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Extremist Attacks against Christians Mount in India

Police, officials fail to halt violence and intimidation, detaining victims instead.

by Nirmala Carvalho

Compass Direct News (08/28/06) – Multiple attacks and arrests in recent weeks demonstrate ongoing hostility towards Christians in India . Police have cooperated with Hindu extremists, in some cases claiming “tremendous pressure” to charge Christian ministers with forced conversion.

On August 20, extremists burst into a church service in Kolar district, Karnataka state, beating the pastor and his assistant. Prison guards in this state on August 14 also failed to prevent Hindu extremists entering a prison to beat up a Christian inmate.

In Andhra Pradesh state, police on August 21 arrested a Catholic priest for allegedly burning portraits of Hindu deities and interrogated a pastor after Hindu extremists attacked his church service on August 20.

Pastor Beaten

About 10 Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) interrupted a Sunday service of the Good Shepherd Community Church in Kolar district, Karnataka at about 7:30 a.m. on August 20.

Pastor Nelson Jayaraj was about to conclude the service when the mob arrived, according to Albert Lael, organizing secretary of the All India Christian Council.

“When the extremists started beating Jayaraj, his assistant Angam Kainthong tried to rescue him. The culprits then turned on Kainthong and beat him severely,” Lael said.

Kainthong was recovering from internal injuries at press time.

Before they left, the extremists warned Jayaraj not to hold further services in the area.

“We will file a complaint against the attackers,” Lael said. “We already met with a local legislator, who assured us that such incidents would not happen again.”

About three weeks earlier, 15 Hindu extremists of the Bajrang Dal entered a district jail in the same state and attacked Chetraven Rajan, a Christian businessman accused of compelling his wife to commit suicide. Prison authorities made no attempt to protect Rajan, nor did they file a case against the attackers. (See Compass Direct, “Hindu Extremists Attack Jailed Christian,” August 14.)

Priest Arrested

In southern Andhra Pradesh state, police arrested Father Mathew Kunnel on August 21 for allegedly burning portraits of Hindu deities.

Members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council), Bajrang Dal and the RSS demanded that the police take action against Fr. Kunnel and other church staff members who allegedly carried out the desecration on August 18.

The extremists accused Fr. Kunnel of holding a meeting on August 18 in which several Hindus became Christians. The priest and his associates allegedly set fire to portraits of Hindu deities on the church premises, the Deccan Chronicle reported.

Following these complaints, police registered a case against Fr. Kunnel and other Christian leaders, according to inspector Harinatha Reddy.

Fr. Kunnel was later released on bail.

Archbishop M. Joji from the state capital, Hyderabad , said religious tensions were high following the enactment of a bill in August banning the preaching of any religion other than Hinduism in Tirupati, a Hindu pilgrimage site.

“Fr. Mathew is a victim of these heightened communal passions,” Joji told Compass.

Police Harass Pastor

Hindu extremists also attacked a church service run by Pastor Vijay Kumar Mourya of the Gospel Echoing Missionary Services in Mangaon, Rewa district, Andhra Pradesh, on August 20. The police later detained and interrogated Mourya.

“I have a small congregation of about 50 devout Christians, who from 1997 have regularly assembled at my house church for Sunday worship,” Mourya explained.

That morning at around 9:30 a.m., a group of 45-50 Bajrang Dal extremists gathered outside the building, chanting “abusive” slogans and Hindu prayers, he said.

Mourya continued preaching until around 11 a.m., when one couple brought a sick 5-year-old boy to the front of the church for prayer.

Enraged by the continuation of the service, some of the extremists entered the hall, grabbed the young boy and twisted his arm while they shouted at the pastor, ordering him to “Stop this now! Leave this place, or the next time there will be bloodshed.”

The mob then vandalized the church, throwing chairs and breaking furniture.

Police summoned Mourya and questioned him for four hours on August 22, and again on August 23.

“The Bajrang Dal apparently told the police that I was involved in conversion,” Mourya said. “One of them – a man I have never met – claimed that I offered him 2,500 rupees (US$54) to convert to Christianity.”

Police Inspector M. Pachouri from the Mangaon police station has since claimed that local VHP leaders are exerting tremendous pressure on police to register cases of forced conversion against Christians, according to Reggie John, leader of a local youth congress.

John recently wrote to district officials, requesting an official investigation into the harassment of Christians.