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Compass (03/09/06) – Christians in the northwestern state of Rajasthan have pledged to begin public protests on March 18 if the government refuses to take action following a recent wave of violence against the Christian community.

Hindu extremists have attacked churches and individuals throughout the state in recent months. In most cases police have failed to take action; observers said civil indifference would only encourage further attacks.

An already tense situation exploded this week after Hindu extremists discovered a book on comparative religion for sale on the campus of Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), based in Kota , Rajasthan. Titled The Truth (Haqeeqat in Hindi), the book allegedly made negative comments about Hinduism.

In response to complaints about the book, police arrested three EMI staff members and issued “cease and desist” orders for several of EMI’s social institutions, including schools, a hospital and an orphanage. (See Compass Direct, “Police Harass Christian Leader’s Family in Rajasthan, India ,” March 8.)

Following calls for their arrest, EMI founder M.A. Thomas and his son, Samuel Thomas, have gone into hiding and applied for anticipatory bail.

Leaders from several Christian denominations met in the state capital, Jaipur, on March 2 to discuss the situation – a day after Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje announced that her government would not allow anyone to “create a divide in the state, be it between the Christians and Hindus or Muslims and Hindus.”

Raje’s government has banned the controversial book and reportedly sent police to Kerala, 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles) south, to arrest the author, M.G. Mathew, UCA News (UCAN) reported on Tuesday.

At the meeting in Jaipur, where some 300 people attended, Bishop Colin C. Theodore of the Church of North India told UCAN that he could see a design in the attacks. “The local administration and the police have failed to protect the life and property of Christians,” he added.

Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the All India Christian Council (AICC), told UCAN that Hindu extremists were using the book as an excuse to attack Christians. If no action is taken, he said, “there would soon be a Graham Staines in Kota .”

Hindu extremists burned Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons to death in Orissa in January 1999 as a wave of religiously-motivated violence swept through India .

Pastors Injured in Maharashtra

In an incident in Maharashtra state, meanwhile, members of the Hindu extremist group Bajrang Dal on February 26 attacked three Christian pastors associated with the charity Social and Evangelical Association for Love (SEAL), in Nere village, approximately 60 kilometers (37 miles) from Mumbai.

“A mob of about 50 people mercilessly beat them up with crow bars,” Mathai of the AICC told Compass.

The Rev. K.M. Philip, the Rev. Biju Samuel and the Rev. Reggie Thomas were admitted to hospital after the attack. Doctors performed tests on all three men to rule out internal injuries.

Mathai emphatically said the violence will not stop unless police take action.

“Only by booking and arresting these attackers under the law, for example Section 153a for causing communal hatred, can we discourage them from pursuing their hate campaign against Christians,” Mathai said. “If they continue to be released on bail, almost immediately they will carry on with these acts of terror.”

Samkutty Mammen said his brother, Rev. Philip, was in excruciating pain after the attack and was unable to speak coherently.

The Rev. Roy Varghese, from the Church of North India under whose jurisdiction the SEAL ashram is located, said he had often visited the SEAL ashram. He said the villagers were very superstitious, and that Hindu extremists could easily influence them to attack Christian workers.

“I am very worried about the pastors … in the past they have been abused and threatened, but this assault was a serious attempt on their lives,” Varghese added.

The villagers were the prime beneficiaries of the SEAL center, Varghese said, and yet “they colluded with the fundamentalists to attack the very people who want to serve them.”

The pastors have lodged a formal complaint. At press time, however, no arrests had been made.