03/22/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Police in Karnataka arrest 22 Christian missionaries

Missionaries are charged with proselytising and forced conversion. District where incident occurred is a Hindu nationalist stronghold. Local bishop denounces intensely anti-Christian atmosphere.

Hyderabad (AsiaNews) – Police in the southern Indian state of Karnataka confirmed that it took 22 Christian missionaries into custody last Tuesday on charges of trying to convert people in the district of Dharwad district. The arrest came when villagers in Bada village alleged that the missionaries handed out pamphlets in favour of Christianity and against Hindu gods, which they said were “made of paper” with “no power”. Residents also claimed that they were offered money to convert to Christianity.

In arresting the missionaries police seized the material in the latter’s possession, saying that they appealed to villagers to become Christians to lead a happy life.

All 22 of them appeared before a magistrate in Dharwad who charged them under sections 298, (making statements intended to wound religious feelings), 448 (house trespass) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to breach the peace), and then released them on bail.

Local Christians noted that the area is a stronghold of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, a Hindu fundamentalist paramilitary group) and that local Hindus are quite communally sensitive.

By contrast, in “November 2006, the front door of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Church at Nirmal Nagar, Dharwad city, was burnt overnight. The authorities do not have any concrete evidence about the culprits; it may have been a prank or the work of some miscreants; however to date no one has been arrested,” Mgr Derek Fernandes, bishop of Karwar, told AsiaNews.

More recently, on February 26 of this year, the ‘Dharwad District Minority Christian Welfare Association’ staged a protest against spiralling anti-Christian violence.

Following their march Christians called on the government to act against “fundamentalist forces” that have been attacking local Christians for months.

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