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Recent Incidents of Persecution in India

ICC Note: A group of Hindu extremists stormed an Assembly of God Church and cursed the Christians attending the service, ripped up their hymn books and Bibles, and arrested the pastor with charges of trying to lure Hindu villagers to Christianity.

5/21/08 Karnataka , India (Compass Direct News) – Police on May 4 arrested a pastor on charges of luring Hindu villagers to convert to Christianity in Karnataka state’s Hubli district. Dr. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said that at around 10:30 a.m. about 15 Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal stormed the Sharon Assembly of God Church at Manjunatha Nagara. They cursed at the Christians, ripped up their hymn books and Bibles and dragged pastor Peniel Thankappan Johnson to the local police station, hitting him along the way. At the station, the intolerant Hindus falsely accused him of forcible conversion. Veeranna Gowda, inspector in-charge of the station, verbally abused Johnson, said George. Johnson was charged with injuring or defiling a place of worship with intent to insult another religion. With the GCIC’s legal assistance, the pastor was released on bail on May 5.

Uttarakhand – Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Legislative Assembly Ganesh Joshi and other BJP activists on May 3 ransacked Grace Academy School in Dehradun, capital of Uttarakhand, and manhandled the principal. BJP cadres claimed the reason for the attack was that the school was not cooperating with a shutdown called by the BJP to protest inflation, but Grace Academy employee Rohit Dilawar told Compass the school was in fact cooperating with the mandated shutdown. Grace Academy is a residential school, he said, and since residential teachers had the day off, they were informally answering questions form a group of students who reside at the campus hostel. Suddenly a mob of around 40 BJP workers entered the school, demanding to inspect it. They came well prepared with bamboo rods and hockey sticks, eyewitness Dilawar said, and they made their way straight to principal Benjamin Newton’s office and began beating him. They also broke windows. Subsequently Hindu organizations denounced the school in local media, accusing it of fraudulent conversions and poisoning young minds. Ironically, Dilawar indicated one reason for the desire to damage the Christian school was that the principal had refused admission to children of some prominent BJP members despite tremendous political pressure. A Christian missionary school with students from throughout India , Grace Academy has filed a police report.

Karnataka Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal on April 25 stormed a rented house church, beat a pastor and three evangelists and threatened children in the Raggiguda slum in JP Nagar, on the outskirts of Bangalore . Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that at around 11:30 a.m. nearly 35 Hindu extremists stormed Raggiguda Baptist Church , where pastor Guruvaiah Lingala’s children’s Bible study class was underway. The intolerant Hindus cursed Christianity with filthy language, kicked and struck Lingala and slapped and punched evangelist Babu Mohan and two others. Laxmi Narayan Gowda, GCIC regional coordinator, told Compass that the extremists snatched Bible story books from the children, tore the literature up, and forced them to chant “Jai Sri Ram [Hail Lord Ram]” for 15 minutes. “The extremists bolted the door from outside, leaving four adults chanting ‘Jai Sri Ram’ continuously for nearly 45 minutes, after which they were released but with stern warning not to conduct any Christian meetings again,” Gowda told Compass. The Christians have not filed a police complaint for fear of reprisals. On April 27, their landlord made them vacate the premises of Raggiguda Baptist Church , George said.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on April 24 beat two pastors in Kammanapalli village, Nizamabad district, Andhra Pradesh. The attack came in retaliation for a high-caste woman converting to Christianity, reported the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). A woman suffering with kidney stones for many years, suffering from a condition that did not allow doctors to treat her, had contacted the two pastors, identified only as 24-year-old Pastor Anand and 26-year-old Pastor Raju. From an influential community known as Padamsali, the woman identified only as Vijaya had approached the pastors and was cured when they prayed for her, according to the GCIC. She soon freely embraced Christianity, to the dismay of relatives and neighbors. Villagers subscribing to right-wing Hindu nationalist ideology attacked pastors Anand and Raju as they were visiting her on April 24, severely beating them and burning their Bibles to ashes. The Hindus warned them not to visit her again and have threatened other local Christians. The pastors were treated for internal injuries and sprains at a private hospital.

Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremist group Dharma Sena last month threatened to set a Christian woman’s house on fire in Jabalpur and burn the body of her deceased husband. Soon after Praveen Balotya, a Christian convert from a high-caste Hindu background, died of tuberculosis on April 18, Dharma Sena members led by Yogesh Agrawal arrived at his house and started threatening his wife, Benjlive Minj Balotya, demanding his body so that they could burn it according to Hindu rites. When his wife objected and asked them to leave her and her 2-year-old daughter alone, the extremists verbally abused her, threatened to set her house ablaze and accused her of having fraudulently converted her husband. Only after police arrived and forcefully restored order was she able to bury her husband that evening, and an officer who took strict action against Agrawal, slightly injuring him, has been suspended temporarily on orders that local Christians believe came from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Jabalpur has witnessed growing violence against the Christian community since 2006. Madhya Pradesh has only about 170,000 Christians amid a population of 60 million, 91 percent of whom are Hindus.