Missionaries Arrested in Northeast India

Friday, August 15, 2003

School Accused of Conversion in Bangalore
by Abhijeet Prabhu

Bangalore, India (Compass - Aug 15, 2003) -- Police arrested a missionary and four church leaders after Christian groups in the state of Nagaland were accused of forcing people of other faiths to convert to Christianity.

The missionaries were arrested last month in the neighboring state of Arunachal Pradesh and incarcerated at Changland district jail on the pretext of participating in insurgent movements.

Arunachal Pradesh was one of the first states in India to frame an anti-conversion law.

The Chakhesang Baptist Church Council, one of the tribal councils of the Baptist Church in Nagaland, clarified that the Naga missionaries were appointed in 2001 by the Chakhesang Mission Society to work among the people of the Tutsa Naga tribe in Changland and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh. The statement also said that Rev. Ara Shijoh was totally dedicated to church ministry, and allegations of his involvement with terrorist groups were baseless.

The Council named the other four arrested: Mr. Ngongseng, president of the Tutsa Baptist Churches Council (TBCC); Mr. Raplom Kanglom, executive member of the TBCC; Rev. Panrap Wangno, pastor of Laiwang Baptist Church; and Rev. Wanpong Sawin, pastor of Town Baptist Church, Khonsa.

A vilification campaign against the people of Nagaland accusing them of being anti-patriotic and indulging in terrorism has influenced government policy against the state for a number of years. Ironically, 98 percent of Nagas are Christian, most of them Baptists. Hindu fundamentalists have accused them of receiving support from fundamental Baptists in the United States.

The Naga International Support Center (NISC), a human rights organization based in Amsterdam, has strongly condemned the arrests of the missionaries and described it “as an attack on Naga Christianity.” The NISC also dismissed the allegations of forced conversion as part of the defamation campaign against Naga Christians.

Meanwhile, Buddhists living along the Assam-Arunachal border are accusing the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) of forcing locals to convert to Christianity.

Over 20,000 Burmese tribal peoples have sought asylum in India, among them the Singphos, Tangsas, Khamtis, Taiphakes and Taikhamians who practice Buddhism and reside along the Assam-Arunachal border. Local leaders allege that the NSCN is on a drive to convert the tribals to Christianity.

“These areas are dominated by the NSCN, who demand money, food and now say all people here must become Christians,” claims Moulang Bhante, Buddhist chief priest of the Myanmarese tribes. “For the safety of our religion, Buddhism, we have to take some safeguards.”

“So far, I know they are visiting some places in Assam,” Wannasara Bhikku, another Buddhist high priest, said. “We came to know they visited Kamba next to Lekhapani camp. They are visiting again and again in Arunachal Pradesh. They force Buddhists to convert to Christianity.”

Local leaders also accuse the NSCN of burning down an animist Rangphra temple in Arunachal Pradesh last month.

In another incident, authorities of the St. Francis Xavier Primary School in Bangalore were accused of attempting to convert a 12-year-old Hindu girl to Christianity in early August.

According to allegations, authorities took the girl, a top student in her class, to the Ave Maria hospital on the pretext of conducting a medical check-up.

Once there, she was given an injection, after which she collapsed. The girl was then allegedly hypnotized to say that she wished to join a nunnery and that she hated her parents and her religion.

The girl’s father, K.N. Murthy, said that the school authorities lured his daughter to convert by telling her they would make her a doctor.

School authorities have denied the allegations.

Hindu fundamentalists groups have led protest demonstrations demanding that the government suspend the school’s license.

Observers say that the incidents prove that Hindu fundamentalists are becoming more brazen in their attacks against minority religions, vilifying Christians even in areas like Nagaland and Bangalore, where they constitute a sizeable proportion of the population.