India Pastors Released Amid Hindu Crackdown On "Forced Conversions"

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- Two Indian evangelical pastors were free on bail Tuesday, November 27, after being detained over the weekend for allegedly "forcing" Hindus to accept Christianity, amid reports that India's most influential Hindu organization has stepped up efforts to crackdown on devoted Christians.

Advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said the pastors, who it only identified as John, 22, and Jomon, 25, of the Pentecostal ‘Christ Vision Church’ in the state of Karnataka, were arrested just hours after suspected Hindu militants interrupted a Sunday worship service and destroyed Bibles.

"The radical elements forcefully entered the house- church and started abusing the pastors and believers," in Balupette village of Karnataka's Hassa District, the group said. "[They] threatened the believers and chased them away. The radicals then burned the Bibles in the church premises," added GCIC, which represents evangelical churches and mission groups.

The militants allegedly also attacked a believer while the pastors were "tied to a pole and beaten by the radicals" for several hours before police arrived at the scene, GCIC added. Instead of arresting the militants, police filed charges of "forced conversion" against the pastors, GCIC said. Under pressure of GCIC investigators the church leaders were eventually allowed to receive medical attention and released on bail after appearing before a local court the next day, Monday, November 26, the group added.


The reported attack came shortly after other incidents against Christians including apparently against 75-year-old Pastor Gallaiah, in Nagaram village of Andhra Pradesh earlier this month. The "bleeding" pastor was detained at a local police station after Hindu militants attacked him on November 12, GCIC said. His situation remained unclear Tuesday, November 27, after GCIC urged local authorities to release him on bail after he was accused of "raping children."

GCIC investigators say the pastor "regularly distributes fruits and sweets in village and invites children at his house and prays for them, telling them Bible stories." He and his wife Esther, who worship at the local evangelical Christu Sanga Pradhana Mandhirum congregation became Christians 25 years ago, embracing "Jesus as [personal Lord and] Savior," GCIC explained.

Other elderly pastors were also attacked this month, rights investigators said, including 60-year old Pastor Siddarama Gokhavi, who was reportedly beaten along with six other Christians were beaten by activists of Bajrang Dal, a radical Hindu group, while worshipping in the area of Ananda Nagara in Karnataka state. "The attackers vandalized the building, burned Bibles and chanted slogans against Christians. The militants included a senior police officer," said Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC), a major human rights group. “Pastor Gokhavi and his wife, Rekha, were injured in the attack, along with five others. The attackers accused the Christians of coercing Hindus into becoming Christians."

Besides attacking individual Christians, church building have also been destroyed, including in India’s Chhattisgarh State, where Hindu militants attacked a church November 19 in the Manduwa area, VOMC said. They also "tied up and beat the pastor into unconsciousness and burned down a recently constructed church building," where people were allegedly "forced" to accept Christianity. Local believers have strongly denied the charges. "According to reports, missionaries in this remote area face regular threats from Hindu militants," VOMC said.


Earlier this month in Maharashtra Hindu militants armed with wooden clubs reportedly barged into the worship service of the Mumbai Diocesan Missionary Movement in Kuttal village, beating several members who later required hospital

When Pastor Suresh Suttar went to the police station to file a complaint against the extremists, officers reportedly detained him on charges of "fraudulent conversion", but later released him the next day on November 5, said Abraham Mathai, vice chairperson of the Maharashtra State Minorities Commission in published remarks.

The latest attacks come amid concerns among rights groups that India's main Hindu nationalist organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and related groups have increased pressure on Christians. The RSS demands "complete conformity to the Hindu way of life," said the influential US-based International Christian Concern (ICC) group with Website

As an example, the ICC said, it "has learned that Hindu extremists instigated a group of young men to attack a Christian family for not celebrating a Hindu festival in Chhattisgarh state recently. This incident reveals that not only are Hindu extremists trying to assert the dominance of their religion, but that Christians in India are also facing pressure to adopt Hindu culture, which Hindu nationalist groups claim is the Indian culture."


In some cases, Christians have been expelled from local communities however. In a rare instance of conflict between two religious communities in India , Muslims in a village in West Bengal state reportedly ostracized a couple for converting to Christianity from Islam.

Muslims in Badarpur village of Behrampur district on October 28 beat Johad Sahid and his wife Taslima and later the local village committee ordered all the villagers, mainly Muslim, to deny the couple access to common facilities, such as water taps and toilets, Christian news agency Compass Direct News said.

Such incidents are uncommon, religious leaders said, as relations are generally amicable between the two minority communities, both of which are targeted by Hindu extremists. "In the post-independence India, Muslims and Christians have been in minorities and both face problems at the hands of the majority ‘communalists’ [Hindu nationalists]," said Asghar Ali Engineer, a Muslim scholar from the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.

Christians comprise just over two percent of India's over 1.1 billion people, most of whom are Hindus. (With BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and reporting from India).

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