By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News Chief International Correspondent
BANGALORE, INDIA (Worthy News) -- Christians in India's southern state of Karnataka remained concerned Sunday, August 16, about the whereabouts of eight pastors who were detained this week after Hindu militants broke up a major Christian training meeting, injuring and "humiliating" several believers, including women, church representatives said.
The troubles began late Tuesday, August 11, when dozens of members of the hard-line Hindu groups Sri Ram Sena ('Lord Ram’s Army') and the youth wing of Visva Hindu Parisad ('World Hindu Council') stormed a conference facility in the state's Dharwad district, said Bangalore-based Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), an advocacy group representing churches and other Christian groups.
GCIC said the militants violently woke up some 50 male pastors and 24 young women who had gathered for the August 11-14 'Teacher’s Training Program,' which was organized in the town of Annigere by the Seva Bharath Mission India.
At least four pastors were reportedly seriously injured after being beaten, while others received minor injuries. "Even the young women...beween 17-23 years...were not spared," GCIC said. "They were humiliated with verbal abuses and man-handled by the attackers. All their Bibles and mobile phones were confiscated."
Pastor Joseph Christopher, who managed to escape, apparently rushed to the Annigere police station to seek help. In published remarks he described the police as “indifferent.” Two policemen arrived at the center, but allegedly only watched as militants burned confiscated Bibles.
Female and male participants were locked up for several hours in the facility where they were not allowed to use bathrooms, according to Christians rights investigators. Most participant were eventually released but eight pastors remain detained after Hindus accused them of "forcible conversion" and "denigrating Hindu gods", police said.
The detained pastors were identified as Vasant Kumar Hanoka, Simon Rathnappa, Basavaraj Rudappa, Madhan Kumar Yamanappa, Prakash Arjun Kagwadar, Jayraj Shiromani, Vijay Mayekar and Kumaraswamy Govindappa.
They were reportedly charged with unlawful assembly, rioting, criminal conspiracy and “acts intended to outrage religious feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs.” They were sent to "judicial custody" until August 25, GCIC said.
The attack came as a set-back for Seva Bharath Mission India, known for its humanitarian activities, including improving adult literacy and children’s education programs in northern Karnataka. "They have been involved in evening tuition classes for street children and have provided books and pencils to many children," GCIC added.
The teacher’s training program was being organized to equip men and women from 11 districts in North Karnataka to teach and be a part of the humanitarian mission, the group said.
This latest anti-Christian violence same as the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) placed India this week on its “Watch List” for 2009, saying the Indian government had failed to take effective measures to ensure the rights of religious minorities in several states.
The commission already designated India as a “country of particular concern” in 2002 and 2003 following a reported sharp rise in communal violence against religious minorities.
After a Hindu religious leader was murdered in 2008, a violent campaign began in India's state of Orissa, resulting in at least 40 deaths and more than 60,000 Christians fleeing their homes.
“The inadequate police response failed to quell the violence, and early central government intervention had little impact,” the USCIRF said in its report. “Mass arrests following the Orissa violence did not translate into the actual filing of cases. Also, efforts continue to lag to prosecute the perpetrators of the 2002 Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat, in which over 2,000 were killed, the majority of whom were Muslim.”
The release of the report comes amid a debate on controversial anti-conversion legislation in Karnataka, which church groups fear will make it more difficult for evangelical Christians to openly express their faith in Christ.
Other states such as Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat have already introduced such legislation while in two other states, Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, similar laws are expected to be implemented soon.
Christians comprise just over two percent of the country's nearly 1.2 billion people, who are mainly Hindus.
However Hindu groups have expressed concerns over Christian mission activities and the spread of Christianity, including among Dalits, who are viewed as the 'lowest class' in India's ancient system of Hinduism.