Srinagar (AsiaNews) - Fr Jim Borst, the only Mill Hill missionary in the Kashmir valley for 48 years, must leave the country within seven days, on pain of expulsion. The order came today from the Government of Jammu & Kashmir for the second time. The Dutch missionary (see photo), 79, had already received a warning last July, just months after the government had renewed his permission to stay until 2014. The deportation order is motivated by accusations of proselytism and conversions.
The Bishop of Jammu-Srinagar, Mgr. Peter Celestine brands the allegations as "fabricated and baseless." He confides to AsiaNews his "deep sadness" at news of the priest’s deportation. "Fr. Borst - he says - is a famous educator and his service has benefited the majority of the population of the state. For over 40 years he devoted himself selflessly to serving the community, without discrimination. His expulsion will be a loss for the entire civil society. "
Since 1997, Fr Borst has run two schools in Kashmir. Both are called "School of the Good Shepherd", one in Pulwama, the other in Shivpora, in Srinagar, where the staff is 99% Muslim. In the past, Fr. Borst led the St. Joseph School in Baramulla and the Burn Hall School in Srinagar.
The bishop slams the accusations of proselytism and conversions. "They are false and baseless. Government statistics show that the Christian population of the state has decreased and according to the last census there is a microscopic presence of Christians equal to 0.014% of the population. Where then is the proof of conversion? It’s just slander, sowing distrust and suspicion without any evidence. "
Predhuman K.Joseph Dhar, a Kashmiri Pandit Brahmin who converted to Catholicism, is a collaborator of Fr Borst: together they translated the Bible into the Kashmiri language. Furious at the deportation order, he says: "This order is the result of jealousy and vested interests ... We all know that some Muslim intellectuals run schools in the vicinity of those of Fr. Borst. They are the ones who are vilified by the schools of the Good Shepherd, and are angered that their schools are unable to compete with Mill Hill Missionaries schools. "
According to Joseph K. Dhar Predhuman since 2003 there has been a systematic campaign, made up of lies and terror against Fr. Borst, going so far as to attack the schools of the Good Shepherd. The Catholic intellectual also points the finger against the ruling party, Congress, which together with a coalition claims to be champion of democracy and secularism ... A secular state should work to defend the interests of minorities. "
Mill Hill Missionaries are present in Jammu & Kashmir since 1891-92 and are now engaged in education and health. "There is no evidence - says Dhar - of proselytizing. In contrast, the number of Christians in the Kashmir valley has decreased and now they are composed mainly of people who came here from other states for work in Kashmir. "
"The accusation of proselytism is above all an insult to all Muslim families in the valley, who are proud to have known Fr Borst, who was their principal at St. Joseph's School in Baramulla or Burn Hall School in Srinagar.
In Catholic schools - and Protestant - several Muslim figures received their education such as Omar Abdullah, the current head of government in Jammu-Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah, a former head of the government, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, one of the founders dell'Aphc (All Parties Hurriyat Conference ).
Jammu-Kashmir is situated in the north, near the border with Pakistan, which has claimed it as its territory for decades. There are 14 thousand Christians (about 0.0014%), 93% of the population consists of Muslims."The Christian community - concludes Dhar - is saddened by the way Fr. Jim Borst is treated. It ia an anti-Christian gesture and a gross violation of human rights by the government. We are all determined to defend our rights and to denounce all those who try to sully the priest’s reputation to satisfy their egos and whims. "