext for the attacks.

On April 11, extremists allegedly belonging to the RSS, BJP and ABVP attacked a team of Christian workers in the Madanapally area of Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district. The team included five women and the pastor of a local Bhakta Singh Assembly church.

The assailants, who were waiting for the Christians in their vehicles, first beat the Christian men and then the women, and later burned the Christian literature.

On Easter Sunday (April 8), extremists of the BJP, ABVP, VHP and Bajrang Dal attacked a pastor in his house in Ananthapuram area in Anantpur district. The attackers barged into the house of independent pastor Isaac Medige and accused him and his wife, Evangeline, of “forced conversions” before beating the pastor.

On April 4, a mob of 300 extremists led by the VHP assaulted seven Christians after lodging a police complaint against them for “forced conversion,” which led to the arrest of the Christians.

Paul added that Hindu extremists have started another group, christened as the Dalita Govindam (equivalent to “Dalit Hallelujah”) to woo Dalits and restrict their conversion to other religions, mainly Christianity.

Paul said generally the police are doing their job in dealing with the cases of Christian persecution, “but in a few incidents, they have seemingly connived with the culprits.”

On April 14, the state police arrested five Christians for praying for the sick and distributing Christian literature in Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad. The arrest took place after some junior doctors objected to their visit and complained to the police.

The AICC alleged the arrest was illegal as the Christians practiced their fundamental right.

Four Murders

Andhra Pradesh has witnessed three brutal murders of Christian workers in the last three years. In 2000, a preacher was beheaded.

The body of a 29-year old pastor, Goda Israel, was found with stab wounds on February 20 in a canal near his house in Pedapallparru village in Krishna district. Goda had worked independently in the area since graduating from Emmanuel Bible Institute of Emmanuel Mission International, in Rajasthan state’s Kota district, in February 2003.

In May 2005, two pastors, K. Daniel and K. Isaac Raju, were killed near Hyderabad, the state capital. Unknown persons called both pastors by phone before they disappeared, asking if they would act as wedding celebrants.

Raju went to meet a caller in Anantpur district on May 24, 2005 and disappeared; an unidentified caller then phoned police on June 2, describing where to find Raju’s body.

Similarly, callers met Daniel in a motorized rickshaw on May 21 and took him to a cemetery in Karwan, where they severely beat him, strangled him, and then dumped his body on the city outskirts.

The New Indian Express newspaper on June 27, 2005 quoted a man identified only as Goverdhan who claimed he and two friends had murdered the two preachers. “I am not against Christianity, but Raju and Daniel converted hundreds of Hindu families,” Goverdhan said. “They enticed them with money. We have done this to prevent further conversions. This act should be a lesson for others.”

On September 11, 2000, two unidentified persons beheaded Pastor Yesu Dasu, 52, on the outskirts of Mustabad in Andhra Pradesh’s Karimnagar district. Dasu’s body was found in a pool of blood at a cattle shed near Kothakunta, along the Mustabad-Siddipet highway, three kilometers (nearly two miles) from Karimnagar.

Hindu extremists had earlier warned Dasu to cease preaching or face the consequences.

Seven years later, Dasu’s case remains unsolved.

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