India Police Detains Hopegivers Leader Samuel Thomas, Militants Threaten Orphans

Friday, March 17, 2006

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent, BosNewsLife

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- The president of Hopegivers International (HI), one of the largest Evangelical mission groups active in India, was detained Thursday, March 16, by security forces after being on the run to avoid arrest for his alleged involvement in inciting hatred.

"President Samuel Thomas, who is also humanitarian leader of the Hopegivers International children's charity, was arrested in New Delhi today by a dozen men claiming to be police officers from the provincial capital of Kota of the state of Rajasthan," HI said in a statement to BosNewsLife.

The arrest was made at about 12 noon local time outside the office of the Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court where Thomas was meeting with his attorney to discuss anticipatory bail before surrendering himself to authorities, officials said.

Other reports from Kota said that police delivered the leader to a Kota jail later in the day. Several Indian staff members of the organization have also been imprisoned, Thomas told BosNewsLife recently.

In published remarks, Sajan George of the advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians based in Bangalore urged the National Human Rights Commission in New Delhi to take "appropriate action" to ensure the safety and well being of Thomas whose life he said had been threatened by Hindutva extremists.


Samuel Thomas said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife that he and his 71-year old father were in hiding to avoid assassinations and arrest for trumped up charges. He is the son of the president of HI's affiliate Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), Archbishop M.A. Thomas, who is still in hiding.

Both men are wanted by militants and government officials supporting them for their alleged involvement in a perceived anti-Hindu publication. Father and son have denied the accusations saying HI had not published that book. News of the detention came as "local anti-Christian hate groups" continued the 25th day of the siege against 2,500 orphans and abandoned children protected at the Emmanuel Hope Home in Kota, Rajasthan.

"Although the orphanage in Kota has a well for drinking water, sanitation would become a problem if the terrorists make good on their threats. Meanwhile, there are {still} adequate food and water supplies," HI reported.


The orphanage is supported by Hopegivers International based in Columbus in the US state of Georgia, as well as from donations from Indian churches and the public. Eight American volunteers are among those trapped inside, the group said.

Emmanuel Ministries has been based in Kota since 1960 and operated orphans and other social services, since 1973, especially to Dalits, the so-called untouchable caste of in the ancient system of Hinduism.

The siege by Hindu militants of the Emmanuel Hope Home is part of the most "severe persecution" in the 46-year history of HI, said Thomas shortly before his arrest. "Encouraged" by Rajasthan's Minister of Social Welfare Madan Dilawar, representatives from Hindu hard-line organizations Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal last month "extended their month-long campaign of terror" against Emmanuel and Hopegivers, who help care for more than 10,000 orphaned or abandoned children throughout India, he added. The governing Bharatiya Janata Party embraces "Hindutva", which teaches that all Indians should be converted to Hinduism.

The government recently withdrew procedures against Hindu militants, including members of the influential Hindu nationalist organization Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council group involved in the massive distribution of tridents. The tridents, three-sponged spears, have reportedly been used to intimidate the Christian minority.


"Some militants would rather see 100 million children living on the streets of India than to see us care for 10,000 in the name of the Lord Jesus," said Thomas in a letter to BosNewsLife smuggled out of India. HI Executive Director Michael Glenn, stressed he had urged supporters to pray and work for Dr. Thomas' safety.

Hindu militants with apparent support from the government have threatened however to take over all HI’s church buildings and orphans that serve thousands of abandoned children. Most of them are 'Dalits', or "untouchables" the lowest 300-million strong group in the ancient caste system of India.

On February 20, the police revoked without due process or hearing, all the operating licenses of Hopegivers-supported bookstores, churches, the hospital and leprosy or HIV-AIDS outreaches, orphanages, printing presses, schools and other institutions. "Threats were also made to cut off electricity and water to the facilities," HI said. Last month one HI orphanage was already attacked by militants who were seen beating pastors and stoning children. Samuel Thomas said.

In addition all bank accounts were frozen and the business administrators of the mission and orphanage were arrested and held without bail when police investigations began February 20, officials said. "As a result, the hospital, orphanages and schools here and throughout the state are operating on a cash basis and are relying efforts to collect emergency funds from India and overseas," said HI.


Lawyers for Dr. Thomas and Founder Bishop M. A. Thomas are appealing to the High Court in Rajasthan's capital of Jaipur to set bond for the staff being held without charge in Kota jails. Bishop Thomas began a church in Kota in 1960.

"The Thomas' need to remain free so that they can lead a defense of the social welfare work in Rajasthan which includes 65 schools and 13 orphanages," said HI spokesman Bill Bray in a recent news interview. "There is real physical danger if the Thomas' remain in Kota at this time," he added.

Rajasthan newspapers have repeatedly quoted terrorist leaders offering a reward of $26,000 to paramilitary groups who will capture and behead either of the Christian leaders. "Saffron gangs" invaded the homes of family and friends of the Thomas’ this week, searching for the two Christian leaders, HI claimed.

HI said it has set up a Legal Defense Fund in an effort to cope with what it called "the illegal actions of the local government and the onslaught of civil and human rights violations that are occurring in the state of Rajasthan." Human rights groups said the HI situation underscores growing concern over the treatment of minority Christians in India. (. (On the Web: With BosNewsLife reports, BosNewsLife Research, BosNewsLife News Center and more reports from India).

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