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Persecution Follows Anti-Conversion Bill in Indian State

2/5/07 India (ICC) – Only two weeks after the Himachal Pradesh state government passed an anti-conversion bill, two Christian institutions have already faced harassment by Hindu fundamentalists.

This shows that there is a direct connection between anti-conversion legislation and Christian persecution. Rather than assisting in keeping the peace between religious groups, anti-conversion laws actually embolden Hindu extremists to attack religious minorities. These two attacks from last month are further proof of this disturbing trend.

In the first attack, about 250 people belonging to the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, gathered in front of the house of Pastor Behal, a retired officer from the Indian Army, who runs an orphanage in Kangra. They demanded that he close the institution and move out of the area on January 21, the Rev. Madhu Chandra of the All India Christian Council (AICC) told ICC.

When the AICC contacted Sudha Devi, the sub-divisional magistrate of Kangra district, she said police had been deployed at the site and the situation was under control. But she also said that the Hindu protestors had submitted a memorandum against Pastor Behal alleging that he was mistreating orphan children and converting them to Christianity.

The second attack occurred just a few days earlier in Kullu district, when police arrested four workers of a drug addiction rehabilitation center, the Last Resort, in Khokhan village. Two inmates had run away from the center and lodged a complaint alleging that they had been forcibly kept in the center and had Christianity preached to them. The names of the four workers are Rajesh Toppo, Nizam Minthang, Gopal Singh Bhatia and Lalboi, and their accusers are Vinod Saini and Amos.

The plaintiffs stated in an affidavit that they were pressured by a mob, allegedly comprising of Hindu fundamentalists from the VHP, to levy charges against the four Christians. The four said that the plaintiffs had recently been brought to the center by their parents, who had consented that they be given treatment at the center. The Christians also denied the allegation that they were trying to convert them.

Jeremy Sewall, ICC’s Policy Analyst for South Asia , said, “It is incredibly important to grasp the deception surrounding these anti-conversion bills. Although proponents claim that they will encourage religious freedom by prohibiting forcible conversion, they are really designed to stamp out India ’s rapidly growing church. When a state government passes anti-conversion laws, radical Hindus see that as a license to attack Christian ministries. This is exactly what has happened to Pastor Behal and the four drug rehab center employees.”

The less than 0.1 percent Christian population of Himachal Pradesh was stunned when the Congress government passed the anti-conversion bill on December 30. The bill is awaiting the consent of the state governor.