Resurrection of Secret Database Raises Fears of Renewed Conflict
by Vishal Arora
DELHI, May 30 (Compass) -- The government of India’s Gujarat state has again started gathering community-based information in villages of the Patan district in northern Gujarat, heightening suspicions among local Christians that census information will be misused by fundamentalist Hindu organizations to stir up trouble in an area that suffered 443 major clashes between religious groups between 1970 and 2002.
According to media reports, a team led by Patan Taluk Police Inspector A.H. Jardosh arrived after midnight on May 24 at a Catholic retreat center in Dungripur village. They awakened 69-year-old Father Munnu, the manager, to ask him questions, but Munnu refused to cooperate without a written warrant.
The next morning, the police team visited the area again, this time in civilian dress, and conducted a survey of the retreat center and a branch of the Daughters of the Cross Education and Medical Society. Officers asked about the background of some students living in the center, the kind of food and facilities provided and whether any of the residents are converts from Hinduism.
The team also visited the homes of some 10 Christian families, asking them about their sources of income, why they kept pictures of Jesus Christ and when they had embraced Christianity. A similar survey was carried out later in the neighboring Tankvasna, Odhava and Khalipur villages.
On May 26, police summoned the superintendent and the watchman of the Catholic retreat center to the Patan Taluk police station to cross-check the information Father Munnu and Sister Jyoti of the Daughters of the Cross had given them.
On being questioned by reporters, State Director-General of Police K. Chakravarthy denied that police commanders had issued any survey instructions. However, government officials later acknowledged that senior police officers had visited the area to “ascertain reports about conversion of 18 people to Christianity.”
“The police was not interested in gathering genuine information, which we were furnishing them with,” said Father Gonsalves, head of the Catholic retreat center. “Rather, the officials plied domestic servants with peculiar questions about the functioning of Christian institutions in the region. Two of them were even asked if they have been converted to Christianity and if the institution forces villagers to convert.”
A similar survey of Christians in Gujarat was carried out by the state government in March, and Christians saw it as a build-up to the anti-conversion bill later introduced in the state assembly. (See “Christians Outraged by Surveys in India’s Gujarat State,” Compass Direct, April 11, 2003). The controversial bill passed on March 26, stirring controversy across India.
Community surveys were first initiated in 1999 in the wake of the violence against Christians in the Dangs district of Gujarat. Officials maintained that they were gathering information in order to ensure the security of the Christian community.
However, the questions asked suggest a different story. Intimidating inquiries probe whether Christians receive foreign grant money, how much they received and from which countries. Christians are asked whether they have been involved in any legal problems and the type of license they have for keeping weapons.
The All India Christian Council filed a petition challenging the recent census. As a result, the Gujarat High Court on May 29 issued a desist notice to the state government, the director general of police, the Patan district superintendent of police and the police inspector of Patan Taluk police station.
This is the fourth attempt by the Gujarat government to gather information that is not even available to census officials or tax auditors from the Foreign Contribution Regulation Department of the Home Ministry. Despite three High Court orders and continual written complaints from Christians, the state government has continued the surveys in the name of carrying out an “investigation based on some reports of conversion.”