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India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution Feb 8 – 21

by Vishal Arora and Nirmala Carvalho

2/16/07 India (Compass Direct News); Maharashtra – A group of Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on February 10 damaged the unfinished construction of Philadelphia Church in Vagda village of Navapur Taluka , Nandurbar district, Maharashtra . The small tribal congregation of 45 mostly poor people had been gathering for prayer and worship in the house of local Pastor Dinesh Sudam Valvi for two years, and construction of the new church had begun in January after permits were granted. The pastor filed a First Information Report (FIR) at the Visarwadi police station. At press time seven persons were arrested. – NC

Haryana – A village chief and a police official on February 13 forced workers of a Christian center in Prem Nagar, in Haryana state’s Hisar district, to move out of the area. A leader from Gospel for Asia, which ran the Bridge of Hope center, told Compass that the village head came with Assistant Sub-Inspector Raj Kumar and ordered center workers to obtain permission to run it from district authorities or leave. Authorities forced the Christians to vacate the house, and they put a lock on the gate and took away the keys. About 100 underprivileged children received tuition assistance and one meal a day at the center. Kumar told Compass that he had received information that apparent political activists were trying to spread rumors that the center workers were luring children to Christianity by offering free education. “This is why I asked them to leave the area, for their own security,” he said. Villagers prepared a memorandum with the signatures of all the children’s center’s parents for the district collector, describing how they benefited from the center and requesting that it reopen. – VA

Madhya Pradesh – A mob of suspected Hindu extremists on February 8 assaulted Father George Thoppil, Principal of St. Thomas Higher Secondary School in Ujjain , Madhya Pradesh. The extremists barged into the principal’s office and slapped Fr. Thoppil as they shouted obscenities against Christianity. They broke office windowpanes, furniture and computers, ransacked the residential quarters of the priests and smashed a statue of Mary. The attack was apparently prompted when two kindergarten children died after a speeding truck struck them as they rode on their uncle’s motorbike. Within half an hour the mob attacked; the Times of India quoted Superintendent of Police Jaideep Prasad stating that some Hindu extremists accused the school of creating a traffic hazard by keeping one of its gates closed. Saji Abraham, secretary of the All Indian Christian Council, said the accident took place 500 meters from the school. “The [Hindu] fundamentalists took advantage of the accident to attack Christians,” he said. At press time, nine people had been arrested. – NC

Andhra Pradesh – A Hindu “seer” in the port town of Kakinada , in East Godavari district of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, on February 11 began forming a group to oppose Christian conversions in the region. Known as Swamy Swarupanandendra Saraswati, the seer pledged to resist religious conversion of Hindus and to “reconvert” those who have converted to Christianity before a large gathering at the Sri Ayyappa temple in Kakinada , regional daily The Deccan Chronicle reported. He said that missionaries would be the first target of the group, christened as Sankara Sena Seva (Army of Hindu god Shiva and Service) Trust, as they would be invited into Hinduism by applying tilak (vermilion) to their foreheads. He said the group would start its work in Kakinada and in neighboring West Godavari district. – VA

Jharkhand – The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has asked authorities of the West Singhbhum district of Jharkhand state to submit a report on villagers’ alleged assault on a tribal Christian family in Kasira. The villagers had attacked in retaliation after the Christian Community Welfare Council of India (CCWCI) accusing Krishna Koda and his mother of denying villagers access to a pubic well and pond, regional daily The Telegraph reported on February 14. CCWCI President S.R. Das said in the complaint that Koda’s neighbors accused him of converting tribals to Christianity as a pretext to torture them. The Christians were beaten on November 23, 2006, when Koda was returning home from his farmland, Das said. Deputy Commissioner of Police Ravi Shankar Verma said he will report to the NHRC by the four-week deadline. – VA

Uttarakhand – The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has said it would bring an anti-conversion law if it is voted to power in February 21 assembly elections in the northern state of Uttarakhand, formerly known as Uttaranchal. State BJP leader Ravishanker Prasad said on February 8 that his party would enact an anti-conversion law “to check forceful religious conversions” while releasing the party’s election manifesto in the state capital, Dehradun, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported. Government records show there are only 27,116 Christians in the state, which has a population of close to 8.5 million. The BJP government in Rajasthan state passed an anti-conversion bill on April 7, 2006, but it is awaiting consent by the state governor, without which it cannot become a law. While anti-conversion laws are in force in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, they are awaiting implementation in Arunachal Pradesh and Gujarat states. – VA