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Conflict between two religious communities uncommon, leaders say.

11/14/07 India (Compass Direct News) – In a rare instance of conflict between two religious communities in India, Muslims in a village in West Bengal state have ostracized a couple for converting to Christianity from Islam.

Muslims in Badarpur village of Behrampur district on October 28 beat Johad Sahid and his wife Taslima, who recently had turned from Islam to receive Christ. Later the local village committee ordered all the villagers, mainly Muslim, to deny the couple access to common facilities, such as water taps and toilets, a representative of the Christian Legal Association told Compass.

Such incidents are uncommon, religious leaders said, as relations are generally amicable between the two minority communities, both of which are targeted by Hindu extremists. The 2001 Census showed Christians accounting for 2.3 percent of the more than 1 billion people in the country, with Muslims close to 14 percent.

‘Cousins in Crisis’

“In the post-independence India, Muslims and Christians have been in minorities and both face problems at the hands of the majority ‘communalists’ [Hindu nationalists],” said Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, a Muslim scholar from the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism.

Engineer said that Muslims had long been targeted by Hindu extremists, with attacks intensifying in 1961 riots in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh state.

“But Christians had enjoyed better days until recently,” Engineer said. “The Hindutva forces started attacking Christians since the late 19th century, and these attacks became increasingly more violent.”

Hindutva is a Hindu nationalist ideology advocating rule by those with India-born ancestors and who belong to religions originating here – Hinduism and its offshoots. It allows religious minorities to live in the country but in subordination to the majority community.

Engineer asserted that although Muslims and Christians had no tensions between them in post-independence India, they had “regrettably” not come together to fight common problems. “Christian-Muslim unity is desirable in today’s conditions,” he said.

Dr. Tahir Mahmood, jurist-member of the Law Commission of India, called Indian Christians and Muslims “cousins in crisis” who must conduct their affairs as friends in adversity.

“In their camaraderie lies their future in India and indeed elsewhere,” he told Compass.

Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and a Christian leader, told Compass that the church in India needed to speak for the Muslim minority without hesitation.

“That international fundamentalist Islam is killing people in Europe who happen to be Christians cannot be a legitimate excuse,” he said. “In India, both Muslims and Christians are in a minority. We [Christians and Muslims] will hang separately unless we work together.”

Equally Undeveloped

Dayal urged Muslims to push the government to study the economic and social conditions of the Christian community in India, just as the Rajinder Sachar Committee evaluated the social, economic and educational status of Muslims.

The committee, appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, presented a report in Parliament last November highlighting the lack of economic development in the Muslim community. As a result, the government is considering assistance programs for Muslims.

“The Sachar Report has become a benchmark of the underdevelopment of religious minorities,” Dayal said. “It focuses on Muslims, so ironically, in the government and public spheres, the debate has become strictly a Muslim issue.”

He added that 60 percent of Christians, including Dalits and tribal peoples, are “very poor.” Dayal issued a call for the Indian government to work on behalf of all minorities.

“We are not in competition for resources and opportunities, and we are not a threat to Hindus,” he said.

Divide and Conquer

Hindu extremists wary of friendly Christian-Muslim relations have long been trying to create a rift between the two communities.

For example, in the April 9, 2006 issue of the Organiser, mouthpiece of the Hindu extremist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), the general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), Pravin Togadia, urged Christians to “join hands” with Hindus to fight “Islamic jihad.”

Earlier, at a rally of Hindu priests in Tamil Nadu state on March 19, 2006, Togadia had said, “Instead of conversion of Hindus, the Christian world should join hands with the 90 crore [900 million] Hindus to fight against Islamic jihad, which poses a greater threat to both Hindus and Christians.”

In 2003, Hindu extremists tried to fan the flames created by media reports on alleged large-scale conversion of Muslim youths by Christian missionaries in the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir. A leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, Balbir K. Punj, falsely wrote in The Indian Express daily on April 22, 2003 that “the Vatican and allied Christian groups” paid Indian Muslims to convert.

“It’s no surprise that the Campus Crusade for Christ [CCC] could afford to pay every fresh recruit in the [Kashmir] Valley 12,000 rupees [about $300] per month, plus perks and other expenses,” Punj breezily vented. “Would this then not appear to be a more lucrative career choice for some Kashmiri Muslim youths – with hard cash which not even a terrorist organization would have paid him for picking up an AK-56 against the Indian Army?”

Punj’s editorial was based on a false report in the daily on April 6 of that year accusing at least a dozen Christian missions and churches based in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland of sending money to the Kashmir Valley. Among other errors, the author of the report, Tariq Mir, did not interview anyone from CCC in Kashmir as he had claimed, and CCC staff members did not receive 12,000 rupees per month.

Related false news reports in mid-2003 led to persecution of Christian workers by Muslim fundamentalists in the Kashmir Valley, a Muslim-dominated region in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There have been other notable exceptions to good relations between Christians and Muslims. On November 21, 2006, Islamic militants killed Bashir Tantray, a 50-year-old engineer and volunteer with several Christian organizations, in Mamoosa village of Barmullah district in Jammu and Kashmir. (See Compass Direct News, “Militants Kill Prominent Christian Worker in India,” November 21, 2006.)

Tantray had made headlines in 2003 for his alleged role in conversion of Muslims.

On May 22, 2003, Islamic militants launched a grenade attack near the gate of a Christian school, St. Luke’s Convent School, in Nai Basti in Anantnag district of Jammu and Kashmir. The attacks left a young Christian teacher dead and another teacher seriously injured.