Six missionaries beaten during gospel campaign in India

Thursday, May 11, 2000

INDIA, 11 May 2000 (Newsroom) – Six Christian missionaries participating in a gospel campaign called "Love Ahmedabad" were beaten so savagely in the state of Gujarat last week that one of the men may lose his arms and legs.

Members of the Hyderabad-based Operation Mobilization (OM) were distributing Bibles and religious tracts in Ahmedabad, about five miles from Gandhinagar, the capital of Gujarat, the afternoon of May 5 when they were attacked by members of the Hindu extremist groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Operation Mobilization ships tons of Christian literature around the country. The assailants also burned copies of the Bible and tracts.

Biren Ghosh, a Christian from Ahmedabad, underwent emergency surgery at a local hospital, where doctors said that he might lose his limbs. Others injured in the attack were treated and sent home.

Ahmedabad rural district police have arrested two men in connection with the attack, Aloke Pariyal and Anil Patel, whom authorities said identified themselves as members of Bajrang Dal. Police said they are searching for Alpesh Patel, whom they said masterminded the attack. However, some senior police officers said the identity of the culprits has not been ascertained yet. Police, under pressure because Gujarat has been in the spotlight frequently because of numerous attacks against religious minorities, said they will arrest the other attackers soon.

Christian leaders are skeptical, contending that no VHP or Bajrang Dal leader has been arrested since attacks on the Christians and their institutions began four years ago. Dara Singh, arrested in January for the January 1999 slayings of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young son, is believed to be a member of the Bajrang Dal, although the organization’s leaders have denied it.

No arrests have been made in connection with a series of attacks against Christians during Christmas week in 1998 and early 1999 in the Dangs area in south Gujarat. Those incidents attracted so much international attention that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited the region. Vajpayee heads the coalition government led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Members of the opposition Congress Party complained that the state BJP government has not done much to protect Christians and demanded that police arrest everyone identified as a suspect in the May 5 attack.

Human rights groups have noted that more incidents of violence against India's Christian community were recorded during the past two years than in all the years since independence. Attacks occurred primarily in the tribal regions of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Orissa, as well as the state of Maharashtra. Hindu rights leaders characterized the surge in violence as a reaction to a conversion campaign by Christian missionaries in the country.

More recent attacks, which Christians also blamed on the Bajrang Dal but which authorities said were crimes committed at random, prompted opposition leaders in India’s Parliament to call for a ban on the organization.

The VHP and other Hindu nationalist groups are demanding that the constitution, which provides for freedom of religion, be amended to ban conversions. Militant Hindu groups claim that Christian missionaries are converting Hindus by coercion and inducements. Major Christian organizations dismiss those allegations.

BJP insiders say that by whipping up violence against religious minorities and taking up the issue of conversion of tribals and lower castes in rural areas the Hindu groups are telling the prime minister to take them seriously.

Friday’s attack was not the first against Christians in Ahmedabad. In March the local United Christian Association (UCA) sent a memorandum to Gujarat state Governor Shanker Sinh Bhandari seeking protection after a group of Bajrang Dal activists barged into a prayer meeting in the Odhav area, a part of the city occupied by low-paid laborers. UCA leader Samson Christian said that Bajrang Dal activists disrupted their meeting, slapped some of the worshipers and ripped up copies of the Bible. Meeting organizers were accused of inducing poor people to convert to Christianity by offering allurements, he said. The UCA did not complain to the police for fear of retribution, Christian said.

Gujarat Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel and Home Affairs Minister Haren Pandya are members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), parent organization of the BJP. Hindu nationalist groups flourish in Gujarat, especially in the tribal belts where missionaries serve the poor and needy.

Catholic leaders in particular contend that there is a carefully planned campaign against Christians in the state. They cite these examples: Christian tribal women are not allowed to fill water from the village wells; groups of youth and other men terrorize villagers, telling Christians that they must reconvert to Hinduism; tribal Christians are forced to reconvert; and tribal Christians are not allowed to board public buses. Inflammatory pamphlets, speeches, and slogans that are anti-Christian abound. One Christian priest in Ahmedabad was denied permission to use a phone booth unless he removed a cross that was on his cassock.

"The idea is to terrorize the Christians as much as possible and raise the bogey of forcible conversions to legitimize these terror tactics," said one missionary who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal. "They may burn Bibles or burn us, but the mission to tell the story of Jesus will continue forever."

Copyright © 2000 Newsroom.
Used with permission.