Jaipur (AsiaNews) Hindu militants have attacked young Christians traveling from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh to a Christian Bible institute for a convention in the town of Kota in the north-western state of Rajasthan.
The 250 Christians had arrived in Kota's railway station at about 4:30 am when they were met by some 200 slogan-shouting members of Hindu organizations who reportedly surrounded them and roughed them up before taking them to a local police station.
Railway police confined the group, mostly tribal youth from Andhra Pradesh's Anantpur district, at the railway station until they put them on a train back to their state.
Bishop Samuel Thomas, president of Emmanuel Ministries International which organised the convention, characterised the incident as a "violent and unprovoked attack."
Speaking to AsiaNews, Mgr Ignatius Menezes, Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur, the diocese where Kota is located, protested on behalf of Christians against Hindu militants and the police.
"Even though convention organisers had a police permit and the police itself was present, Hindu fundamentalists attacked and disrupted the meeting [with] Bajrang Dal activists pelting stones at the people," the Bishop said.
"Hindu fundamentalists are always very vigilant of any Christian activities [. . .] They are always coming up with new ways to prevent and block any Christian congregational assemblies," he added.
In light of the situation, local Muslims have expressed their solidarity with the persecuted Christians of Rajasthan. Mohammed Seleem, a local Mulsim community leader, said that the state government, which is run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), backs Hindu 'fascist' organisations; "instead of punishing the persecutors, it takes aim at the their victims".
Bishop Menezes also pointed the finger at Rajasthan's state authorities which have already been taken to task for their controversial social and religious policies.
Rajasthan's Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje has for instance lifted the ban on trishuls (tridents) and dropped charges against Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal workers.
"Christians are helpless," Bishop Menezes said. "With a BJP administration running the state we hardly have a voice".
The Congress Party, which represents the main opposition in the state, has come out strongly against BJP policies. Its leader C S Baid said the government is using the Kota incident to implement its saffron [Hindu nationalist] agenda favouring Hindu fundamentalism at the expense of religious minorities.
As part of this agenda, the government is planning to table an anti-conversion bill either in this or the next session of the state assembly.
For Mr Baid, "[i]t is clear that the Home Minister is mouthing the line of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal and by bringing about such laws they want to harass the minorities".
"Even if we protested against this bill, our words would fall on deaf years. The situation is serious and worrisome," said Bishop Menezes.
In a recently released report (Sankshipt Karyavrat-2004), the VHP claimed that 2004 was a successful year for its re-conversion campaign. In it, it claims to have brought 12,853 members of minority communities back into the Hindu fold, 9,130 of whom are said to be Christians.
Civil rights groups and news agencies have often reported that such re-conversions are carried under duress, including the use of death threats. Leading this alleged re-conversion trend are the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa.
However, Bishop Menezes dismisses such claims. "These are highly inflated figures," he said. What is true though is that "Hindu fundamentalists operate with terror tactics especially among the poor defenceless Tribals and Adivasi".