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Four Christians Attacked, Arrested After Service

Court grants bail to believers, but police refuse to file complaint against assailants.

Compass Direct News (08/22/06) – Hindu extremists on Sunday (August 20) beat four Christians, including a pastor, who were later arrested on charges of “forced conversion” in Madhya Pradesh state.

A group of about 15 extremists punched and hit the Christians with hockey sticks soon after worship ended at about 10:30 a.m. After the initial attack, the extremists dragged the Christians to the Sheopur police station about 500 meters away, beating them en route. The police promptly arrested the Christians, as a complaint against them had already been filed.

Pastor K.K. Jwala of the Sheopur Bible Fellowship (SBF) church and three members, identified only as Anup, Jijo and Raju Mathew, were released from the Sheopur district jail at 8 p.m. on Monday.

The officer in charge of the police station, Hukum Singh Yadav, also allegedly beat up Pastor Jwala at the facility. Yadav was not available for comment.

The four accused will have to appear before the court on August 30.

The SBF church meets at a rented hall in Kila area in Shivpuri, Sheopur district. The three members are teachers in the Alpha English School , where the church used to meet earlier.

A state leader of the Team India, which runs the SBF church, told Compass that the Christians were recovering from internal injuries. “Pastor Jwala has a blue mark below his neck and a pain in his ear,” said the leader, requesting anonymity.

The victims identified six of the attackers as Bharat Singh Sikavas, Devendra Singh Kushwah, Ram Lakhan Natakhedi, Shyam Singh Jat, Dharmendra Jat and Sharfuddin Khan, who is allegedly a local leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Local Christians suspect that a BJP legislator is behind the complaint. “When we went to the police station on Sunday afternoon to meet the detained Christians and bail them out, we saw legislator Durgalal Vijay sitting there,” the Team India leader said. “And the police refused to allow us to meet the Christians or to send them for medical examination.”

At 6 p.m. the same day, the police took the accused Christians to a magistrate, who remanded them in judicial custody.

Alleged Allurement

The Christians were charged under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act of 1968, after Manoj Prajapati filed a complaint against them charging that they had offered him a job if he would convert to Christianity.

“Perhaps Prajapati used to come to our church some time ago,” the Team India source said. “He also went to a camp with the church youth. We have identified his name and address, but we are yet to confirm if he is the same person.”

Lansinglu Rongmei, secretary of the Christian Legal Association of India, said that because Sections 3 and 4 of the state anti-conversion law (under which the Christians were arrested) are bailable, the police should have released them on bail when fellow believers came for them.

At press time police had not registered a complaint against the attackers.

Madhya Pradesh police had on August 14 arrested Pastor Vinod Karsal of the Assembly of God Church in Jabalpur city under the anti-conversion law. (See Compass Direct, “Pastor in Jabalpur Arrested for ‘Forcible Conversion,’” August 16.)

Before his arrest, Karsal was mobbed by a group of about 50 Dharma Raksha Sena Hindu extremists as he visited another pastor in the city. The extremists planted gospel tracts in the glove compartment of Karsal’s scooter, and police soon arrived to arrest him for forcible conversion.

Several incidents of Christian workers being attacked and then arrested under the anti-conversion law have been reported in Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by the BJP, in the recent past. The National Commission for Minorities recently confirmed that Christians were being falsely accused of forced conversions and attacked.

The state government on July 25 passed an amendment making stricter the anti-conversion law. The amendment requires clergy and “prospective converts” to notify authorities of the intent to change religion one month before a “conversion ceremony.” (See Compass Direct, “State Tightens Control on Conversions,” July 25.)

Currently the law requires that notice be sent within seven days of conversion. Under the amendment, once advance notification has been received, authorities will decide whether the conversion is “forced” or “by allurement.” The bill is awaiting approval by the state governor.