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Christians Attacked after Voting for the Wrong Political Party in Gujarat, India

12/24/07 India (International Christian Concern) – Shortly after campaigning for Hindu nationalistic party in the run up to the state legislature election in Gujarat state, Hindu extremists attacked tribal Christians, including a nun, to punish them for supporting the Congress Party.

The attack took place at around 8 p.m. on December 19 in Baidiya village in Vadodara district’s Kawant area while staffs and students of the Don Bosco School and Adivasi Shaishanik Arogya Kendra (Tribal Education and Health Centre) were staging a play on environmental issues for the villagers.

“This is not just an attack on a minority religion, but it is a part of a wider conspiracy to deny human rights and fundamental rights (religious and voting rights) to the Adivasis (tribal or aboriginal people), create division among them, and keep alive the divisive agenda in order to fish in the troubled waters,” Dr. John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, told ICC.

Joseph Monty Rodrigues, the manager of the Don Bosco School described the attack, saying, “As the children were staging the play, one Rathwa Harsingbhai Mansingbhai rushed in and removed the curtain forcefully and hit one of the students of Class IX, Suresh Narubhai Rathwa, on the head.”

Later, another person, identified as Rathwa Pravinbhai, joined Mansingbhai to oppose the play.

Rodrigues gave a first person account in an email message, a copy of which is with ICC.

“They (the miscreants) said the Fathers and Sisters of Don Bosco were supporters of the Congress Party and therefore they must not step into this village. They insulted us and our religion and abused us for being Christians,” said Rodrigues.

At least 500 villagers were watching the play, which was organized by the Christians on an invitation by the village court.

The two miscreants also threatened to burn the Christians alive.

“Apprehending more tensions, we stopped the play at once and packed up our things,” added Rodrigues.

While the Christians were returning, some more people came to attack them.

“We left for Kawant via the Keladra-Pipalda road around 9:30 p.m. While passing from the Sim Segva stream near Keladra, a blue tempo came towards us to knock the motorbike being ridden by our staffs Madubhai Rathwa and Bharsingbhai Rathwa. But, somehow, they managed to escape. The tempo then tried to hit the jeep in which I was sitting.”

There were around 15 people carrying sticks and rods in the tempo. They stopped the vehicles and hit Madubhai Rathwa. Then they dragged the school students out of the other jeep and beat Fr. Damien Sladen, who was accompanying the children. Fr. Sladen was beaten till he fell unconscious.

The tempo was being driven by a person identified as Nangarsing Rathwa.

The miscreants also took away a laptop that was kept in the jeep besides vandalizing the vehicle.

Then the attackers came to the jeep in which Fr. Rodrigues, nun Sr. Manjula, and a few girl students were sitting.

The miscreants held Sr. Manjula’s neck and hand and tried to pull her out. Then they grabbed her scarf and shawl, and pulled her sari (an Indian wrap-around dress for women). They tore her blouse and banged her against the jeep twice and threw her down. They also grabbed her purse and mobile phone, and broke her silver chain.

The attackers also pulled out four girls from the jeep, but Sr. Manjula managed to rescue them and herself, and ran away. In the meantime, even Fr. Rodrigues could escape driving the jeep away.

“I went to the Kawant police station at 11:30 pm and informed the police, who came along with me to the place of the incident, where we found Fr. Damien injured and four girls, and also Sr. Manjula. All of them were crying,” aid Fr. Rodrigues.

The victims were admitted to a hospital.

The police did register a complaint against the attackers, but with initial reluctance.

In the meanwhile, a Hindu extremist sage, Jagat Guru Acharya Narendra Maharaj, led the alleged “reconversion” of around 2,000 tribal (aboriginal) Christians in a function on December 17 in Gujarat state’s Tapi district.

According to The Indian Express Newspaper, the function took place at the Shivaji Grounds area.

The “converts” took an oath and admitted affidavits saying they would not convert to Christianity ever again in the future, said the newspaper.

“Many of the tribal men also cut off their hair and took oaths, while all of them gave thumb impressions on the affidavits saying they have willingly returned to the folds of the Hindu religion,” added the daily.

Christian leaders say such reconversion claims are false, as extremist groups gather poor and illiterate tribal people, who are not Christians in the first place, and portray the rally as a reconversion function.

According to media reports, groups associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organization of numerous Hindu extremist groups and the chief persecutor of Christians in India, sought votes for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief minister, Narendra Modi, to strengthen “Hindu forces” in the state. The BJP is a Hindu nationalist party and political wing of the RSS. (See ICC report dated December 18, “Indian Party Promises to Persecute Christians in order to Gain Votes.)

The assembly polls to the 182-member assembly in Gujarat concluded on December 16. The counting of the votes will begin on December 23.

“It looks as if they (extremists) want to create terror and communal tension before the vote counting and during the Christmas celebrations. The rumors are that the BJP is preparing to create trouble for Christians during the Christmas and this is just the beginning,” added Dayal.