By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- Hindu militants have "forced" Christian families to "convert" to Hinduism and threatened to resume attacks against Christians in the eastern Indian state of Orissa, where up to nine people were killed in religious clashes last month, an advocacy group said Sunday, February 3.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which represents churches and missionary groups, told BosNewsLife that some 15 families in Orissa's tense Kandhamal District were "forcibly converted" in recent days "at gunpoint". Militants allegedly painted a Hindu sign "on the forehead of Christian tribal ladies" in Usurukupa village, while "feeding them goat blood mixed with raw rice" as part of the traditional "homecoming" Hindu ritual, the GCIC said.
About 35 other Christian families were expelled from Usurukupa village, after they refused to participate in the Hindu ritual, the group added. In addition, thousands of people reportedly attended rallies of the hard-line Hindu group Visva Hindu Parisad, or World Hindu Council, in the Kandhamal District, last week, shouting anti-Christian slogans and threatening to launch new attacks against Christians "till all of them convert to Hinduism."
Police did not intervene, GCIC investigators said. VHP and other Hindu activists have also demanded that Christians apologize for the death of Hindu Khageswar Mallick, which they claim sparked the outbreak of violence on Christmas eve. Christians deny any wrongdoing, saying Mallick fell down from a Church tower, while trying to damage the cross at an Orissa church.
Hindu groups have also boycotted peace talks, backed by government officials, to end the crisis, despite reports that hundreds of families in Orissa remain homeless following the recent violence. Advocacy group All India Christian Council (AICC) has expressed concern the stand-off could lead to revenge attacks by some Christians. Maoist groups, who have a strong presence in Orissa, are suspected of using the recent violence in the area to recruit "frustrated" Christians and "goad" them into retaliating, Christian leaders have said.
Sunday's tensions follow attacks against Christians elsewhere in India, including in Ghaziabad district of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where Reverend Yashwant Paul was reportedly arrested on January 21 on charges of fraud. The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) said Hindu activists have accused Paul and his wife Monica Paul of offering him 20,000 rupees [US$508] and a job to convert to Christianity.
In the state of Karnataka, Hindu militants of the Bajrang Dal group reportedly attacked on January 17 Baswamma Sangappa, 44, in the Mangalore Taluka area for converting to Christianity, after attending a prayer meeting in a village home.
The situation was not much better in the state of Chhattisgarh where a activists of the nationalist Hindu group Hindutva on January 13 allegedly dragged a new convert returning from a Christian friend’s house to a police station, saying he should be detained for evangelizing in Jashpur district, Christian news agency Compass Direct News, said.
Among two other incidents in the state of Chhattisgarh was an attack by Hindutva activists on a prayer meeting in Raipur district, where they beat five Christians on January 10. One of them, Dev Singh Manikpuri, fell "unconscious" after the beatings by the Hindutva mob, who threatened to "further harm" Christians if they continue future meetings, said GCIC President Sajan K. George published remarks.
Elsewhere in the state, Pastor Laxman Mankhi and five believers were arrested on January 9 after "Hindu nationalists" of the Hindu hard-line Dharma Sena group filed "false complaints" of “forcible conversion” against them, Compass Direct News said. The militants reportedly earlier interrupted a prayer and healing service at the house of a Hindu villager.
January also saw tensions in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Haryana. In Madhya Pradesh police on January 11 reportedly detained a pastor and five others on charges of luring a Hindu woman to convert to Christianity in Barwani district. Bhuri Bai filed a complaint against the pastor, identified only as Rawat, and the five believers for trying to convert her by offering monetary incentives, the Evangelical Fellowship of India said in a press statement. The six Christians deny the allegations. In Haryana some 100 supporters of the Hindu hard-line Bajrang Dal group apparently beat seven Christians and vandalized their house church on January 1 in Jind district.
Compass Direct News quoted the Christian Legal Association (CLA) as saying the militants "stormed" a New Year’s worship service of independent pastor Ashish John, which was attended by at least 20 Christians. Fearing for their lives, the Christians reportedly ran away as the attackers continued to damage church property. Police allegedly did not register the complaint, but it was difficult to get independent confirmation.
Rights groups have linked the violence to concern among Hindu groups over the spread of Christianity in India, a predominantly Hindu nation.
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