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Minority Bashing in India
Attacks on Christian Minority during December 2000
Compiled by Shamsul Islam
(This chronological update of attacks on the Christian minority includes only those incidents which have been reported mainly in the National Press or been related by the victim/s directly. Unfortunately, many of such incidents remain unreported for different reasons. The source of information is given at the end of each incident. This update does not include attacks on other minorities, which take place in India).
|1). December 1, 2000. Chindra, state of Gujarat
Bishop Eshra Sargunum(64), who leads the executive body of Evangelical Churches of India, on Friday, December 1st commenced an indefinite fast on the issue of ransacking and forced occupation by placing a Hindu idol, of the Christian Chapel by VHP and other Hindutva activists at Chindia village, Vyara Taluka in the district of Surat. As a grim reminder of the day, November 26, when nearly 500 VHP activists armed with spears and other sharp-edged weapons led by local VHP leader Bhagubhai Janubhai Gamit raided the church at around 10 pm, pictures of Lord Krishna and Hanuman are seen in place of the picture of Christ and the Holy Cross, at the altar. Within minutes of the raid, the attackers not only removed the cross but also the portrait of Christ and replaced them with pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses. They also broke tube lights and took away fans and the church clock A saffron flag, with the ‘Om’ insignia flutters atop the church structure where the cross of the church had been. On the wall of the chapel now appears three new words- Jai Shri Ram. About 200 tribal Christians of the area have already left the village in panic and taken shelter in the nearby forest areas.
The trouble was sparked off when a local tribal, Punyabhai Kotwalia, who had earlier converted to Christianity, in 1995 but some six months ago under the VHP’s influence ‘reconverted’ to Hinduism and told other families the church was constructed on his land and therefore he has installed idols of Hindu deity Mogri Devi (actually a tribal goddess) and they had no right to enter the place. Punyabhai’s claim was challenged by Christian families, who had stated the ECI had donated Rs. 2 lakhs for construction of the church. The church was consecrated on October 29, 1995 and for five years till November 26, 2000, when the take over of the church to turn it into a temple took place, it was the place of worship for the tribal Christians.
Meanwhile Hiren Pandya in the usual characteristic style of the ruling BJP government said that the Bishop was "trying to instigate" Christians in Chhindia village and warned the Bishop and the Christians over there saying that "stern action" against anyone found "instigating" people. While the Hindutva’s mischief makers and Christian bashers are not blamed for the forcible occupation of the chapel, Pandya claimed that it was a "deliberate scheme" of the Christians to "defame the BJP government in the state". Meanwhile the A ll India Christian Council spokesman Mr. Samson Christian accused the local police of Vyara of working hand-in-glove with the VHP in attacking the church in the presence of senior government officials including the District Collector and District Superintend of Police. Bishop Ezra Sargunam of the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) alleged that the church "was vandalized by the VHP with the full backing of the state government".
The All-India Christian Council secretary general, Mr. John Dayal, appealed to the president, the prime minster and the home minster to intervene immediately to prevent the "forcible conversion" of a tribal church into a temple at Chindia village in Surat district of Gujarat. It is not without reason that Ms. Brinda Karat of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) says that the BJP Government in Gujarat is anti-Minority (The Hindu, 16/12/2000). She points out: "What is happening in Gujarat is a withdrawal of the processes of justice by the Government, the administration and the law enforcement agencies to minority communities". She argues that "the BJP government in Gujarat in a perverse interpretation of the Adivasi land under Schedule V of the constitution as an instrument to demolish churches built in tribal areas. Thus Christian Adivasis who have built churches on their land are bing told that this is against Schedule V, because according to this interpretation the church represents "outsiders" who have no right to tribal land. Logically, the Government should also deny permission to build temples on Adivasi land. But this is far from the case. In Chhindia village itself, where the demolition of a church led to a hunger strike by Bishop Sargunam, a statue of Hanuman was installed where cross had been. In another case in Halmudi village a temple is being constructed whereas the police did not allow a church to be built. When these double standards were questioned the answer was that the Christians had no objection to building the temple! Presumably the "Hindus" had objected, so a church could not be constructed" (The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 2,13/12/2000; The Statesman, New Delhi, 3, 9/12/2000; The Hindu, New Delhi, 7,10,13,14,16/12/2000; The Indian Express, The Times of India, New Delhi, 8/12/2000)
2). December 1, 2000. Karpania, Sate of Jharkhand
On the night of December 1, a gang of about fifteen armed anti-Christian assailants broke into the residential complex of St. Anna Girls High School, raped one inmate of the convent and assaulted eight other women. The goons beat up the nuns. Sisters Prema, Sr. Snehalata, Sr. Usha and Sr. Ursula were wounded. The fifty five year old Sister Snehalata and Prema Ekka (22) are still in the hospital with serious wounds.
The brutal attack ,like the dance of death, went on for over an hour when armed with revolvers and rods, a group of men in the age group of 20-25, entered the convent, terrorized the inmates, beat up and threatened the nuns saying that they would come back again to repeat the orgy of hate and violence. Before concluding their dance of hate and destruction the goons looted cash and valuables worth more than Rs 20,000 from this Roman Catholic institution. The assailants also tried to rape three other nuns while three of the attackers pulled the young cook of the convent into a room and gang raped her repeatedly for almost an hour. After satiating their lust, they threw the hapless maid in the bathroom where she lay naked, unconscious and profusely bleeding for another fifteen minutes, says the FIR filed by the principal Sr. Merry Patras and others lodged at Gandhinagar police station, 80 km from Bokaro. The raped cook, Sushila Oriya, said the assailants were drunk and spoke local dialect. The doctors at the Central Coalfields Ltd hospital confirmed the girl was raped.
The police team of SP K.S. Mina who arrived in the morning and registered the delayed report, have arrested six youths from their hideout in the case. The Catholic mission has been closed down indefinitely following this horrendous attack on the innocent helpless nuns who run it. "Enough is enough!" Anupa Kujur, the Superior General of the Order of Nuns, said in a press conference. "Our selfless service to the downtrodden does not merit such brutal and inhuman treatment." Instead of making efforts to nab the criminals, the entire administrative machinery is out to bury the incident and save the government’s skin, she said. "We have been forced to take the extreme step. The administration played a dubious role in the medical report even after we handed over bloodstained clothes of the victim to the police".
Meanwhile the Archbishop, Vincent Concessao of Delhi, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), in a letter to the Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee has denounced attacks against Christians. At the end of November, there were at least five such attacks, he said. (The Indian Express, New Delhi, 4/12/2000; the Hindu, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 5/12/2000; the Statesman 5, 21/12/2000; the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 12/12/2000)
3). December 2, 2000. Thoubal, State of Manipur
Two unidentified gunmen abducted at gunpoint and shot dead a young Catholic priest, Rev. Fr. Jacob Chittinappally alias Fr. Shajan (30). The priest was abducted from Sugnu area about 60 km from Imphal on the night of December 2nd. The attackers took him in the Mission’s jeep to some 25 km away, made him lie face down on the ground and shot and left him bleeding to death. The driver who too was kidnaped along with the priest was left unhurt but only after shooting the jeep tires. The priest, an assistant vicar of St. Joseph’s Church of Sugnu was ordained only an year ago. Similar attacks on Catholic priests had happened in the area before. Three years ago Fr. Jose Nedumattathil was shot dead in his office and in 1992, Fr. Sebastian Vadakkethannikal suffered bullet injuries when he refused to pay 700.000 rupees as extortion money. In 1990 Fr. Mathew Manianchira was killed as he conducted morning assembly in his school. (The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 5/12/2000; The Hindu, New Delhi, 6/12/2000; The Indian Currents, New Delhi, 17/12/2000)
4). December 13, 2000, State of Goa
The Hindu nationalist government that came to power two months ago in Goa, in an effort to cripple the Church activities, announced on Dec.13, that it would not allow foreign funds to go directly to educational, cultural and religious sectors. Church people in Goa say a plan by the new BJP led state government to stop direct foreign funding in several sectors is aimed at ending restoration of churches in the western Indian state. Fr. Carmo Martins of the Goa Archdioceses says, "This is certainly an attack on the Church," He accuses the government of seeking to siphon funds by demanding that financial aid be routed through it. (The Indian Currents, New Delhi, January 14, 2000)
5). December 15, 2000. Premanagar, Port Blair, Andamans
A Roman Catholic priest was assaulted and stabbed 14 times, by suspected Hindu extremists at Premanagar Church in the Andamans. SP South Andamans district Sanjay Singh said the priest, Fr John Peter was ‘physically assaulted’ by two persons on 15th December. The Indian Episcopal Conference has denounced the murder of the Catholic priest on Friday night and expressed its profound concern over the wave of violence unleashed throughout the country against Christians.
Fr. Peter the assistant parish priest at the Cathedral parish in Port Blair, received several cuts all over the body and a very bad bruise at the throat, after he was strangulated. The assailants reportedly climbed to the first floor of his residence at around 2.30 am, Dec. 15, and while one held Fr. Peter by the neck the other stabbed him. The assailants also left a note at the site warning, the priests not to indulge in any conversions or celebrate "Pongal," the harvest festival of Tamils. Fr. Peter said, that earlier three men had stopped him, few days after the previous years successful Pongal celebration and had warned him of his Pongal celebration. All communities have lived harmoniously all these years, "but lately there have been anti-Christian sentiments on the Island, said Bishop Das Neves of Port Blair. He added that, "The accusation about conversion is the usual bogey raised by ant-Christian forces". (The Statesman, New Delhi, 21/12/2000; The India Express, New Delhi, 17/12/2000; The Indian Currents, New Delhi, 31/12/2000)
6).December 17, 2000. Ulva in Kandhamal, State of Orissa
The decomposed body of a 35 year old man involved in Christian missionary work was recovered from Ulva forest area of Kandhamal on Sunday 17th December. (The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 19/12/2000)
7). December 24, 2000. Aravapalli, State of Andhra Pradesh
In a shocking Christmas incident, a small church was burnt by unidentified miscreants on the outskirts of Aravapalli village of Hasanparthy mandal, 10 km, from Warangal on 22nd night. The miscreants sprinkled kerosene on the church and set it ablaze. This is the second time that the same church has been burnt. It was burnt in July 1999 by unidentified persons within six months of buying the land for the construction of the premises. The religious place was said to have been constructed at a cost of Rs. 8.000 with donations from poor families of weaker sections living in Sidhapuram, Aravapalli and Buchaiahpalli villages.
The church pastor Rev. Baria Prabhakar, has lodged a police complaint quoting two women seeing two youths setting fire to the premises. One of the two women whom Rev. Prabhakar has quoted in his police complaint, Thagarram Pushpa told The Hindu News paper that she saw one youth already seated on the scooter as he kept producing a jarring sound by raising the accelerator of the two-wheeler while another person was running towards him after setting the church aflame. (The Hindu, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 24/12/2000)
8). December 24, Dangs district, state of Gujarat
The Gujarat High Court has issued notices to the state home department and Surat and Dangs collectors in a special civil application which expressed apprehension that fundamentalists were planning to disturb Christmas in the state, particularly in south Gujarat, this Christmas. Justice P.K. Sarkar, who heard the petition filed by Samson Christian on Saturday, made the notices returnable on December 27.
Meanwhile the violence of 1998 left far behind, it is still not a ‘merry Christmas’ for the faithful of this backward tribal district this year 2000 as they still are in fear of a possible attack by the Hindu fundamentalists against them similar to those that are happening in other part of the country. In 1988 they had come for the Christians and left behind a trail of burning crosses, damaged prayer halls and a deeply shaken community. Now sparking new temples built by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and followers of Ahsaram Bapu line the road leading to Ahwa, the headquarters of Gujarat’s smallest district which is tribal-dominated and backward (The Indian Express, New Delhi, 25/12/2000).
9). December 28, 2000. Dultaria, State of Madhya pradesh
Five armed men raided a church complex at Dultaria village in Madhya Pradesh’s Rajgarh district early Thursday and assaulted Catholic priests and nuns before looting Rs. 35,8000, ornaments and other valuables. More than 50 nuns from various parts of the state were present in the church premises at that time. They had gathered there over the past several days to participate in a religious programme.
The Rajgarh SP. Mr. Raja Babu Singh, told the press that the attackers first barged into a convent school in the area and forced its watchman to accompany them to the church complex. The looters broke open the complex’s main gate and then the room of Father Abraham and a few others where the nuns were sleeping. The looting spree continued for about two hours. Before fleeing, the attackers locked Fr. Abraham and watchman into a bathroom. The Father and Br. Binoil were among those assaulted. The SP Mr. Singh reached the spot along with a police team soon after the incident. (The Statesman, New Delhi, 30/12/2000)