VOICE OF THE PERSECUTED

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Hard-line Hindu Confesses to Attempted Murder of Pastor in Southern India, Police Say

Pastor Madira Koti Reddy recovering in hospital. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – A hard-line Hindu has confessed to attempting to murder a pastor in southern India as the Christian leader was praying at night, according to police.

Pastor Madira Koti Reddy, who leads a house church in Rentachintala village, Guntur District in Andhra Pradesh state, on March 29 had gone to his room to study the Bible and pray at about 10 p.m. after eating dinner with his family, his wife told Morning Star News. Madira Shanti said she was in the backyard with their daughter doing dishes at the time.

At about 10:30 p.m., the assailant stealthily entered the house and went to the 55-year-old pastor’s room, where he slashed his arms and head with an axe, she said.

“I heard my husband screaming and ran into the house,” Shanti told Morning Star News.

With just one light bulb on, she couldn’t see the attacker clearly, but she followed him and saw him standing outside the house with the axe, she said.

“He looked to his right and left and quickly ran away,” Shanti said.

House church pastor Madira Koti Reddy was attacked with an axe. (Morning Star News)

Police Inspector Koteswara Rao was patrolling the area at around 11:30 p.m. when he got word about the attack from villagers and rushed to Pastor Koti Reddy’s house, where he found him bleeding profusely.

“I immediately took him to the government hospital nearby, but given the severity of his condition, shifted him to a private hospital in the neighboring town,” Rao told Morning Star News.

After questioning family members and neighbors, police took 11 suspects into custody, he said. Key eyewitnesses informed them that one suspect, Manne Shiva Narayana, also known as Shivayya, was seen walking outside the pastor’s house with an axe that night.

Officers searched his house, seized the axe and took him into custody, Rao said.

“He is a staunch devotee of Shiva,” one of the principle Hindu deities, the inspector said. “He confessed that he wanted to ‘finish’ the pastor that night. He said he was offended by the pastor’s routine of sharing the gospel in the village.”

Shiva Narayana has deep-seated hatred toward Christianity, Rao said. Though police found no affiliation with any Hindu extremist groups, Shiva Narayana confessed that it was ‘hate’ that drove him to attack the pastor, the police officer said.

Villagers who requested anonymity told Morning Star News that Shiva Narayana is a self-proclaimed Shaiva Sadhu, a Hindu “holy person” identified by orange dress like that of Hindu ascetics known as Aghori. They said he is 34 and single.

He frequently travels to the Mallikarjuna Jyothirlinga temple, dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva and wife Parvati, in Srisailam, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Rentachintala, villagers said.

“He is very well known in his circles there,” one said.

Pastor Koti Reddy’s son-in-law, John Paul, told Morning Star News that the pastor spoke a few times to the family about the Shaiva Sadhu getting the pastor into religious arguments on faith, and that he requested the family pray for him.

“He was in trouble a couple of times because of boldness in professing Christianity,” he said. “He was several times confronted by people who opposed him distributing gospel tracts, but he never stopped.”

The pastor’s wife said he would write biblical verses on the walls of people’s houses, and that if people objected, he would stop and go away. Inspector Rao said police went to all the places in the village the pastor would visit in a day, and “nobody expressed opposition to the biblical verses on their walls, since this area is mainly dominated by Hindus converted to Roman Catholicism.”

Rao said that, in the jail cell, Shiva Narayana immediately objected to the picture of a cross that an inmate had drawn long ago and asked officers to transfer him to another cell.

“We were able to observe in the Shaiva Sadhu high levels of intolerance,” Rao said. “He did not want to be even physically present in a room where a cross is drawn on the wall.”

Shiva Narayana was charged with attempted murder, punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years and a fine, with the possibility of imprisonment for life.

Loss of Blood

Pastor Koti Reddy was unconscious when he was brought to the hospital, Dr. Sudheer Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“If he had been brought in 30 minutes later, we would not have been able to save him,” he said.

At least twelve units of blood were intravenously transfused into Pastor Koti Reddy’s body, Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“The loss of blood was excessive,” he said. “We first attended to the cuts, and there was urgent need for blood transfusion. He is responding well to the treatment, and as the blood clots clear up, we are operating on him.”

Surgery on Friday (April 6) to repair the pastor’s right arm was successful, and the same operation, involving plates and screws, will take place this week on his left arm, Bhargava Reddy told Morning Star News.

“It would take at least 45 days for the patient to move his hand, and in order to be able to use his hand very well, he needs to rest for at least 75 days,” he said.

He said that a CAT scan shows no major damage to the pastor’s head, and that his frequent headaches can be minimized with medicines and rest.

Pastor Koti Reddy’s wife said God allowed him to live.

“God did not let the blows be very hard and heavy,” she said. “God lifted him up and held him in His hands safe. This attack is only to bring glory to God.”

The couple’s children were deeply disturbed to see their father’s condition at the hospital, Shanti said.

“I am trying to be strong for them,” she said.

The member of the Legislative Assembly from Guntur West, Phillip C. Tocher, visited the pastor and his family in the hospital on Tuesday (April 3). After doctors briefed him on the pastor’s condition, he told the family that the ruling Telugu Desam Party would pay all the expenses for treatment, they said.

Evil Spirits

Originally from Giddalur in Prakasam District, Pastor Koti Reddy moved to Rentachintala village 20 years ago with his wife and children, where he now leads a house church.

“My husband comes from a Hindu family whose house was less a home to live in than like a temple or a dwelling place for Hindu deities and devotees,” Shanti said. “Their family would host several pujas [prayer rituals] and yaagas [ritual offerings] every year, and he was totally involved in idol worship.”

When ill in his youth, he was subject to a shaman’s “tricks,” she said, but he was completely healed after receiving prayer at a Christian church service. Having been freed of evil spirits, she said, he devoted himself completely to Christ, and “it was then through a pastor my parents fixed my marriage with him.”

The couple moved from Krishna District to Rentachintala village after Pastor Koti Reddy told his wife that God was calling him to serve there, she said.

“He saw Rentachintala in a vision God gave him when he prayed about his calling,” she said. “The village was exactly how he described it to me.”

The pastor bicycled around the village sharing the gospel, she said.

“He distributes gospel tracts, and if people show interest, he would have deeper discussions with them, and pray with them even on the road,” Shanti said.

The pastor habitually began his days at 5 a.m. and would spend at least three hours in the morning on his knees worshipping the Lord, she said.

“In my 25 years of marriage, I had never seen him picking fights or arguing with anyone,” she said. “As our boys grew up, several times when they would get into fights with their friends, and their parents came to complain, he would accept that it was his sons who were wrong.”

The family requested prayer for healing for the pastor and strength for them.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

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Hindu Extremists in Eastern India Attack Christians Coming Off Bus

Prayer service of a native ministry whose workers were attacked by Hindu extremists in Bihar state, India. (GEMS)

(Morning Star News) – Christians on their way to a recent Christian camp in eastern India shared the purpose of their trip with fellow bus passengers, not realizing one of them was a Hindu extremist.

He began to argue about conversion with the Christians, mostly women and children, including a native missionary from a ministry based in India. Soon the hard-line Hindu began cursing and accusing the Christians of “always converting innocent and poor villagers.”

When they arrived at the bus station in Bettiah, Bihar state, on Feb. 26, after the 60-kilometer (38-mile) trip from Bagaha, 60 to 70 angry Hindu extremists were waiting for them. The hard-line Hindu had made phone calls to Hindu nationalist groups.

The mob separated out the native missionary for the Gospel Echoing Missionary Society (GEMS), D. Joseph, as well as another Christian, Baldev Singh, and assaulted them, said the Rev. Mariosh Joseph, coordinator of GEMS in Bihar.

He said D. Joseph sustained several internal injuries and was hospitalized in a state of deep shock, and that Singh also was hospitalized with multiple injuries, including internal damage to his ear that caused some loss of hearing.

“It was evident from the mob that it was a pre-planned attack,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph told Morning Star News. “There was a media person present to record and publish the entire episode in the media, along with the Hindu extremist mob.”

The Hindu mob interrogated the Christians, asking them the purpose of their visit, said the GEMS zonal superintendent, identified only as Pastor Palanivelu.

“They told the Christians that they were visiting to lure the innocent and poor villagers with money and benefits and fool them into becoming Christians,” Pastor Palanivelu said.

Native missionary D. Joseph told the mob about the camp and denied their allegations, and the Hindu nationalists began to use foul language as they threatened the Christians, Pastor Palanivelu said.

“Even being in a public place, no one came to their rescue, and passersby were mere spectators as the mob beat both the Christians mercilessly, while the other Christian teammates cried for help,” he told Morning Star News.

Traffic officers heard the commotion and tried to rescue the Christians, but they were overpowered by the mob, he said. Additional police were called to get the situation under control.

“Some of the women got so frightened that they fled the site and returned home from the bus station itself without attending the camp,” he said, adding that at least 11 women from the bus went on to the camp.

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said the mob was trained in the ways of Hindu nationalist violence.

“The right-wing groups are specially instructed to hit in a way that they do not bleed anyone externally, but cause gruesome injuries internally,” he told Morning Star News.

Police Bias

Pastor Mariosh Joseph said police initially told him that they were investigating a complaint of forcible/fraudulent conversion, and that the superintendent of police later told him they were treating it as a case of human trafficking.

“The police in most of the cases are biased and try to see how they can frame the victims, rather than doing the other way around,” he said.

Police recorded the statements of D. Joseph and Singh but refused to file a First Information Report, though a Medico-Legal Case was filed against unknown persons, he said.

The camp took place as planned on Feb. 26-28, Pastor Mariosh Joseph said.

“Though such an incident of violence against the Christian believers happened, the meeting continued, and the people were blessed and inspired by the Word of God,” he said.

GEMS reported 12 incidents of persecution against its native missionaries last year, and since January three such cases have already been reported. GEMS works in five states in India, primarily Bihar.

“Of late there have been a lot of incidents that have been happening against Christian believers,” Pastor Mariosh Joseph said. “Even if there is a disagreement, violence is not a way.”

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

ROME’S COLOSSEUM TO BE LIT RED FOR PERSECUTED CHRISTIANS

The Roman Colosseum Photo: Wikipedia

By Dan Wooding (Assist News)  The Roman Colosseum will be illuminated by red lights later this month to draw attention to the persecution of Christians around the world, and especially in Syria and Iraq.

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 6 p.m. the Colosseum will be spotlighted in red, to represent the blood of Christians who have been wounded or lost their lives due to religious persecution, according to Crux.

Simultaneously, in Syria and Iraq, prominent churches will be illuminated with red lights. In Aleppo, the St. Elijah Maronite Cathedral will be lit, and in Mosul, the Church of St. Paul, where this past Dec. 24, the first Mass was celebrated after the city’s liberation from ISIS.

The event, sponsored by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) — follows a similar initiative last year, which lit-up London’s Parliament building in red, as well as the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris and the cathedral in Manila, Philippines. In 2016, the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome was lit. 

Alessandro Monteduro, director of ACN, told journalists on Feb. 7 that the “illumination [of the Colosseum] will have two symbolic figures: Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian condemned to death for blasphemy and whose umpteenth judgment is expected to revoke the sentence; and Rebecca, a girl kidnapped by Boko Haram along with her two children when she was pregnant with a third.”

“One of the children was killed,” he said, “she lost the baby she was carrying, and then became pregnant after one of the many brutalities she was subjected to by her captors.”

Once she was freed and reunited with her husband, she decided she “could not hate those who caused her so much pain,” Monteduro said. [Read Voice of the Persecuted’s (VOP) report: Held Captive For 2 Years By Boko Haram: Rebecca’s Story and the relief sent to them through VOP’s aid mission, Project 133 Nigeria here.]

Rebecca and family united. Photo: Voice of the Persecuted

Aid to the Church in Need released a biennial report on anti-Christian persecution Oct. 12, 2017, detailing how Christianity is “the world’s most oppressed faith community,” and how anti-Christian persecution in the worst regions has reached “a new peak.”

The report reviewed 13 countries, and concluded that in all but one, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms for the period 2015-2017 than during the prior two years.

“The one exception is Saudi Arabia, where the situation was already so bad it could scarcely get any worse,” the report said.

China, Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Syria were ranked “extreme” in the scale of anti-Christian persecution. Egypt, India, and Iran were rated “high to extreme,” while Turkey was rated “moderate to high.”

The Middle East was a major focus for the report.

British Parliament lit up in red.

“Governments in the West and the U.N. failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they needed as genocide got underway,” the report said. “If Christian organizations and other institutions had not filled the gap, the Christian presence could already have disappeared in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.”

The exodus of Christians from Iraq has been “very severe.” Christians in the country now may number as few as 150,000, a decline from 275,000 in mid-2015. By spring 2017 there were some signs of hope, with the defeat of the Islamic State group and the return of some Christians to their homes on the Nineveh Plains.

The departure of Christians from Syria has also threatened the survival of their communities in the country, including historic Christian centers like Aleppo, ACN said. Syrian Christians there suffer threats of forced conversion and extortion. One Chaldean bishop in the country estimates the Christian population to be at 500,000, down from 1.2 million before the war.

Many Christians in the region fear going to official refugee camps, due to concerns about rape and other violence, according to the report.

A man prays in a bombed out church in Aleppo.

ACN also discussed the genocide committed in Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State and other militants. While ISIS and other groups have lost their major strongholds, ACN said that many Christian groups are threatened with extinction and would likely not survive another attack.

A spokesperson for Aid to the Church in Need, said, “We invite everyone to attend, either in person or in spirit, on February 24, 2018 at around 6 p.m. in Largo Gaetana Agnesi, Rome.”

About the writer: Dan Wooding, 77, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, Alfred and Anne Wooding, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for nearly 55 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. Dan has written numerous books, and his most recent reporting trip for ANS was to Kurdistan in Northern Iraq.

HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTED

VOP is on the ground helping persecuted Christian refugees from Nigeria and Pakistan. Together with your generous help, we can reach the goal to alleviate horrific suffering. In darkness and desperation, let us serve in love, with open arms and giving hands to provide light and hope. Every day, we thank God that He is working through you to care for His children and to further HELP SAVE THE PERSECUTEDHis Kingdom! As you greatly bless others, may God continue to bless you. Thank you so much for your support. We couldn’t do it without you!

Pastor Found Dead in Tamil Nadu, India

The body of Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church in Tamil Nadu, India. (Morning Star News)

India (Morning Star News) – The body of a pastor in southern India was found hung from the thatched roof of his house early Saturday morning (Jan. 20), a week after he complained to police about opposition from Hindu extremists, sources said.

Congregation members said they found the body of pastor Gideon Periyaswamy of Maknayeem Church hanging from a rope in his one-room house beside the church building in Adayachery village, Kanchipuram District, but that his knees were bent stiff, as if others had placed him in the noose after his death. He was 43.

A convert from Hinduism 25 years ago, Pastor Periyaswamy was single and served as pastor in Adayachery for more than 12 years, his close friend, pastor Azariah Reuben, told Morning Star News.

“The local Hindus were not happy with growing Christianity,” Pastor Reuben said. “They had several times tried to stop the ministry.”

At pastors’ meetings and on other occasions, Pastor Periyaswamy spoke of Hindu hostilities to his church services and requested prayer, he said. Pastor Reuben said that Pastor Periyaswamy once remarked, “I have no problem – if needed, if the Lord permits it, I would die as martyr for Christ, but the ministry should not stop.”

A deputy superintendent of police identified only as Rajendiran told Morning Star News that a week before his death, Pastor Periyaswamy had filed a complaint with police “on some village people troubling him.”

“Our investigation was underway, and now we found him dead,” Rajendiran said.

A congregation member identified only as Indira said that the previous Sunday (Jan. 14), Hindu extremists were upset about a car sitting outside the area designated for church parking.

“They pelted stones at the car, and the pastor made an announcement requesting the church members to park their vehicles within the church premises only,” she said.

For the past six months, the local hard-line Hindus have harassed the pastor every Sunday, Indira said.

“When they see the pastor, they laugh, giggle and crack humiliating jokes at him,” she said. “They would always look for something to pick a fight over. But pastor told us, ‘We should be at peace with our neighbors – let’s not give them a reason to fight.”’

Last year local Hindu extremists kicked and beat him, Regina said. She and Indira found the pastor’s body.

“On Friday night [Jan. 19], our pastor visited the church families,” Regina said. “He told me and other sisters that there will be a fasting prayer on Saturday morning at 10 a.m., so please come early and clean the church hall.”

When they arrived on Saturday morning at 5 a.m. to clean the church building, they were surprised to find the pastor’s room bolted shut.

“We opened the door and were shocked to find Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy hanged,” Regina said. “A rope was fastened to the roof and tied to pastor’s neck, but his knees were slumped towards the ground. When the police came to unhang the pastor’s body, we saw a cut in his neck area. There was blood clotted.”

Police initially refused to file a complaint from congregation members, sources said. After church members and pastors from neighboring villages blocked a road in protest, his body was transported to Chengalpattu Government Hospital, where it has been placed in the hospital mortuary, Pastor Reuben told Morning Star News.

The Vanniyar community and other upper castes in Adayachery hate the lower caste of the pastor and his congregation, said pastor Immanuel Prabhakaran, who worked with the deceased leader of the church, which belongs to the Synod of Pentecostal Churches.

“They threatened the pastor, ‘How dare you set up a church in our locality? This area is of upper castes. Stop running church here. Stop inviting schedule castes to our area. You leave this village else we will make life difficult for you,’” Pastor Prabhakaran told Morning Star News.

Church members suspect Vanniyar and village leaders were behind the killing of the pastor.

“These people had cut the church’s water supply by disconnecting the pipeline,” said one church member.

Originally Pastor Periyaswamy had led the congregation as a house church, and before the current structure was built, they met in a shed. In 2016, area Hindu nationalists demolished the shed, church members told Morning Star News.

“We filed a complaint at Kalapakkam police station, but no action was taken,” one member said.

Pastor Periyaswamy’s cousin, Shiv Shankar, told Morning Star News that Pastor Periyaswamy was involved in many charity activities and led a simple life.

“We come from a Hindu family, and he was the first to convert to Christianity at the age of 18,” Shankar said. “He boldly professed his faith. I can never think my cousin would commit suicide. He was murdered.”

Two weeks ago, he invited all relatives to the church’s anniversary celebrations, he said.

“He was elated. My other cousin and her husband, Gideon’s sister and brother-in-law, gifted him a gold ring,” Shankar said. “He refused, but they forced him to accept. He did. Even that ring is missing.”

Nehemiah Christie, director of legislations and regulations for the Synod of Pentecostal Churches, urged police officials and government to conduct a fair investigation.

“There is urgent need for an autopsy in the presence of a judicial magistrate,” Christie told Morning Star News. “Pastor Gideon Periyaswamy’s death can’t be ruled out as suicide.”

The deputy inspector general of police of Kanchipuram Range, identified only as Thenmozhi, told Morning Star News that officers would carry out a fair investigation.

“There is no doubt in that – we will ensure a fair investigation,” Thenmozhi said. “If there is any troublemaker involved, we are looking at all angles regarding this. We ensure fair investigation. The post-mortem begins once the enquiry starts. Let the family and relatives come out with the facts they have; once we are given the witnesses statements and some supportive material, we will ensure post-mortem.”

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.

India: Kandhamal Christians back in jail after temporary Christmas release

Bijay Kumar Sanseth (left) and Gornath Chalanseth were able to spent time with their families over Christmas (World Watch Monitor)

(World Watch Monitor) Two of seven Indian Christians who have spent nearly a decade in prison – convicted of murdering a Hindu leader whose death sparked the worst case of anti-Christian violence in India’s history – were granted temporary parole over the Christmas period to spend time with their families. Evidence seems to be mounting that their convictions may be false. Six of the seven are illiterate, and they all continue to maintain their innocence.

Gornath Chalanseth and Bijay Kumar Sanseth returned to prison on Saturday (6 January), after two weeks on parole. It was the third time Chalanseth has been granted temporary release, but a first for Sanseth, who was accused of masterminding the Hindu leader’s murder in August 2008.

His death had been preceded over Christmas 2007 by violent attacks against Christians orchestrated by extremist Hindu nationalists.

None of the five others convicted have spent a day outside prison since their arrest in 2008.

Indian Christians have demanded their release, and Catholic journalist Anto Akkara has written a book, ‘Who Killed Swami Laxmanananda?’, outlining the reasons he believes they are innocent. At its launch in the Odisha capital, Bhubaneshwar, last week, the President of a People’s Forum campaigning for human rights, Prafulla Samantara, challenged local media: “Is there anyone to challenge the findings of this book?” Independent Indian news service The Wire has also covered the findings of Akkara’s book.

Brinda Karat, a senior of leader of the Communist Party of India, speaking during the 28 December launch in New Delhi, said: “Akkara’s book has brought out the absurdities and discrepancies of the judgement convicting seven persons in the case wherein a resolution of a church, that later turned out to be fudged, is the only evidence. The judgement based on manufactured evidences is the most outrageous travesty of justice. This judgement will be known as ‘what a judgement should not be’.”

Akkara was also involved in the creation of a website, which urges readers to sign a petition for the release of the seven. Each online signature generates instant emails to India’s President, the Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court and the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission.

Background

Nearly 100 Christians were killed and 300 churches and 6,000 Christian homes damaged in the Kandhamal district of Odisha, after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on 23 August 2008.

By the end of that year, the seven – Chalanseth, Sanseth, Durjo Sunamajhi, Bhaskar Sunamajhi, Budhadeb Nayak, Munda Badamajhi and Sanatan Badamajhi – had been arrested. In 2013, they were found guilty of the murder by the trial court and each sentenced to life imprisonment.

The convictions shocked India’s Christian community, which was still reeling after the deadly attacks, and Christian advocates have been fighting for their release ever since.

“There is absolutely no shred of evidence that links these people to the murder, so my question is: why are these people in jail?” asked Anto Akkara after Chalanseth was granted temporary release for the first time in March 2016. “The whole case is a blot on the face of India’s judicial system – why have these illiterate, innocent people been convicted? If it goes on like this, these poor people will die like convicts in jail and history will say Christians killed the Swami.”

Fifty-six thousand Christians were displaced after the violence in Kandhamal in August 2008. Since then, the local community has struggled to receive adequate compensation from the government, which has been a source of much contention.

A conspiracy?

The website release7innocents.com outlines the major discrepancies and apparent injustices in the case against the Christians.

“The trial court convicted the seven accused and sentenced them to life imprisonment on the basis of a fabricated Christian conspiracy theory despite hardly any credible evidence brought before the court,” it states.

It then adds that in June 2015 “two top police officials – who had relied upon the same conspiracy theory to ensure the conviction of the innocent Christians – have testified before the Kandhamal judicial inquiry commission that the allegations were false.” However, the website notes that the appeal hearing has since been “repeatedly” postponed.

The website complains that discrepancies within the case against the seven were apparent right from the start, when Hindu fundamentalists blamed Christians for the Swami’s murder.

In the days that followed his murder, the Swami’s body was taken across Kandhamal, “accompanied by thousands of Hindus … to incite the primordial passion of revenge among Hindus in one of the least developed districts of Odisha”, notes the website.

“They wanted to make a spectacle of it, and were prepared – as events were to prove – to take full advantage of the passions that would arise. They did not even go by the shortest route, but meandered across [Kandhamal],” noted a report by a group of human-rights organisations. (See route below.)

Three-quarters of the damage done to Christian homes took place along the route of the funeral procession, the website reports. Among the slogans shouted was, “Kill Christians and destroy their institutions.”

“It was obvious that public reaction to the murder of a prominent religious leader like the Swami would be extreme. Yet when options to be followed after the murder were being considered, there is little evidence that high-level political and official leadership offered guidance and support to the local district administration,” said the National Commission for Minorities, after its September 2008 visit to Kandhamal.

 

1. Sanatan Badamajhi

 

Sanatan Badamajhi’s wife Badusi said that a few days before her husband’s arrest, on 4 October, 2008, some of the Hindu village leaders had warned him that he would soon be arrested.

But on the day of the Swami’s murder, Badamajhi, 36, had been tending cattle and sheep, according to a Hindu neighbour, Nakula Mallick.

“Police never came to investigate or ask anything about him. If we had been called, we would have testified for him in the court,” said Mallick.

The judge said a gun was seized from Badamajhi’s house, but his wife says they never owned a gun.

Police also claimed to have seized an axe from the house, but his wife said the police brought the axe from the house of Mukantho Mallick, a Hindu neighbour, who had accompanied the police to identify the house.

“Later, Mukantho has been repeatedly complaining that the police took away the axe. I had only one axe and it is still in my house,” she said.

2. Munda Badamajhi

Munda Badamajhi, 34, was arrested on the night of 4 October, 2008, at his home in the village of Duringpodi.

The prosecution said it recovered a gun from Badamajhi’s home, but his wife, Bandigudali, said her husband did not even know how to use a gun.

“We never had a gun and my husband could not even use a gun,” she said. “This is shocking.”

3. Durjo Sunamajhi

Durjo Sunamajhi, 35, was woken up on the night of 4 October, 2008, when police barged into his house in Budapada village and took him away, as well as the barrel of a broken gun that they found in his house.

His wife Gumili said her husband was on a train towards Kerala on the day of the Swami’s murder and had never touched the gun, which she said was an old and broken hunting rifle last used by her husband’s grandfather.

“The government claim is that they recovered two guns [from the houses of these people], but actually only one barrel of a broken gun, which has not been used for years, had been picked up,” said Akkara. “[Gumili] says her husband never used it, her husband’s father never used it; only her husband’s grandfather used it. Imagine! And there was only a barrel of the hunting gun. Now, the government claims to have recovered two guns from two houses, but in the judgment the judge says he has got the three guns, and he names the three! How is that possible?”

4. Bijay Kumar Sanseth

Sanseth’s wife, Pabitra, said police phoned her on 12 December, 2008, and told him to report to the police station the next day. He did so, and has been detained ever since.

However, police recorded events differently, saying that on 12 December Sanseth met three of the other accused Christians at a Maoist meeting in a jungle near the village of Sartuli. They added that Sanseth, 42, had been overheard discussing plans to murder the Swami outside Kotagarh High School. This claim was attributed to a witness, Mahasingh Kanhar, who initially denied the claim, but eventually endorsed it during a retrial.

“Wherever I go, people tell me: ‘He was a good man. Why he is in jail?’” said Sanseth’s father, Salei. “The popularity of my son and his high contacts with government officials have led to this tragedy. Many were jealous of him.”

5. Bhaskar Sunamajhi

Bhaskar Sunamajhi, 32, was playing cards with his friends in the village of Kutiguda when police came to collect him on 13 December, 2008.

“You can return tomorrow,” his wife heard them say, when they took him away. But after more than seven years, Sunamajhi has not returned home.

The judge said Sunamajhi was “hand in gloves” with the Maoists and had undergone several weeks of training at a Maoist camp. However, his wife Debaki said he “never ventured [far] from home”.

Biracha Paraseth, a neighbour, added: “This is a total lie. He was with us on the day [the Swami was killed]”.

Pavitra Sanseth, another neighbour, added: “He is a good man. He will not do such a crime like killing of a Hindu leader. All of us feel very bad about this. Sir, if we all could have gone [to court] and explained his innocence, please tell us how we can help and ask for his release.”

6. Budhadeb Nayak

 

Before his arrest, one of the village elders urged Nayak, 42, to go into hiding, but he refused, saying he had done nothing wrong.

Police later came to his house, threatening his eldest son, 20-year-old Lingaraj, that they would soon arrest his father.

On the night of 13 December, 2008, they came back and Nayak was arrested.

“He was wearing only a [sarong]. They tied his hands to take him away. He asked for clothes and I gave him a shawl,” recalled his wife, Nilandri.

Three days later, the family visited him in Balliguda jail. The police said he had been with Maoists in the jungle on 12 December, alongside three of the others accused.

7. Gornath Chalanseth

Chalanseth, 41, was taken into police custody on 13 December 2008, but initially suspected nothing as he was active in politics.

His cousin, a pastor, accompanied him to the police station, and saw him taken away.

A couple of days later, after his cousin had not returned, he went back to the station and heard he had been charged with murder.

 

India’s top Catholic on Hindutva attacks: ‘country being divided on basis of religious belief’

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, has expressed a lack of trust in the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as the leader of the ruling BJP – known for pursuing a Hindu nationalistic agenda.

“The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it,” Cardinal Cleemis was quoted as saying by the Indian Express.

Cardinal Cleemis shared with media in New Delhi on 21 December his concern over a sudden spurt in anti-Christian violence after his visit to Satna in central Madhya Pradesh state, which made headlines when a team of carol singers were assaulted and then detained by police.

The 30-member Catholic carol team, of seminarians and two priests, was accused of attempting to forcibly convert Hindus in remote Bhoomkhar village, about 15km from Satna, on the night of 14 December. Following an allegation by a Hindu fundamentalist outfit called Bajrang Dal, the police detained the entire team, while the car of eight priests who came to help was torched outside the police station.

“I agree such incidents can happen in a big country… But how do you evaluate the strength and stand of the government? It is the subsequent action and the legal protection that matter,” the report quoted Cardinal Cleemis as saying.

Though India’s interior minister Rajnath Singh had assured the head of the Catholic Church of the “safety” of Christians when the Cardinal called on him after his Satna visit, Cleemis said the incident threatens the “credentials of our democratic system”. The police remained silent spectators when the Christians were manhandled inside the police station, he added.

A.C. Michael, co-ordinator of the United Christian Forum (that documents incidents of anti-Christian violence), visited another state, Uttar Pradesh, at the weekend, over the arrest of seven, including two pastors, two weeks ago on an anti-conversion charge. He told World Watch Monitor: “We are worried about the role of the police and the failure of the judicial system.”

When the bail application of the seven came up for hearing on 17 December before the court in Mathura, 160km south of New Delhi, the judge dismissed it, saying “lawyers were not present”.

“In fact the lawyers were standing in front of the judge,” said Michael, a former member of the Minorities Commission of Delhi state. “We are relieved that finally they were released on bail on 21 December.”

Meanwhile, hardly a day passes without incidents in the media of Christians being threatened not to celebrate during the festive season, and of Christmas celebrations being disrupted.

One such threat was also from Uttar Pradesh (UP), ruled by the BJP, in Aligarh – where the Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu Vigilance Council) told Christian schools not to celebrate Christmas.

However with global media promptly highlighting that threat, following the attack on the carol singers, the BJP state government said it has asked the HJM to deposit one million rupees as a guarantee that it will not indulge in such acts.

While the Aligarh area has not yet reported any attacks on Christian institutions, despite this threat, another BJP-ruled state, Rajasthan (bordering Pakistan on its west), saw an annual Christmas fair disrupted by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) at Pratapgarh town on 21 December.

Scroll.in, a leading news portal, reported that the incident took place at night. The perpetrators tore down decorations, snatched the microphones of the gathering, threw away their Christmas calendars and Christian literature, and accused them of carrying out conversions under the pretext of Christmas celebrations.

That happened days after Mohan Bhagwat, chief of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – a national volunteer corps known as the fountain-head of aggressive Hindu nationalism), said “anybody living in India is a Hindu”.

Bhagwat made this statement while addressing an RSS meeting at Agarthala, capital of the north-eastern state of Tripura. In a reference to Christians and other minorities, he added: “The Muslims in India are also Hindus.”

Meanwhile, the Times of India, the largest circulated English daily in the country, in an editorial on 22 December told the government that “right-wing groups must be prevented from disrupting Christmas celebrations”. It continued:

“There is no denying that Christmas has become a secular celebration in India with people from all walks of life and belonging to different faiths taking part. In that sense, such inclusive celebrations highlight the essence of India’s unity in diversity… If Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) groups are allowed to raise the bogey of religious conversion for every non-Hindu festival, then the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, as well as the true spirit of Hinduism, will stand desecrated.”

Christians in India Praise God in Spite of Police Brutality, Month in Jail

 

Four of the six Christians jailed and charged in Jharkhand state, India. (Morning Star News courtesy of Singhray Kullu)

India (Morning Star News) – Six Christians facing false charges, two of them beaten by police, were jailed for a month for praying for a sick woman in eastern India, they said.

After tribal Gondi villagers in Simdega District, Jharkhand state, attacked the Christians on Sept. 16, officers at the local police station refused to listen to the victims and hit two young men among them, 25-year-old Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi, 20, they said.

“The police hit Sajan Majhi and Kalender Majhi repeatedly,” said one of those arrested, 35-year-old Dasrath Karketta. “They didn’t give us a chance to speak. If they inquired of us, we could have explained what happened exactly, but they didn’t; instead, they scarred the face of Kalender Majhi. He bled also.”

The police beating followed the thrashing the Christians received from Hindu extremists in Ghosra village, who attacked them while they were praying for healing for the wife of Bikhru Majhi, sources said. Officers jailed the Christians and charged them with “promoting enmity between classes” and insulting religion. They spent a month in jail before being released on bail.

“We spent one month in jail joyously – we sang hymns, read the Bible, prayed and worshipped together in jail,” Karketta said. “We shared the gospel with other inmates in the district jail. There also, people came to Christ. We strongly felt the Lord was using us for His work and were happy about it.”

Karketta, the two young men and James Ba, 30, Balmuni Kumari, 19, and Jagdish Majhi, 50, went to the home of Bikhru Majhi after he asked them to pray for his wife, Nitu Devi, sources said.

“Bikhru Majhi heard our testimonies,” Karketta said. “He was amazed at how I got healed, and he wanted prayers for his wife.”

Before winning a battle against cancer, Karketta had visited several hospitals for treatment, exhausting his family’s financial resources, he said.

“We spent lot of money to a point that there was nothing left in our house, even no food for our children to eat,” Karketta said. “When I came to Christ, I got rid of all ailments, and now I am working, providing for my family and leading my life in Christ: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”’

Bikhru Majhi is Hindu but believes Christ can heal, and he routinely invites Christians to pray for his wife, who has long been ill, said Singhray Kullu, former pastor of the church in Ghosra village that the arrested Christians attend.

“Bikhru believes the prayers can heal her,” he said.

At around 8 p.m. on Sept. 16, a throng of Hindu villagers surrounded Bikhru Majhi’s house as the Christians prayed for his wife, said the only woman among the six arrested, Balmuni Kumari.

“They surrounded us and started beating the Christian brothers and me,” she told Morning Star News. “We told them it’s not conversion, we only came to pray for a sick woman.”

The villagers were furious, Karketta said.

“We tried telling them, ‘We did not come to murder, or get drunk, or steal, we came to pray at the request of Bikhru, and if this act of us offends you, we ask for forgiveness, please forgive us,’” Karketta said. “We tried our best to make peace, but they did not listen. They beat us, screaming, “Where is your God? Where is your Jesus? What can He do? Call him right now. We also want to see what He can do.’”

At around 11 p.m., police arrived and arrested the Christians, he said. They were taken to T. Tangar Police Station.

“We all are daily laborers, we depend on our earnings each day for our bread,” Karketta said. “From where arises the question of paying people and converting them?”

James Ba and Kalender Majhi of Banspahar village, Jagdish Majhi of Latapani village and Balmuni Kumari of Tukupani Baanstoli village were released on bail on Oct. 16. Dasrath Karketta of Khijri village and Sajan Majhi of Farsapani village were released on bail on Oct. 17.

Women’s Prison 

The 19-year-old Kumari was arrested along with the others at 11 p.m., though arrests of women are not permitted in India after sunset, a legal expert told Morning Star News. He added that if special circumstances require the arrest of a woman after sunset, police are required to assign female police officer.

“No female police constable came for me,” Kumari said. “I was the only woman, and it was frightening. I trusted the Lord.”

Her family came under severe pressure from the Hindus extremists while she was in jail, she said.

“The assailants threatened my mother and father,” she said. “They were asked to leave the village.”

Her brother told Singhray Kullu about the threats in Kumari’s home village.

“The family faced severe opposition because of their faith,” Kullu told Morning Star News. “The Gondis plotted to expel them from the village. Balmuni’s mother went into depression. Things turned normal after her release.”

The time in the women’s jail interrupted her university studies, Kumari said.

“Even in the prison, I prayed and worshipped with other Christians,” she said. “Every Sunday believing sisters from outside visited us and led us in prayer and worship.”

Some of the assailants later apologized to her, she added.

“The people who beat me that day came and asked for forgiveness after my release,” Kumari said. “But there is still bitterness in the hearts of some.”

The Christians were charged with promoting enmity between classes (Section 153-A of the Indian Penal Code), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; maliciously insulting the religion or religious beliefs of any class (Section 295-A), punishable by up to three years of prison and/or a fine; and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention (Section 34).

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, the hostile tone of his National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), against non-Hindus has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 15th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

INDIA – Place of anti-Christian violence becomes a place of inspiration for Indian Christians

Christians pray in India

(Agenzia Fides) – The victims of anti-Christian violence perpetrated in the Indian state of Orissa in 2007 and 2008 “are testimonies of authentic faith, that overcame difficulties and persecution, and today inspire many people in India and abroad”: says Archbishop John Barwa, at the head of the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa (or Odisha), to Agenzia Fides. The district of Kandhamal, theater of that violence, has become a “place of pilgrimage where one listens to the testimony of survivors and therefore share solidarity with the victims, where economically poor people, but strong and rich spiritually”, explains the Bishop.

Fides learned, a delegation of 45 women, representatives of 14 Indian regions, convened by the Bishops’ Conference of India for the National Meeting on “The Role of Women in creating the Family” gathered in Kandhamal. The delegation was led by Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas, President of the National Bishops’ Commission for Women and by Sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, Secretary of the Commission.

After the visit, Mgr. Jacob Mar Barnabas told Fides: “We visited a land of martyrs, we have a rich experience of faith that we must proclaim. These people need our solidarity. We shared their pain and suffering lived through faith in Jesus. These people shared his same cross. We too are called to live and proclaim that Christ is the Lord, like the people of Kandhamal. Their experience can be very important especially for young Indians”.

“We are called not to be just spectators. Before our brothers and sisters who have shown so much courage in defending faith, it is not enough to show sympathy and to listen to their story: it is necessary to engage, as a unique community, for the entire process of reconstruction. Only then our visit will be fruitful. This is a task for the entire Church in India”, added Mgr. Barnabas.
“My husband sacrificed his life so as not to not deny Christ. His sacrifice made me stronger in faith in Jesus. Every single breath I take today is the breath of faith in Jesus, which my husband witnessed with his life”, said to those present widow Kanakarekha Nayak, wife of Christian Parikit Nayak, attacked and tortured by Hindu militants.
“This visit caused emotion and I was really inspired and strengthened in the faith in Jesus”, says Chinama Jacob, a Catholic woman of Delhi, after listening to these stories. “I would like to come to Kandhamal and teach local students”, adds Mary Lucia from Tamil Nadu.
“Many women expressed the desire to economically and materially help the local community”, says Sister Bibiana Barla, regional secretary of the Bishop’s Commission in Orissa.

The whole group of women experienced so much love and affection from the villagers, despite their suffering and poverty. “Even if the people are poor and illiterate, their faith is firm in God’s word”, explains to Fides sister Talisha Nadukudiyil, promising commitment to nurturing co-operation and friendship.

In the wake of indiscriminate violence perpetrated in Kandhamal in 2008, about 100 Christians were killed by militant Hindu extremists, and the violence engulfed 600 Christian villages, 5,600 homes were looted, 295 churches and other places of worship destroyed, including 13 schools and leprosies. About 56,000 Christians in Kandhamal had to flee to save themselves and became refugees. During the violence, the faithful were told that the condition for them to remain in that district was to become a Hindu. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/10/2017)

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