03/16/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Hindu fundamentalists attack Christian preachers in Rajasthan

Christian minority opposes anti-conversion bill planned by the BJP-dominated state government. Rajasthan Home Minister says bill would "curtail" missionaries' attempts to convert people.

Jaipur (AsiaNews/UCAN) – More anti-Christian violence in Rajasthan, where the state government wants to adopt an anti-conversion law over the objections of the local Christian community.

A Christian meeting in the village of Koida, in Alwar district, was interrupted on Sunday when a group of Hindu militants threatened those in attendance.

The attackers beat up the eight Protestant clergymen who had gathered to pray; they also desecrated their copies of the Bible. The men suffered injuries serious enough to require hospital treatment.

Sajan K. George, chairman of the Global Council of Indian Christians, a Christian rights group, said that the militants were from the Bajarang Dal, a Hindu nationalist group, and were wielding lethal weapons.

Mr George sent a letter to Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam calling his attention to the continuous violence Christians experience throughout India.

"Christians," Mr George wrote, "are also part of India [. . .]. But the climate of discrimination has suffocated their day-to-day life".

The law might also bring its weight to bear upon the anti-Christian trend. In effect, the state legislature is scheduled to vote on an anti-conversion bill on March 24, a bill that was tabled by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist and supremacist party.

Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told the state assembly that such a bill would "curtail" missionaries' attempts to convert people. This is important because as he told his fellow lawmakers, "[w]e cannot allow conversions to take place in our state".

Should it be adopted, the bill would punish those who induce or force others to convert, but religious minority rights activists have pointed out that Hindu fundamentalists use such notions in an abusive way. For example, under the terms of the proposed law, Christian charity works could be accused of proselytising and thus be stopped and punished.

Rajasthan Christian Churches have strongly condemned the bill. According to Mgr Ignatius Menezes, Bishop of Ajmer-Jaipur, Mgr Jospeh Pathalil, Bishop of Udaipur, and Collin C. Theodore, a Bishop with the (Protestant) Church of North India, the bill would worsen an already bad situation for minorities. All three believe that the bill would give Christians and other religious minorities "a feeling of insecurity and fear".

The Church leaders want the Chief Minister to explain why her government should become party to "the continued harassment" of Christians, pointing out that existing laws are sufficient to tackle questionable practices related to conversion.

For J C Biswas, a Christian activist, the law "will be a blunt instrument in the hands of fundamentalists to attack minorities and minority institutions".

Rajasthan has a population of 56 million people, 89.2 per cent are Hindu. Muslims are around 4.7 million (8.3 per cent); Christians are a mere 72,000 (0.07 per cent). (LF)

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