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State in India Secretly Surveys Churches, Missions

(Compass Direct) 5/31/2006 – Preparation of a “data bank of churches and missionary organizations” by police in Rajasthan state’s Udaipur district has heightened fears of renewed harassment among the state’s miniscule Christian community.

Christians in Rajasthan, ruled by the Hindu extremist-backed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have documented a systematic campaign of persecution at the hands of the state government over the past four months.

Compass has obtained a copy of the questionnaire, which asks the “ideology of the priest of the church or the head of the organization,” and whether the “character of the priest or head has been verified earlier.”

The questionnaire also seeks a detailed description of the activities of Christian institutions, their sources of income and financial aid, legal status, fixed assets, and information on residents of any hostel facilities they may run. It also asks if they provide education and whether they are registered to do so.

“The tone and tenor of the questionnaire is as if it were aimed at illegal immigrants,” Sajan George, national convener of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told Compass. “The survey’s content violates basic human rights and equality assured to all citizens by the constitution of India ,” he added.

The survey asks for the addresses of the Christian institutions – and the names of the police stations with jurisdiction over those locations. It asks not only for the names, ages and addresses of the institution leaders, but their fathers’ names. The questionnaire, which is in Hindi, also provides a column for relevant pictures.

“About 10 days ago, police came to us with a questionnaire and took all the details concerning our institution,” a top Christian leader in Udaipur , who requested anonymity, told Compass.

But when Compass spoke to Rajasthan state Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria of the BJP and concerned officials of Udaipur district, they denied ordering the questionnaire.

“No such survey is underway, and we are not collecting any data on Christians,” Kataria said.

Udaipur district Superintendent of Police M.N. Dinesh said, “Our police are not collecting any data on Christians. I have not given any such orders.”

Vijendra Jala, additional superintendent of police, said the district sometimes does conduct routine surveys for security purposes, but he denied knowing anything about the survey of Christians.

The survey follows an anti-conversion bill passed by the state assembly on April 7, which would provide the same pretext for jailing Christians for “forcible conversion” that such legislation has produced in other states in India ; the Rajasthan governor refused to sign the bill. The survey also comes on the heels of a multi-pronged attack on Emmanuel Missions International, based in Kota district, over the last four months.

“We fear that the attempt is to identify and target church congregations by the Sangh Parivar [organizations affiliated with the Hindu extremist RSS, or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] in active connivance with the state machinery,” George said. “A similar survey was held in Gujarat .”

A survey focusing on only one religious community is illegal and does not come under the jurisdiction of government census officers or the Home Ministry’s foreign contribution regulation department.

When the Gujarat state government undertook a similar survey in the wake of anti-Christian violence in Dangs district in 1999, the high court ruled that it was against the tenets of the India Constitution and ordered the government to halt it.

In spite of the order, the Gujarat government conducted three more surveys. It tried to collect data on Christians once in 2001 and twice in 2003 as a build up to an anti-conversion bill that was passed in the state assembly on March 25, 2003.

Each time, the BJP government initially denied having given any instructions to the police for the surveys but later acknowledged it, saying they were part of investigations of Christians.

The report of an independent inquiry conducted by Communalism Combat journal after 2002 religious violence in Gujarat – in which more than 2,000 Muslims were killed – revealed that the mobs were able to identify houses of Muslims and even shops that had a Hindu or neutral name but were owned by Muslims. This information suggested the government had collected data on the Muslim minority community in the state.

Udaipur division, which includes Udaipur district and the neighboring Banswara district, is one of the most religiously sensitive regions in the state. Extremists belonging to the RSS launched two attacks on Catholics in Banswara district during the week before Christmas, in one case beating four people until they were unconscious (See Compass Direct, “Indian Catholics Attacked on Way to Christmas Mass,” December 30, 2005).

Extremists had earlier threatened to make Banswara district free of all Christians.