The 79-year-old Dutch missionary was almost expelled twice before from the state where he has lived for the past 48 years. Sharia courts have no jurisdiction on non-Muslims, but many fear a repeat of what happened to Rev K. M. Khanna, an Anglican clergyman who was summoned by a Sharia court, then arrested on allegations of forced conversions.
Srinagar (AsiaNews) – A Sharia court in Kashmir summoned Fr Jim Borst, a 79-year-old Dutch Catholic missionary, to appear tomorrow and answer charges of proselytising and forced conversions. For years, the Mill Hill missionary, who has been the principal of the prestigious St Joseph’s School, has been the target of Muslim scholars. Twice before, Kashmir state authorities ordered his expulsion (see Nirmala Carvalho, “Missionary forced to leave Kashmir because his schools are "too good"
,” in AsiaNews
, 12 July 2010, and ibid, “Deportation order for only Mill Hill missionary in Kashmir
," in AsiaNews
, 30 March 2011), and both times the order was rescinded.
“The Sharia court has no jurisdiction over non-Muslims,” said Mgr Peter Celestine Elampassery, bishop of Jammu and Kashmir. “It cannot interrogate Fr Jim Borst, nor is he is under any obligation to appear.”
For some, envy and jealousy of Muslim scholars are behind the charges of proselytising against Fr Borst. The schools the Dutch missionary set up, including St Joseph’s in Baramulla and Burn Hall in Srinagar, are known for the quality of the education they dispense. What is more, their staff is 99 per cent Muslim.
Many Muslim leaders have attended these schools, including the current chief minister of the state, Omar Abdullah, one of his predecessors, Farooq Abdullah, and the founder of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
However, local Catholics are concerned by the summons. In early November, the same court had summoned Rev Chander Mani Khanna to answer for baptising seven Muslims. Although the latter had freely chosen to convert, both they and the clergyman were arrested (see “Kashmir pastor arrested for baptising seven Muslims
,” in AsiaNews
, 21 November 2011).
Mgr Celestine spoke to Rev Khanna before he went to the Sharia court. “Such things should not happen,” he said. Muslims “should not manipulate the law. The Anglican and Catholic Churches work together for the good of society. Through our social and educational apostolate, we serve the entire population in a state where we are a tiny minority. We work for the common good and the development of the people of Jammu and Kashmir”.
Meanwhile, new elements are emerging about Rev Khanna’s case. “All seven converts have explicitly declared that they had asked to be baptised,” said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
“One of them, a 25-year-old, said that he was arrested three days after the birth of his two twin daughters,” he added. Sadly, one of them died on Wednesday, less than 30 days after her birth. “The wife of another convert is suffering from a heart condition.”
“All the converts are prepared to say on camera that Rev Khanna is innocent and that they did not receive any money in order to be baptised,” George said.
After their arrest, the seven converts were beaten and tortured by police, their beard ripped out, and their feet beaten.