By Santosh Digal, Worthy News Southeast Asia Correspondent reporting from India
NEW DELHI, INDIA (Worthy News)-- Suspected Buddhist militants attacked Christian aid workers in a flood stricken area in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Christians said Saturday, September 11, and there was also anti-Christian violence reported elsewhere the country.
The attackers, identified as members of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), abducted the visually impaired Ram Kumar Thapa, Stanzin Chosphel and his pregnant wife Putali Sherpa because of their Christian faith and beat the men, the victims said.
The LBA had no comment about the alleged September 1 incident in Leh, a predominantly Buddhist town in Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region, where flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of houses and killed around 200 people since August 6.
"I pleaded to them to forgive me for whatever wrong I might have done and to spare my life," Thapa recalled. "But they continued to beat me up and placed a gunny sack back with a rope on my lap and explained that this would be my last bed before they would throw me into the Indus river to see if a blind man could swim and save himself."
He said the suspects took away his mobile phone and brought him to fellow aid worker Stanzin Chospel, who was "also being beaten up." Chospel, a Christian, and his pregnant wife were abducted on the same night by "about 15 miscreants and were taken to LBA office in Leh," he explained.
The attackers allegedly started beating the Christian with rubber pipes and rods in the presence of his wife.
"My wife pleaded to them to stop but they did not pay any heed to her plea," Chospel added. "In between they brought in another Christian, Solomon Rai, to show me what they had done to him. He was bleeding in the eyes and swollen in the face."
The militants reportedly demanded that the Christians renounce their faith in Christ and "return to Buddhism." They allegedly threatened Chospel that if he failed to comply with their demands, they would kill him and his wife.
The Christians were eventually released. Although they reported the attack to police, no arrests have yet been made, Christians said.
News of the violence came amid concerns Saturday, September 11, about the whereabouts of Pastor Dilip Chakravarty and fellow Christians Ganga Ram and Shankar Lal of the Church of God in the central state of Chhattisgarh, after militants reportedly accused them of of "luring people to convert to Christianity" by offering them money and "false hope".
The three were detained August 29 on charges of "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion" and were sent to Dhamtari district jail the same day, church members said.
The arrests came shortly after some 20 Hindu militants reportedly raided a worship service of the church, attacking everyone inside, for allegedly "forceful conversion" of Hindus, charges local Christians have strongly denied. "They also tried to reconvert Ram and Lal back to Hinduism," added Reverend Akhilesh Edgar, a local Christian leader. "Ram and Lal sustained fractures on their hands and legs from the attacks," which also included "snatching Bibles" and stealing the pastor's mobile phone, he said.
There were similar incidents reported in India's state of Karnataka where since last month Christian villagers face persecution for refusing to participate in Hindu rituals, a local church said. Reverend Philip Rock of St. Sebastian Church was reportedly charged by local authorities with "causing disharmony" for encouraging Christians not to follow Hindu rituals in the village of Haliya.
Tensions emerged August 24 when local Hindu leaders urged villagers to pray to a Hindu god and told them not to work on two Tuesdays and three Fridays to stop the spread of cholera in the village.
Because Christians continued their daily activities anyway, Hindu extremists organized a boycott of Christians' businesses and grocery shops, while Christian students have been refused entry into Christian schools and locals refused to repair Christians’ farm equipment, Christians said. A police investigation is underway, officials said.
However rights groups have complained that local authorities are often unwilling, or unable, to investigate attacks against minority Christians in this overwhelmingly Hindu nation, including in Orissa state where over 100 people have died in religious clashes in recent years.
In one of the latest incidents in Orissa, still tense from 2008 anti-Christian violence, four suspected militants reportedly beat a Catholic father of seven until he fell unconscious on August 20. Subhash Nayak, 47, said he was attacked by four unidentified men who assaulted him as he made his way home to Laburi village from the hamlet of Kapingia in Kandhamal district.
Nayak told Christian media that he survived only because the assailants believed he had died. Local Christians say Hindu militants have threatened to each year attack Christians in August, to revenge the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati.
Although Maoist rebels reportedly claimed responsibility for the August 23 murder, local Hindus blame minority Christians for the killing. India has been under international pressure, including from the European Union and United States officials, to improve religious rights of non-Hindus. (With editing by Worthy News' Stefan J. Bos).