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CHRISTIANS ACCUSED OF CONCEALING IDENTITY ATTACKED

Compass Direct News (09/06/06) – A leader of the Hindu militant group Bajrang Dal on Sunday (September 3) led an attack on a church in Jammu and Kashmir state where about 20 members, including seven Christians facing charges of “concealing identity” and “forcibly conversion,” were attending the worship service.

A local Christian leader who requested anonymity told Compass that about 40 extremists stormed the worship service at 11 a.m., pulled out Pastor P.R. Anthony and started slapping him. Anthony is based at the Christian Education Institute in the Shivagiri area of Kathua district.

The leader of the mob was Sushil Sooden of the Bajrang Dal, said the source. “The extremists came with some people who were seemingly press reporters, as they were carrying cameras,” he said.

After attacking Anthony, the mob started beating worshipers and shoving women who were in an adjacent prayer hall. Congregants began running helter-skelter.

Police arrived within five minutes, and the attackers fled. No one received major injuries.

The accused are scheduled to appear in court on September 16 to face charges of concealed identity and forcible conversion of a Sikh youth.

Tense Atmosphere

The source also said that a police official from outside the jurisdiction area visited church members and advised them not to give names in the police complaint, saying it could lead to further attacks on them and their family members.

He said Christians had lodged a complaint at the Kathua police station, but station house officer Rajendra Khajaria told Compass he had not received any complaint.

“If the attackers are identified by the victims, we will surely take action against the culprits,” Khajaria said. “In the meantime, I have intensified the patrolling in the area.”

The source said the Christians were frightened as the situation continued to be tense at press time.

Anthony and another pastor, Reji K. Sunny, and five Bible students – Umesh Kumar, Tarsan Chand, Samuel Masih, Kamal Jeet and Baldev Raj – were detained by the Kathua police station last Thursday (August 31) on charges of concealed identity and forcible conversion. They were released on bail the following day.

The Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, staged several rallies against Christians in the area during the last week. (See Compass Direct, “Seven Christians in India Arrested for ‘Concealing Identity,’” September 1.)

At the same time, several Hindi newspapers, such as Dainik Jagran, published articles accusing Christians of forcibly converting Hindus.

A newspaper claimed that Pastor Anthony had forced a person belonging to the Sikh faith to cut his hair and remove the turban. The pastor denies the allegation.

The Evangelical Fellowship of India and the All India Christian Council expressed concern over the attack.

Madhya Pradesh Arrest

In Madhya Pradesh state, police in Khargone district on September 2 also arrested a 25-year-old Christian worker, Shantilal Chainsingh, for alleged “forced” conversions.

Kailash Dawar, a member of the Madhya Pradesh state Human Rights Commission, told Compass that some villagers of Gogawa, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the district headquarters of Khargone, complained to police that Chainsingh was converting Hindus by force. Chainsingh is an evangelist from Tamil Nadu state.

Dawar said police jailed the evangelist on Sunday (September 3) under the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, or anti-conversion law. He was released on bail the following day.

Also in Khargone district, Hindu villagers with the encouragement of a village chief on May 28 gang-raped two Christian women after their families refused to denounce Christianity at Nadia village in the district’s Bhagwanpura block. (See Compass Direct, “Hindu Villagers Gang-Rape Two Christian Women in India ,” June 2.)