(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)
India (Morning Star News) – Villagers in Uttar Pradesh state, India beat Christians, forced them to participate in Hindu rituals and have refused to provide them water, sources said.
Four families who were attacked in Jalalabad village, Ghazipur District rely on the water to irrigate their fields, they said.
“How will we survive if we don’t grow our crops?” Sasikala Kumari asked Morning Star News, noting that the village head and police have allowed the Hindus to cut off the Christians water supply. “They have all joined together and are conspiring against us.”
Hindu villagers on April 25 beat with sticks Manoj Kumar, his wife Pushpa Kumari and three other Christian couples, including Sasikala Kumari and her husband Ramkreet Ram – and accused them of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity.
“The mob supported by the village president forced us to drink gangajal [water from the Ganges River, considered holy), eat tulsi [basil considered holy] leaves and declare that we deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “When we resisted, the men and women of the village beat us even more severely.”
The four couples along with four other Christians refused to participate in the ritual or deny Christ. A total of 13 other younger Christians felt compelled to participate in the Hindu ritual and deny Christ, they said.
“The youths were forced by the extremists to consume gangajal and tulsi leaves and deny Christ,” Pushpa Kumari told Morning Star News. “The village president instigates the mob to attack whoever converts to Christianity.”
When the Christians went to the Dullapur police station to file a complaint against the assailants, village President Santosh Kumar Gupta arrived also and accused them of forcible conversion.
Gupta denied that he and the other Hindus pressured the Christians to deny Christ and participate in the Hindu ritual, telling Morning Star News that the incident was a mere quibble between the two groups.
The matter went before police, he said.
Manoj Kumar, who leads prayers in his house on Sundays since the families do not have the means to travel into town for worship, said police listened to both sides.
“The villagers were against us, they made false allegations that we are forcibly converting the people,” Manoj Kumar said. “The police asked the villagers to let anyone follow their own Dharma [religious teaching] peacefully, and that nobody shall disturb the prayer services in the village’s house church.”
In the presence of the village head, the Hindu villagers said they would abide by the police request, and neither side filed a formal complaint. The agreement, however, made no mention of water service, and the villagers have refused to sell it to the Christians.
“As a result, we aren’t allowed our share of supply of water in the fields,” Manoj Kumar told Morning Star News. “We are ready to pay the hourly price, but the president and villagers have decided to not let us irrigate. Our field is going dry; it’s burned dead.”
Village President Gupta told Morning Star News he cannot prevent the Hindus from cutting off the Christians’ water.
“As far as the problem about the supply of water, it’s personal,” he said. “If nobody in the village wants to sell them water from the bore wells, it’s their personal choice.”
Asked if a basic commodity like water can be denied to a people on religious grounds in a secular country like India, Gupta said the families have not complained to him about it. Had they come, he said, he would have resolved it.
The families said the village president’s statement was untrue.
“We went to him twice now,” Pushpa Kumari said. “Gupta’s wife told us to bring the attackers to their house, and she will solve our problem. Why would the attackers come?”
The Christians approached the village head a third time on Wednesday (June 14), but they said he only told them, “You must get down from your high horse. Stop the worship services in the village. Stop following Christ, only then water will be supplied to your fields.”
Some of the attackers, identified only as Vijay, Hari, Rajender, Mukh Lal and Sonu, are part of a village committee that aids of the village president, Manoj Kumar said.
The sub-inspector of police of Dullapur in whose presence the matter was settled in the first week of May declined to comment, saying he had been transferred to another post.
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 (Morning Star News) – A pastor in eastern India’s Bihar state has lost his hearing after Hindu extremists assaulted him outside his home on church premises last month, sources said.
Doctors at a Hajipur government hospital determined the loss of hearing and wounds on Pastor Sikandar Kumar’s body were a result of being beaten with iron rods and sticks, Vaishali District Superintendent of Police Rakesh Kumar told Morning Star News.
Pastor Kumar, 45, was at his home in Jadhua village when a young boy riding a bicycle knocked on his door on April 5, church officials said. The boy told the pastor and his wife that a group of men were waiting outside to meet him, according to pastor Arun Kumar, who is now leading the victim’s Pentecostal congregation.
“When the pastor stepped out, 15 men started beating him and accused him of conversions in the village,” Arun Kumar told Morning Star News.
“They badgered his head with iron swords and sticks. Pastor Sikandar fell down unconscious; he had a deep injury on his head. He was bleeding severely.”
The assailants were shouting, “Jai Sri Ram, Jai Sri Ram (Hail Lord Ram),” he said, adding that they left the church compound apparently assuming Pastor Kumar was dead.
Police suspect the attackers were Ram Bhakts, devotees of Ram, who carried out processions in the district that day as part of a Hindu spring festival known as Rama Navami.
“Since there are no eyewitnesses, we detained five suspects based on Pastor Sikandar’s complaint,” the Vaishali District superintendent told Morning Star News. “We detained five suspects, but the victim, Pastor Sikandar, couldn’t identify them. So we released them.”
Pastor Kumar’s injuries were deep, he said, adding, “It was clear that the attack was brutal. The investigation is on.”
Arun Kumar said he and others found the pastor bleeding in the church compound.
“The assailants even snatched away his mobile and have been answering calls from media and believers for weeks now,” Arun Kumar said. “I asked the police to trace it.”
While he has not faced any direct opposition since taking over pastoral duties at the church, Arun Kumar said he has received threatening phone calls.
“More than 100 families attend the church,” he said. “The police have provided us security for the Sunday worship.”
Prior to the attack on him, Pastor Kumar had complained to police after he and other church members were attacked by Hindu extremists on Feb. 10, Arun Kumar said.
“He even wrote to the chief minister and other government officials in February,” he said. “He didn’t receive any great response.”
Doctors in Hajipur referred Pastor Kumar to Patna Medical College for further treatment. He has returned to his native village in Bihar state with his wife and children; from there he travels to a private neurological center in Patna, the state capital, for treatment.
A Christian who fell into a coma on Jan. 21 after suffering a brain hemorrhage due to hypertension after badgering by Hindu extremists has been discharged from the hospital, according to his wife, Kusuma Sujata.
K.A. Swamy, a 47-year-old professor, was insulted and threatened by Hindu extremists for distributing Bibles in Hyderabad, capital of Telangana state, before they took him to police who interrogated him the rest of the day.
“Swamy is scheduled for another surgery, and whatever he has been able to recover so far may come down or improve,” Sujata told Morning Star News. “It might become a burden, since we’re running on meager finances.”
India ranked 15th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
(Agenzia Fides) – “There are many little-known and never recounted incidents which occurred in the district of Kandhamal. Justice was denied to the most vulnerable and marginalized people such as Adivasi and Dalit Christians. The poor and the marginalized do not receive justice: this is a serious matter of concern for all of us if we want to save the Indian Constitution. The old saying is really true: Justice delayed is justice denied”: This is what A.P. Saha, a judge of the High Court of Delhi told Fides, presenting a new research on anti-Christian massacres that occurred in Orissa in 2008. The research, signed and published by two authors, lawyers Vrinda Grover and Saumya Uma, offers unusual and unpublished stories, revealing the shortcomings in managing justice to the victims.
Commenting on the publication, John Rebeka, activist for human rights, recalls the extent and the consequences of that campaign of violence: “Violence in Kandhamal severely affected women and children, obstructing the path of education. 600 villages were destroyed, 5,600 houses were looted, 295 churches and other places of worship, 13 schools, and homes for leprosy patients were destroyed. About 56,000 Christians of Kandhamal became homeless. The faithful were told that the condition in order to stay in that district was to become Hindus. This is the reality of the tragedy of Kandhamal”. “The judicial system is slow in ensuring justice for the minorities in the country”, said lawyer Ramachandran, invoking the “right to freedom of religion enshrined in Article 25 of the Indian Constitution”.
Speaking of her own research, lawyer Saumya Uma tells Fides: “Hindu fundamentalists have intimidated witnesses in courts, threatening them with death. There was no conducive atmosphere to release her testimony. As a result all the more severe cases, or with the highest number of defendants have been resolved with dismissal or aquittal. Currently the defendants move freely, while the innocent victims live in fear and hiddeness. This is the real situation in Kandhamal, nine years after the incident. Among Hindus and Christians in local communities we are yet to restore confidence and brotherhood”.
Lawyer Vrinda Grover, another author of the research, told Fides: “I have investigated the violence in Kandhamal: there are the responsibilities of the civil and judicial administration. The district administration was paralyzed for three or four days. No relief was brought to the victims. The victims, who fled into the forests, were deprived of minimum services, such as food and water”. The authors speak from a perspective that is not sectarian or communitarian, claiming to act “for human beings and humanity”. The two legal experts are launching the appeal to do justice, “re-opening the court cases on the victims of Orissa”.
India (Morning Star News) – A week after a pastor fell into a coma following harassment by hard-line Hindus in southern India, a gang of Hindu extremists in the same state beat another pastor after he prayed for healing at the home of an elderly church member, family members said.
Police altered the statement of the Rev. Gandham Padma Rao, 49, so that the 10 young men who assaulted him on Jan. 27 in Medipally village, Telangana state, were described only as drunken youths, not members of a Hindu nationalist group as the pastor had stated, his son told Morning Star News.
Pastor Rao fulfilled church duties the two days after the assault before seeking medical help, and doctors told family members that his blood pressure was so high that he could have suffered a hemorrhage had he waited any longer. Another pastor, 47-year-old K.A. Swamy of Hyderabad, on Jan. 21 fell into a coma after suffering high blood pressure and a brain hemorrhage hours after Hindu extremists threatened him with highly offensive language and took him to police for distributing Bibles.
Pastor Rau’s son, Samuel Mark, told Morning Star News his father had left the home of the elderly church member, who had just been released from a hospital, at about 9:30 p.m. and was walking to his car when the young men blocked his way with their motorcycles.
When the pastor ignored them and began walking on the other side of the road, one of the assailants shouted, “Why are you coming to our village? Why are you praying here?” as four others began hitting him, knocking him to the ground, relatives said.
Pastor Rao and eyewitnesses said the youths were members of the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Vahini.
“They spoke to me in vulgar language: ‘You must never come to our village to pray. You should never enter our village,’” Pastor Rao told Morning Star News.
Two of the assailants held him while the others punched and kicked him, he said.
“I could not balance myself and fell in a pit nearby,” he said. “They picked me up, threw me on the road and started battering me again. I tried hard to regain my strength and run, but they followed me quickly held my collar, pushed me off with their feet. When I fell down again, they began kicking and beating me again.”
One of the Hindu extremists tried to pick up a large stone and throw it at him, he said. Area residents heard his cries and came out of their homes, including a member of his church who came running and cried out for help.
The church member, identified only as Mariyamma, along with her relatives and other area residents said the assailants were members of the Vishwa Hindu Vahini. A First Information Report was filed in the NTPC Ramagundam police station, but police removed references to the Hindu nationalist group from Pastor Rao’s statement and described the assailants only as drunken wage workers, his son said.
Sub-Inspector P. Chandra Kumar told Morning Star News only that the suspects were young men in police custody.
“The investigation is not yet completed,” he said. “Yes, it is true that the pastor was beaten and the attackers were all youngsters in between ages 24 and 27.”
He declined to reveal the identity of the assailants, but sources said the primary suspect, Chandragiri Shiva Prasad, was in custody.
Pastor Rao drove back to his home in Ramakrishnapuram, where he conducted a baptism ceremony at his church the next day. The following day (Jan. 29), he took painkillers and carried out duties at his church’s Sunday service, but later that afternoon he felt light-headed and was taken to a hospital.
His blood pressure was 200 over 140 mmHg, Dr. D.B. Vamsi told Morning Star News, and the pastor was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit at Medilife Hospital, Mancherial. A hypertensive crisis is said to begin when blood pressure reaches 180 over 110 mmHG.
“The patient complained of pain,” Vamsi said. “Immediately after we heard about the assault, we sent for more tests. His pains will last for a few weeks.”
The pastor’s family members told Morning Star News that the church’s cross was uprooted and broken two years ago. The church’s sound equipment was destroyed a year ago, and in December, while he joined in Christmas carols, the pastor’s car was punctured with nails, they said.
Family members and visiting pastors said the attack appeared to have been planned. They said the Hindu extremists knew how to strike him so that there would be no bleeding but multiple contusions.
The pastor’s son told Morning Star that his father has been unable to lie down since his back was severely bruised.
“My dad went to visit the families who had been attending our church over years now,” he said. “He had no business to do with the assailants. He didn’t bother anyone. He didn’t even respond to them when they shouted at him. All of a sudden, they began kicking him on the road. Don’t you see it was all planned?”
INDIA: (Morning Star News) – Hindu extremists in Maharashtra state had severely beaten a pastor, pointed a gun at his head and were sprinkling gasoline on him to burn him to death when he began praying and praising Jesus.
Pastor Prashant Bhatnager, 45, is still recovering from broken hand, arm and leg bones, as well as cuts and abrasions on his head and the rest of his body, after about six Hindu extremists led by Gurunath Mumbaikar, president of the Shri Ram Foundation (Shri Ram Pratishtan Sanghtan), on Sept. 16 beat and urinated on him.
Pastor Bhatnager and four other Christians from House of God Church were praying for a sick person and distributing tracts in Taloja, Raigad District when they were attacked, church leaders in Maharashtra told Morning Star News. The Hindu extremist assailants questioned the Christians, snatched their tracts and took them to a public hall, where they held them for two hours, the church leaders said.
Two hours later, at about 8:30 p.m., another 30 Hindu extremists showed up, disparaging the Christians and threatening to kill them, the church leaders said. But the assailants then released the other four Christians, after warning them not to pray for anyone again, and dragged the pastor of the 350-member church into a car.
“The extremists started beating him as they accused him of forceful conversion and then sped up the car and took him away to an isolated place, followed by another 20 extremists on 11 motorbikes,” area church leader Baban Kamble told Morning Star News
At an isolated area, they dragged the pastor out and beat him with an iron rod while accusing him of forceful conversion and destroying the minds of the villagers by leading them to believe in Christ, Pastor Bhatnagar said.
“They pulled me out from the car and pushed me to the ground while they pointed a revolver at me, snatched my phone away and threatened to take my life,” he said. “All of them started beating me, and I started to bleed form my mouth and nose.”
The extremists later sprinkled gasoline over him to burn him alive.
“I was fearful, and I started feeling convulsive, but then and there I started praising Jesus and praying, and my attackers became angrier as they continued to beat, kick and punch me, told me to shut up, spat on my face and urinated on me,” he said. “How I survived such an attack is miraculous. I see the love and the faithfulness of God more through this incident.”
He went unconscious in a pool of blood. Thinking that that he was dead, the extremists put the pastor back into the car and deposited him at another isolated area. After 15 minutes, however, they gathered him up again and dropped him near his village, he said.
A passer-by found him, poured water on his face and revived him, and then helped him to call friends.
“When we arrived at the roadside where he was taken care of, he was still bleeding profoundly from his nose, mouth and ears, and he fell unconscious again on the way to the hospital,” Kamble said.
The pastor was taken to Kharghar Medicity Hospital, but due to the severity of his injuries, he was later admitted in Navi Mumbai Municipal Hospital, Vashi.
Police registered a First Information Report against the attackers and on Oct. 16 arrested the leader of the assailants, Mumbaikar, church leaders said. They said there was no case of forceful conversion against the five Christians, as they were simply handing out pamphlets to those who wished to take them.
“We pray for people on their request, and people come to the church by their own free will,” Pastor Bhatnager said. “We never force or lure anyone to believe in Christ as they wrongly accused us.”
The Christians were not able to lead a prayer convention (Prarthana Sabha) scheduled for Oct. 17 because of the attack.
India ranked 17th on Open Doors’ 2016 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
(Agenzia Fides) – “There is growing intolerance and hostility toward small Pentecostal Christian communities, that are not allowed to do what is guaranteed by constitutional guarantees”: says to Agenzia Fides Sajan K. George, president of the global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), recalling the recent episodes of violence suffered by Protestant Pentecostal Pastors.
On August 20, Pastor Roy of the “Sharon Fellowship Church Town” was pelted with stones by extremists in Kodungallur, in the state of Kerala. Pastor Roy explained that, over the last five years, during the Sunday liturgies there have always been tension due to the presence of fanatical Hindus militants who want to stop the celebrations.
In another recent incident, in Bangalore, Karnataka, on August 18, a 26-year-old evangelist Christian leader of the Thadou Christian Fellowship Church was attacked and punched by five men, after paying a visit to his friend to lead a prayer meeting.
According to the Pentecostal communities, these attacks are on the rise. Speaking to Fides, Sajan K. George said: “Pastors are not doing anything illegal, or causing problems of public order or security. It is the militants who carry out gratuitous violence on innocent Christians. It is up to the state to give an institutional response, to stop the violence, ensure the rule of law”.
India: 8th anniversary of worst incidence of Anti-Christian violence, Christians still waiting for justice
On August 25, 2008, nearly 200 villages in Kandhamal were attacked and forced 30,000 people to flee the East-Indian state of Odisha. 300 churches and approx. 5,600 houses were looted and burned to the ground. 2,000 people were reportedly forced to renounce their Christian faith and more than 10,000 children had their education disrupted. The violence against the Christian community in Kandhamal led to the death of about 100 Christians, although the government figures put the figure at 39.
Though incident reports were filed, police investigations were not thorough, cases prematurely closed and offenders not prosecuted. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of India said the state needed to re-investigate 315 cases of communal violence from 2008.
“The minorities are as much children of the soil as the majority and the approach has been to ensure that nothing should be done, as might deprive the minorities of a sense of belonging, of a feeling of security, of a consciousness of equality and of the awareness that the conservation of their religion, culture, language and script as also the protection of their educational institutions is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution… it can, indeed, be said to be an index of the level of civilisation and catholicity of a nation as to how far their minorities feel secure and are not subject to any discrimination or suppression,” read that ruling.
Anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal is not uncommon and Christians in the district have been subject to hate campaigns by Hindu fundamentalists since the 1960s. The violence in 2008 was sparked by the killing of prominent Hindu and the media and police suggested a Maoist group could have been behind the death, however Hindu fundamentalists blamed the Christian community.
India’s Christian communities are tense as violence against them has been on the rise. Please pray for them.
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