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AsiaNews (02/07/06) – Three US Protestant missionaries were expelled from Thrivananthapuram, the capital of the south-western Indian state of Kerala for violating visa regulations, but local Christian activists complain that visa rules are such that even Indians are penalised.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh or RSS (the armed wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP) and the Neyyattinkara Taluk Committee of the Hindu Aikya Vedi charged that Terrel Davis Heze, Van Meter Carl Micheal and Taylor David Lee, who came to India on business and tourist visas, were engaged in proselytising activities. They are accused of conducting revival meetings in locations near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, which were cut short by police.

“We deported three persons named Terrel Davis Heze, Van Meter Carl Micheal and Taylor David Lee because they violated visa conditions,” S. Suresh Kumar, Circle Inspector, said on February 3. The missionaries, however, stated they were returning to the United States voluntarily.

According to John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Council, “a change in government does not imply automatic changes in bureaucratic procedures, and visa rules are an example where a change in government has made absolutely no change in the situation.”

For the Catholic activist, the obsession with alleged Christian proselytism is causing problems for Indians as well.

“Last month, at the peak of the Christmas season, several of our friends who are married to Australian, American and European women, had the traumatic experience of seeing immigration officials refuse entry to their wives who held legitimate visas on the specious charge that they were missionaries,” Mr Dayal said. In fact, “most of the women are young mothers who wanted to be with their family.”

To make matter worse, the authorities apply double standards when it comes to visas and permits. Mr Dayal points out that some preachers from Europe or the US have been allowed to participate in Hindu festival or organise their own religious meetings.

“How is it that Christians who want to do the same are stopped?” the activist asks. “No one has been able to answer that.”

Since the mid-sixties, Indian authorities have refused entry to foreign missionaries who want to take up permanent residence. Those who do come can only get tourist visas and stay for short periods of time.

As a matter of practice, missionaries already in the country could get their residency permit renewed, but since March 1999 further restrictions have been put in place by the BJP, then in power.