Veteran Missionary in India Ordered to Leave Kashmir

Friday, May 7, 2004

Residence visa cancelled for prominent educator and Bible translator.

by Joshua Newton

KOCHI, India, May 7 (Compass) -- As the campaign for elections to India’s parliament reached its heights, Indian officials ordered a Christian missionary to leave the country.

Jim Borst, 67, head of the U.K.-based Mill Hill Mission working in Kashmir since 1963, has been asked by the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Kashmir to leave on the pretext that his visa was not renewed. Borst is also the principal of Burn Hall School and St. Joseph’s school in the northern Indian state of Kashmir.

In an April 22 letter to Netherlands-born missionary Borst, the Foreigners’ Registration Office in Srinagar said that his application for a visa extension in India has not been recommended.

United News of India reported that the letter stated that it had come to the notice of the Foreigners’ Registration Office that Borst had left the country on December 30, 2003, and later entered Kashmir valley “illegally and unauthorized.”

“Thus you have violated the law of the land. Please note that for violation of the law you can be prosecuted. You are however, once again directed to leave India immediately on receipt of this letter, failing which, action under the Foreigners’ Act will be taken against you,” the letter read.

The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has issued strong protests against the “unwarranted harassment of Father Jim.” The Council’s national convener, Sajaan K. George, said that Rev. Borst is an educator of international repute who has been rendering “yeoman’s service” to the people of Kashmir valley.

“We know that in a place like Srinagar he did that by braving bullets from terrorists and severe opposition by other groups against his mission,” George said.

“His four decades of peace activism and literary campaigns continue to divert terrorists from their diabolic agendas to a more humane approach. Some elements in the valley are hell-bent upon tarnishing his image by spreading canards against him,” George said a statement issued by the GCIC.

Sources said Borst is very much attached to the educational welfare of people in remote areas. He founded Good Shepherd’s School in Srinagar to provide low-cost, quality education to children.

“Christian history of 130 years here is marked with service to the people in the field of education and hospitals,” Jim Borst told Christianity Today two years ago. “Teaching tolerance through our schools is part of our outreach.”

The GCIC has appealed to India’s president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the National Commission for Minorities, and Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to intervene in the case. Christian leaders are asking the government to extend Borst’s visa for another five years “in the interest of the people in remote areas of the state.”

Mill Hill Mission is an international fellowship of priests, lay members and associates founded in 1866 by Roman Catholic Cardinal Herbert Vaughan of Westminster, London, to serve the poor and destitute. Today, about 550 Mill Hill missionaries are active around the world. In India, they work with AIDS victims, lepers and the deaf, and are known to live closely with the people they serve.

Borst tackled the daunting task of translating the Scriptures into modern Kashmiri. At present, he has completed the New Testament and the Book of Psalms.

Sources in Kashmir said that in recent months, hundreds of young Muslims and lower caste Hindus disillusioned with conflict in the region are turning to Christian missionaries for answers. “That must be one of the real reasons of the provocation,” said a Christian leader in the Kashmir valley.

The region has known little peace since Britain partitioned the Indian subcontinent along religious lines in 1947. Two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since their independence have been over Kashmir.

Christian missions in Kashmir are facing threats from both Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists. A Gospel for Asia Bible school student named Neeraj B. was murdered last year. Many believe Muslim radicals are responsible for his death.