Pastor in Jabalpur, India Arrested for 'Forcible Conversion'

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hindu extremist mob plants ‘evidence’ – gospel tracts – as he makes prayer visit.
by Nirmala Carvalho

MUMBAI, India, August 16 (Compass Direct News) -- A group of 45 to 50 Dharma Raksha Sena Hindu extremists on Monday (August 14) mobbed Pastor Vinod Karsal, 50, as he was praying for the healing of another pastor in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh.

Pastor Shaun Kushwaha, 45, was scheduled for surgery and had asked Karsal to come to his house to pray for him. At 7:15 p.m. that evening, Karsal, a pastor at the Assembly of God Church in Jabalpur since 1984, went on his scooter to Kushwaha’s house.

As Karsal was praying over him, neighbors called extremists of the Dharma Raksha Sena (Defense Army) to notify them of Christian praying taking place at Kushwaha’s home. Soon a mob of 45 to 50 people gathered outside the house.

“Hearing the furor outside of loud anti-Christian rants, we hid the Bible,” Karsal said. “The mob entered the house, but, not finding any Christian materials, they turned their attention to my scooter, which was parked at the entrance of the building.”

The scooter’s glove compartment contained only a raincoat and a magazine, but in the commotion one of the extremists planted gospel tracts into it then held them up as “conversion evidence,” Karsal said.

Police soon arrived, as did Yogesh Agarwal, a prominent Dharma Raksha Sena figure, and took Karsal to Gora Bazar police station. Authorities held him there until 11:30 p.m.

“Inside the police station, Yogesh Agarwal abused me in the most foul language, heaping filthy insults upon me and my ministry,” Karsal said. “He accused me of enticing people to convert of Christianity and threatened me with dire consequences if I did not stop my preaching activities.”

Sources who spoke to Police Inspector R.K. Soni said he reported that officers recovered “conversion material” from the pastor, though he did not specify what kind.

Local sources stated that the Dharma Raksha Sena also produced two volunteers from the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremist youth group, who claimed that Karsal offered them money and a Bible in order to convert them.

Inspector Soni told Compass that officers were “only following the law” in recovering incriminating gospel tracts from Karsal’s scooter. He said that he held Karsal until the raging crowds outside the station baying for the pastor had dispersed.

Attorney Michael Kapur told Compass that Karsal had been charged under Section 3/4 of the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act of 1968, which prohibits “conversion by the use of force or inducement or by fraudulent means.”

‘Illegal Arrest’

Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, told Compass that it is illegal to detain a person on charges of “forcible conversion” simply for praying in someone’s house.

“This is nothing short of official high-handedness and misuse of power vested in them,” Joseph said, adding that it was preposterous for the extremists to call gospel tracts evidence of forcible conversion. “The police and administration seem to be abdicating their duty by playing into the hands of hoodlums operating in the name of religion.”

Dr. John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told Compass he was saddened by this anti-Christian violence on the eve of India’s Independence Day.

“The escalation of incidents against Christians in Madhya Pradesh is quickly reaching the threshold of patience,” he said. “Law made to bend to political pressure is another blot on the system; I hope the central government will act soon to ensure rule of law, as every citizen is deserving of the protection of the law.”

Indira Iyengar, treasurer of the state Minorities Council and former member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, told Compass that the attack on Karnal is an indication of the mind-set of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

“It looks like the BJP will not stop this victimization of the Christian people,” Iyengar said. “After the report of the National Minorities Commission, there was some relief for few days and the fundamentalists were quiet. But again it has started.”

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News