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Compass Direct (04/17/06) – As Christians around the globe intoned, “Christ is risen” with hallelujahs yesterday, Easter in India was marred by violence.

In the southern state of Karnataka, 15 Hindu extremists said to be from the Bajrang Dal (youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council) attacked a Sunday morning church service, assaulting Pastor V.P. Paulouse.

Speaking of the significance of Easter at the Believers’ Church in Bantaguri, in Mangalore district, Palouse received a head injury and fractures in both hands in the attack; his wife also was severely beaten, according to a local Christian who requested anonymity.

Ransacking the church hall, the attackers threatened to harm the Christians if they continued their prayer meetings, and they later damaged the pastor’s house and car.

The injured pastor was recovering from his injuries in a hospital at press time. The nearby Bantwal town police station filed a First Information Report (FIR) against the attackers, but no one had been arrested at press time.

Christians also believe that 25 to 30 people who stormed a prayer hall in Mangalore district’s Balmatta town on Easter Sunday belonged to the Bajrang Dal. The Hindu extremists vandalized furniture and equipment worth more than 150,000 rupees (US$3,327) at the hall belonging to the Living Faith Ministry. The incident took place at 3:45 p.m. in Balmatta town, near Shanthi Nilaya, served by the Kadri police station.

The Living Faith Ministry has been conducting regular prayer meetings in the area for more than six years. About 70 local Christians attend the meeting in the rented prayer hall.

“About 10 people carrying cricket bats came to the prayer hall earlier in the afternoon inspecting the whole area and went back,” Austin Mark, a 70-year-old Christian in charge of the meeting, told Compass.

When the men at the prayer meeting had left and only women and children were attending a special program for them, the 10 extremists returned with about 20 others and started asking whether they were converting Hindus, Mark said.

He added that soon after the “inquiry,” the extremists ransacked the hall, damaging chairs, the sound system including amplifiers, tables, an LCD projector, musical instruments and other equipment.

The Rev. Don Menezes told Compass that the extremists strategically planned the attack. “These cowards waited till all the men left the venue and then barged into the hall,” he said. “They later locked the hall from inside and threatened the women and children with dire consequences.”

A police official of Kadri police station told Compass that an FIR had been lodged against the attackers for unlawful assembly, rioting with weapons, vandalism, house trespass, criminal intimidation, and defiling place of worship respectively.

The official also said that police were too busy with security arrangements for L.K. Advani – senior leader of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) visiting Mangalore as a part of his “Procession for India ’s Protection” today – to arrest anyone. He said the attackers would be arrested once Advani’s visit ended.

Pamphleteers Arrested

In Madhya Pradesh state, on Good Friday (April 14) two Christian women in Jabalpur district were arrested for “promoting conversion.”

Mariamma Mathew, 36, and B. Godwil, 65, were distributing Christian pamphlets. Police, acting on a tip from someone who received the literature, also seized several other “objectionable” pamphlets from them, an official said.

The official said the women were trying to convert people by telling them how they could overcome their problems by following the Bible.

According to the Madhya Pradesh Religious Freedom Act, anyone promoting religion or organizing religious functions must obtain permission from the district collector. Jabalpur Superintendent of Police D. Srinivas Rao told reporters the women had not sought permission.

Indira Iyengar, president of the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association, questioned how the women could be accused of anything illegal. “These women were merely distributing literature, which is not a crime,” she told Compass. “The police and government are using or rather abusing the law to harass the Christian community and implicate Christians in false cases.”

Senior police officials said they had yet to determine whether the pamphlets seized contained anything objectionable, she said, “yet they showed no hesitation in arresting the two women.”

Iyengar added that constant victimization of the Christian community indicates the government is cooperating with Hindu extremist groups.

“Since the BJP came to power some two and a half years ago, the minorities are insecure as the police have the support of the administration,” she said.

The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said the arrest of two women “seems to be another blatant act of intimidation of ordinary citizens of this country by those who are meant to protect their safety.”

“Reading the Bible, and even sharing it with those who want to know more of it, does not in any way amount to a crime, much less warrant arrest of hapless people. Hence, the manner in which the district administration has acted in this case of two women smacks of prejudice and partisanship on their part.”

Mob Beating

Last Tuesday (April 11) in Mumbai, Maharashtra state, two pastors suffered serious injuries when about 50 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad barged into a prayer meeting of some 500 Christians and assaulted them. The extremists also desecrated 10 Bibles.

The Christians from Living Light Fellowship Church had gathered for the prayer meeting in Khopte village, Uran, a township on the outskirts of Mumbai.

Rev. Joseph, who was present, said the men entered the hall at about 4 p.m. and video-taped the entire worship session for half and hour. Then 15 of the extremists came onto the dais and snatched the microphone from his hand, grabbed his Bible and accused him of converting people to Christianity, he said.

“They slapped me and then thrashed me with chains, iron rods and sticks for over half an hour,” he said, as they also assaulted another seven pastors with him on the dais. “My right arm was fractured, my right ribs were broken and my head was bleeding profusely.”

Soon after, the extremists began pelting stones at the assembly and snatching Bibles. They also took mobile phones from two pastors, he said.

Pastor T. Shekkar, who suffered three stitches on the left side of his head, said the extremists used foul language and demanded to know their contacts for “conversion activities.”

Five of the pastors were then dragged to the nearby Shankar Mandir (Hindu temple of Shankar god), where the Hindu extremists attempted to force them to worship there. When they resisted, they were mercilessly beaten.

Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, told Compass that the extremists and police have a similar mindset.

“If so many anti-Christians incidents have taken place during the holiest week of the year, I question the secular fabric of this nation,” he said. “The police neither provide protection to Christian assemblies nor prevent such anti-Christian violence by making arrests. They are in fact are sympathizers of the fundamentalist elements.”

On insistence from Mathai, the police commissioner of the twin city of Navi Mumbai , Vijay Kamle, dispatched a team to look into the incident, but at press time no arrests had been made.