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Published in the 16-30 June 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Christians attacked in South India

The Milli Gazette Online 

New Delhi: Jamubhai Choudhary and his wife, Jathriben, a Christian couple from the Valia Taluka area of the southern state of Gujarat, India, are recovering from injuries received when axe-wielding Hindu villagers assaulted them three weeks ago.

"They were attacked on the evening of May 7 while they were returning from their field," Samson Christian, an executive of the All India Christian Council (AICC), told Compass.

"Jamubhai received a deep cut on his head and fell unconscious on the spot, while his wife suffered a bone fracture in her right hand."

Meanwhile, the brutal murder of the Rev. K. Daniel by pouring acid over his body has shaken the Christian community in Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state. Daniel, a pastor from Neralla, Karimnagar district, died on May 20, according to an AICC news release.

"All India Christian Council condemns this gruesome murder," the report stated. "The designs of religious fundamentalists could be easily seen in this incident and we condemn their acts. We demand that whoever may be the culprits, they should be punished."

Sam Paul, national secretary of the AICC; Dr. G. Samuel, president of the Andhra Pradesh state chapter of the AICC; and the organization’s secretary general, Prabhu Kumar, issued the news report on Daniel’s murder.

"Pastor K. Daniel had been threatened many times by the local Rashtrya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)," Paul told Compass on May 25. "Therefore, we highly suspect that religious fundamentalists were behind the brutal murder."

The AICC report listed other incidents of violence against Christians in the region. "In Sirsiclla and Siddipet areas, several fundamentalists are threatening and obstructing the normal conducting of worship services on a regular basis. There are complaints with police [sic] that never have seen any action from the police.

"Similarly, almost four years back, Pastor Prabhudas of Mustabad was murdered and no one is arrested yet in that case. This shows either connivance or negligence of police with the religious fundamentalists.

"We demand a CB-CID [Crime Branch-Criminal Investigation Department] inquiry and culprits brought to book. We also urge the government to protect the peace-loving and peace-proclaiming pastors and evangelists from unnecessary harassment."

Responding to questions about the attack on the Choudharys, Valia Taluka Chief Constable Roop Singh Bhai told Compass that officers had arrested two local men, Arjunbhai Devabhai Bema and Khansinghbhai Devabhai Bema, for assaulting the couple. He categorically denied that the attack was religiously motivated.

"It was simply a personal dispute," he said. "Jamubhai and his wife have acknowledged this in their statement. There has never been any communal trouble in our jurisdiction."

Joseph Durairaj, area coordinator of the Friends Missionary Prayer Band, disagreed. "I met Jamubhai in the Civil Hospital, and he told me that the RSS and the Bajrang Dal were behind the attack," he said.

"Jamubhai and his wife are a simple farming couple; the police can easily make them give such a statement to shield the real culprits."

Durairaj thinks the attackers were targeting the small group of Christians who meet for worship in the Choudhary home every Sunday and planned to construct a small church building there.

"But in January this year when we took building materials to the site, some villagers strongly objected to it and threatened them," he said. "As a result, we could not begin the construction." Only 12 of the 130 families in the village are Christian.

"Hindu fundamentalists have changed their usual way of attacking minorities in Gujarat after the riots of 2002, when the state was identified as the most communal [religiously divided] in India," Samson Christian said. "Now they target Christians using local people, so that their attacks can be attributed to ‘personal disputes.’"

Christians pointed to the brutal beating of Sunil Benjamin Patel, a Christian teacher at a government school in Petia village, Valia Taluka, on March 14.

"On March 6, a few days before the attack, about 10,000 people from different Hindu organizations had gathered under the banner of Dharma Raksha Samiti [association for the protection of religion] in the same village," Christians said. "The leaders of this gathering spoke out against Christian missionaries."

Police have arrested a member of a Hindu fundamentalist organization in connection with the assault. (Compass) [June 05]

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