India: Panel Denies Christian Persecution in State

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Madhya Pradesh commission claims reports of attacks on Christians are ‘baseless.’

NEW DELHI (Compass Direct News) -- The Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission claims that reports of Hindu extremists persecuting Christians in the state are “baseless,” angering the small Christian community.

The state commission’s claim contradicts a report by the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in June 2006. The NCM fact-finding team found that Hindu extremists had frequently invoked the state’s anti-conversion law as a means to incite mobs against Christians and have Christians arrested without evidence.

“The life of Christians has become miserable at the hands of miscreants in connivance with the police,” the NCM noted in its report. “There are allegations that when atrocities were committed on Christians, police remained mere spectators, and in certain cases they did not even register complaints.”

In contrast, Anwar Mohammed Khan, chairman of the state minorities commission, told Compass that there have been complaints about attacks against members of the Christian community, but that extremists have not targeted Christians.

“Under Section 9(2) of the National Commission for Minorities Act, we have the power to investigate any complaint concerning minorities, and we have done that,” Khan said. “But we don’t think any special mention should be made about attacks against Christians.”

Khan also told Indo-Asian News Service on January 31 that after visiting places where incidents were reported and talking to witnesses, “we found that the allegations made by the Christians were baseless.”

Asked if the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was responsible for any escalation of anti-Christian attacks in the state, Khan told Compass, “No incident has taken place recently. If you know of any incident in which the government has failed to do its duty, bring it to my notice.”

Christians Cry Foul

Indira Iyengar, president of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association and until recently a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, said the Hindu nationalist BJP government wanted to give the impression that everything was “calm and quiet” in the state.

“About two weeks ago, Maya Singh, a BJP member of Parliament, told a local Hindi newspaper that I was lying when I wrote to the commission and the federal government about the victimization of Christians in the state,” Iyengar told Compass.

During her three-year term, Iyengar wrote to the NCM and several other authorities about the high incidence of attacks on Christians in Madhya Pradesh, but none responded. Iyengar has since demanded that the state commission release its report – if indeed such a report exists – for public scrutiny.

‘Failed Mandate’

In June 2006, an article in the Frontline national newspaper criticized the state minorities commission for speaking “the same language as the Bajrang Dal [extremist youth wing of the World Hindu Council] and the state chief minister,” thereby failing its mandate to defend minorities.

Khan denied the NCM’s claims that the Christian community had come under “calamitous attack” in the state, Frontline added.

The newspaper also quoted Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who said the BJP government was greatly concerned about unethical conversions – presumably of Hindus to Christianity.

Attacks against Christians in the state have increased dramatically since the BJP was elected to state government in December 2003, according to local and national sources.

Most recently, Hindu extremists ransacked a shop owned by a Christian convert, Mukesh Badehi, on February 5 in Ujjain district.

On January 2, extremists of the Dharma Sena beat two Christians, Shyam Sunder and Ram Deen, in Sidhi district. The attack took place when nine Christians visited Tez Bali, a believer in Devera village. The extremists damaged a boundary wall and broke into Bali’s house before beating Sunder and Deen.

Also in January, the Hindu extremist group Dharam Sena opposed the marriage of Peter Abraham, a Christian, and Meera Gond, a tribal woman, claiming Abraham had offered Gond money to convert to Christianity. The couple was finally able to marry on January 11 after protests delayed the ceremony three times.

Christians account for only 0.3 percent of the population of Madhya Pradesh.

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