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Anti-Christian Campaign in Urban Areas Led to Anti-Conversion Law in Himachal Pradesh

Local newspaper had been carrying stories maligning the local Christian community for the last two years.

5/15/07 Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India (International Christian Concern) – Local Christians believe that as a result of a virulent anti-Christian campaign in the local media, the Congress Party government in Himachal Pradesh Assembly passed an anti-conversion bill on December 30, 2006, alleging that “conversions” were happening leading to law and order problems in the state and the local people wanted a law to ban “forcible” conversions.

ICC has uncovered evidence to show that the reasoning for this anti-conversion bill is faulty. A local Christian source, who requested anonymity, said that Hindu fundamentalist groups have been running a hate campaign against Christians, using the local newspapers, which normally have their reach limited to towns and cities. This anti-Christian campaign has been mainly limited to urban areas and the majority of the population lives in rural areas and did not participate.

Lies in the Local Media

ICC’s anonymous source pointed out that the local edition of a Hindi language daily, Dainik Jagran, had been carrying provocative stories maligning the local Christian community for the last two years.

“Dainik Jagran has been publishing a series of reports with the headline, Isaiyon ka gorakh dhanda (Misdeeds of Christians), and carrying a picture that shows a trishul (trident, one of the signs of a Hindu god) piercing the cross and stains of blood,” he said.

Several reports have alleged that Christians eat beef and “forcibly” convert Hindus, and some stories have even identified Christian workers with their names. “Extremists somehow get hold of in-house magazines of Christian organizations and misquote from these publications in the newspapers to support the lies they spread about Christians,” said the source.

“They (fundamentalists) seek to justify anti-Christian attacks and gain the support of the local people by spreading these rumors,” he added.

Extremists Target Urban Areas, Unable to Penetrate Rural Communities

Hindu fundamentalist groups have in the recent past increased their activities in this Himalayan state, but their presence remains confined to urban areas, a local attorney, Shesh Ram Deepak, told ICC.

In urban settings, explained Deepak, people are less vigilant and used to seeing unfamiliar faces around them, which helps the fundamentalists to quietly interact with some of their local supporters, launch attacks and get away unnoticed.

“For instance, in the town of Kullu , investments are flooding in for various tourism projects by multi-national companies, which has resulted in an influx of migrant laborers from other states,” said Kullu-based Deepak, who takes up cases related to persecution.

Kullu town, situated on the banks of the Beas River , is the district headquarters of the Kullu district. The mountainous city of Manali in this district is one of the most visited tourist spots in India .

“On the other hand, people in the villages have a very low density of population and they know each other. Therefore, they can easily spot any suspicious person, especially if he is an outsider,” added Deepak.

Himachal Pradesh is chiefly a rural state. According to the government census of 2001, 5.4 million people out of the population of more than six million live in rural areas.

Anti-Christian Attacks in the Cities

Lansinglu Rongmei, secretary of the Christian Legal Association who recently visited the state on a fact-finding mission, agreed with attorney Deepak about the susceptibility of urban areas to anti-Christian violence by pointing out recent attacks in the cities and towns of Himachal Pradesh.

In Manali city, activists of the Hindu extremist group Bajrang Dal severely beat up the pastor of a house church, Yona Babu, on Easter, April 8. In the same city, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) extremists had held a protest outside the house of an independent pastor, Timuthias Behel, demanding that he closed down his prayer hall and orphanage and move out of the area on January 21.

In Nahan town of Sirmaur district, four Dalit Christian families were reportedly “reconverted” to Hinduism by extremist groups in March. Later, a documentary by the All India Christian Council (AICC) revealed that these claims were false.

In Shimla, the state capital, extremists claimed they led the “reconversion” of more than 150 Dalit Christians at a function in a Hindu temple on February 28.

In Mandi town, in Mandi district, an independent pastor, Raj Kumar, under the Joginder Nagar police station, was threatened by Hindu extremists that he would be attacked if he did not move out of the area on February 25. He had earlier been threatened twice.

In Kullu town, Hindu extremists lodged a false complaint against a Christian drug rehabilitation centre, Last Resort, on January 18. Attorney Deepak is representing the Christians in this case, which is still underway.

With less than 8,000 Christians, Himachal Pradesh is one of the states with the smallest Christian population.