BosNewsLife (03/20/06) Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has set up a commission to investigate reports of a crackdown on Christians in the state of Rajasthan, including the jailing of the leader of one of India ‘s largest evangelical mission organizations, officials said Monday, March 20.
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations in the USA (FIOCONA) said Singh’s decision came after it launched a massive worldwide “letter writing campaign” against religious persecution in the Hindu-run state.
“Because of the campaign the Prime Minister of India has today appointed a four-member commission to investigate the persecution in Kota where our president and top administrative staff have been falsely accused and jailed,” explained FIOCONA Executive Director Michael Glenn.
HI asked Christians in the United States to write to their Senators and Congressmen as well as to the White House, the State Department, the United Nations, and the Indian ambassadors to
the US and the UN.
FIOCONA said it was particularly concerned about the imprisonment of Samuel Thomas, the president of its affiliate Hopegivers International (HI), which supports bookstores, churches, a hospital, leprosy or HIV-AIDS outreaches, orphanages, printing presses, schools and other institutions.
In his arraignment hearing last Friday, March 17, police accused Thomas of breaking Sections 153(a) and 295(a) of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with “deliberately outraging religious feelings or insulting the religious beliefs of another community,” FIOCONA said.
The charges stem from a perceived anti-Hindu book called ‘Haqueeat’ by attorney M.G. Matthew that was apparently sold in at least one HI bookstore. Thomas, who is also bishop in the Emmanuel Fellowship churches of India , has denied his organization published the book.
“Nothing that my husband has done was intended to outrage or insult any other religion,” said his wife, Shelley Thomas in remarks obtained by BosNewsLife. “This is a totally false charge and unrelated to the organized violence, threats, and attacks that have been conducted against us for the last six weeks. This is all nothing less than an organized assault on the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion that is part of India s great democracy,” she added.
HI set up a Legal Defense Fund to help free Thomas and staff members and lawyers were expected to post bond at bail hearings this week and make legal appeals in Kota District Court, the High Court in the capital city of Jaipur and in New Delhi .
Besides arresting Thomas, authorities also revoked licenses of all HI operations, which could force thousands of orphans to live again on the streets, the organization said.
“Of course,” said Samuel Thomas before he was jailed, “none of these actions are legal. The terrorists and hate groups have taken the law into their own hands and sadly, we have lost confidence in the local government to control them.”
In addition Hindu militants continue a state of siege against 2,500 orphans and abandoned children protected at the Emmanuel Hope Home in Kota , which is funded by HI from its headquarters in Columbus in the US state of Georgia . The siege is approaching its 30th day.
HI-backed Emmanuel Ministries has been based in Kota since 1960 with social services to the poor. Since 1973 it especially focused on work among Dalits, also known as “the untouchables” as they are lowest castes in India ‘s ancient system of Hinduism.