India: Intolerant Hindus Attack Easter Services

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Assaults on two churches mar celebrations in Karnataka state.

NEW DELHI (Compass Direct News) -- Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists stormed two Easter Sunday services and beat at least 16 Christians, including two pastors, in the Karnataka state capital of Bangalore and in Shimoga district.

A mob of more than 150 intolerant Hindus on Sunday (March 23) launched an attack on a Pentecostal church in Karnataka’s Shimoga district at 9 a.m., and a group of more than a dozen assailants struck Christians of an independent church in Byapanahalli on the suburbs of Bangalore at 11:45 a.m., reported the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).

“About 150 Hindutva radicals armed with sticks stormed the Indian Pentecostal Church in Gundlikoppa village, around 20 kilometers from Shimoga district headquarters, while the believers were attending the Easter service,” Dr. Sajan K. George, GCIC’s national president, told Compass.

Accusing the church of “forced” conversions without any evidence for the charge, the attackers beat 35-year-old pastor Mandya Nagraj and five others, besides vandalizing church property, George added. The assailants damaged the roof and musical instruments.

Pastor Nagraj had received a threat a week earlier, added George.

Police arrested six of the attackers and provided protection to the pastor after GCIC’s intervention. The Pentecostal church, attended by around 60 Christians, has been functioning for six years with no evidence of attempting to convert people by force or fraud.

Girl Beaten

In the second attack, George said at least 12 extremists led by the Hindu priest of a local temple and his associate, identified only as Puttappa, attacked the Grace Almighty Full Gospel Church in Byapanahalli in Bangalore.

The assailants beat 30-year-old pastor P. Isaac and nine believers, including a 17-year-old girl identified only as Jency. The girl was rushed to a hospital for first-aid.

Following the attack, the assailants went to the homes of a few believers and warned them against attending the church. They also took Pastor Isaac to the police station and sought to register a complaint against him for “forced” conversions. Police interrogated the pastor and subsequently released him.

But police brokered a “compromise” between the attackers and the pastor requiring him to leave the area.

The independent church was established around seven years ago, and has more than 60 members.

Karnataka came under the President’s rule on November 20 last year, when the ruling coalition comprising the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) party and the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) broke up. Legislative elections are expected to be announced soon.

Christian persecution rose to new heights in the state after the BJP and JD-S came to power in February 2006.

There are a little more than 1 million Christians in Karnataka, which is home to over 52.8 million people.

Holiday Attacks

Attacks on Christian holidays are becoming increasingly common in India.

Hindutva extremists beat two pastors of Believers’ Church on Easter last year (April 8) in Salwa village in Madhya Pradesh state’s Mandla district. They arrived at the house of the pastors, Dinesh Toppo and Chandan Chhinchani, to launch the assault.

Similarly, on Christmas Eve of 2007, Hindutva extremists led a series of violent attacks on Christians and their property in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district. The attacks, lasting more than a week, killed six Christians and razed at least 730 houses and 95 churches, according to a fact-finding team of the All India Christian Council’s Orissa chapter.

Hundreds of displaced Christians remained in relief camps set up by the Orissa government at press time. (See Compass Direct News, “Two More Victims of Violence Succumb to Injuries in Orissa,” February 20.)

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