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Published in the 16-30 Sep 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Gujarat Christians to appeal against verdict

Piprol is a tiny village, situated 20 kms away from Dharampur taluka of Valsad district in Gujarat. Here 22 Varli tribal Christians live. A kaccha Church also exists here. Christians here often face religious persecution because of their faith and mode of worship. ‘Friends Missionary Prayer Band,’ an organization doing missionary work at the national level, is trying to help them. 

Recently the Christians here had to face a serious incident simply because of their religion. Way back on 26 April 2001 Adivasi Christian Ramanbhai K. Gavit’s wife Kalguben R. Gavit had died due to snake bite. Same night some communally biased elements put off the street lights of Piprol village and attacked Ramanbhai’s house, saying "If your Christianity is true religion then ask your Lord Jesus Christ to bring your wife back to life at once. And if your wife doesn’t come back to life, you will have to accept Hindu religion." Ramanbhai K. Gavit protested against this, so the mob attacked him, beating him up severely. An injured Ramanbhai had to be admitted in local Dharampur Civil hospital. Next day (27 April 2001) family members of victim Ramanbhai K. Gavit were on their way to Piprol village to take part in the burial ceremony of Kalguben Gavit (wife of Ramanbhai). They were attacked and seriously beaten up near the village bus stand by communal elements. Due to these ongoing incidents, Christians lodged a police complaint in the local Dharampur police station but the police authorities did not listen and failed to take any action in the matter. 

Meanwhile, communal elements in Piprol village kept troubling Christians and continuously tried to stop them from worship. After these series of incidents, again in the morning of 28 May 2001 communal elements attacked Ramanbhai Gavit with sharp weapons near the village bus stand while he was awaiting for the bus. Ramanbhai Gavit cried for help. In response Christians of the village, Ramesh Chandubhai Varli, Harjee Chandubhai Varli, Ishwar Chandubhai Varli, Chandubhai Dharmabhai Varli to name a few, rushed at the site and tried to save Ramanbhai Gavit. Due to their intervention members of both groups were injured and were admitted to the civil hospital of Dharampur. During the treatment a member from the communally biased group, called Gopjibhai Ramabhai Varli, expired on 29 May 2001. 

Now the police of the Dharampur police station lodged a complaint against five tribal Christians in connection with incident. Communal elements claimed that that the murder was caused due to some financial transaction. Local communal outfits became active to teach a “lesson” to local Christians with the help of the local public prosecutor and police department which placed this criminal case in the fast track Sessions Court. Communal elements presented false witnesses before the police authorities. Therefore the police arrested five Christians: Ramesh Chandubhai Varli, Ishwar Chandubhai Varli, Dhakliabhai Kalubhai Varli, Chandubhai Dharmabhai Varli and Harjeebhai Chandubhai Varli, in connection with the murder case of Gopjibhai Varli. In this case the communally biased organizations with the help of government machinery, panchayat members, statements of false witnesses and biased police investigations, gained advantage over the victims. The case was admitted in Gujarat state’s Valsad district’s Session Judge’s fast track court. The court passed its judgment on 19 June 2004 sentencing to life imprisonment all the accused Christian.

Due to this serious occurrence of such black incident for the first time in the history of Gujarat state, the All India Christian Council - Gujarat unit has pledged to help the Friends Missionary Prayer Band and challenge the Session Court Judgment in the Gujarat High Court.

Samson C. Christian
samson_chri@sify.com

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