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Christians Attacked Three Times In Two Weeks In Western Indian Village

By James Varghese
11/13/07 INDIA (ANS) — An evangelical group in a western Indian village is living in fear after Hindu right-wing activists attacked its members three times in 13 days.

According to the news carried by Union of Catholic Asian News in their website www.ucanews.com, in the latest attack, on Nov. 4, six members of the Abundant Life Church (ALC) were injured when about 20 Hindu extremists attacked a Christian prayer meeting in Kuttal, a village in Maharashtra state’s Thane district.

The village is about 125 kilometers east of Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, which lies 1,450 kilometers southwest of New Delhi. Six tribal Christians who suffered injuries were admitted to a government hospital in Wada, the town closest to the village.

Pastor Victor Pereira, who heads the group, said that about 250 tribal Christians were praying when the attackers started beating them with sticks. He said some women in the congregation saved him. “They did not even spare the hapless women, who suffered injuries on their legs and hands,” the 39-year-old pastor told UCA News on Nov. 12.

Pastor Pereira named the attackers as members of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council) and an affiliate organization, Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad (VKK, Welfare Council for Forest Dwellers).

The pastor said the attackers left after threatening to return if the Christian group held any more prayer meetings in the village. However, he considers it his “honor to suffer for Christ just as his disciples did.” He vowed, “I will continue preaching Christ till my last breath.”

Pastor Pereira said his group was attacked on Oct. 27 in another village. Around 80 women and men attended that meeting led by his assistant. Four days earlier, on Oct. 23, some 30 baton-wielding people “barged” into another prayer meeting Pastor Pereira led.

Abraham Mathai, vice chairperson of the state’s commission for religious minorities, visited the injured in hospital. The Christian group now lives “in constant fear” and “do not know whom to turn to, except to run into the jungles for safety,” he told UCA News on Nov. 12.

The Christian leader quoted Vishnu Barad, one of those injured in the latest attack, as telling him the Hindu groups had warned Christians several times against attending prayer meetings. He said the police had registered the first two attacks on ALC members as bailable offences, which helped the attackers to return to their “intimidating acts” without fear of being jailed.

Mathai monitors anti-Christian incidents in the state as the general secretary of the All India Christian Council. He said that in October alone Thane district witnessed five attacks on other tribal Christians. “There is a clear pattern to intimidate the tribal Christians,” he said and alleged the local police “are hand in glove with the attackers.” He said he had met Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil to call for a stop to the attacks.

State Director General of Police P.S. Pasricha told UCA News on Nov. 12 the latest victims met him in his office in Mumbai on Nov. 8 to complain that local police had refused to act on the case. He said he has directed Thane district’s top police official to probe the matter and report to him. He also said there had been reports in the tribal areas about “frictions and conflicts” over alleged conversions by Christians.

Catholic Bishop Thomas Dabre of Vasai, whose diocese covers these villages, told UCA News the attacks occurred in remote hamlets neglected by the government. The Christian presence there threatens certain politicians, who “nurse” those villages as “their vote bank,” the prelate explained.

Bishop Dabre, who was attacked in the same region in early 2006, said Christians should first win local people’s trust before starting religious activities to avoid suspicion and trouble.

On Nov. 13, Venkatesh Abdev, VHP general secretary in Maharashtra, told UCA News his group would not “tolerate forcible conversion from Hinduism to Christianity under coercion and lure of money or jobs.” Since 1967, he said, VKK has opened more than 200 single-teacher schools that now educate more than 10,000 children in the tribal region.

“We want to stop conversion activities completely among the tribal people,” he added.