10/06/2012, 00.00
INDIA

Orissa: 20 Christians arrested while celebrating a baptism

by Nirmala Carvalho
Hindu nationalists attacked and beat the Pentecostal community, then the police arrested faithful and pastor. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) demands the Orissa government open an investigation against police. Sajan George, president of the GCIC, "Exploiting anti-conversion laws to persecute minorities."

Mumbai (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Attacked and beaten by Hindu nationalists finally arrested by the local police, because "guilty" of celebrating a baptism. The episode took place in Kanthapada, in the district of Balasore (Orissa),  against 20 Pentecostal Christians (of these, 10 were catechumens), October 2 last. For Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the fact is "outrageous," and he demands the chief minister of Orissa "open an investigation into the police officers involved."

A large group of Hindu nationalists belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) were behind the incident. They broke into the middle of the ceremony, beating and insulting the minister Jayaram Marandi and faithful. Shortly thereafter, police from Khantapada station arrived, forcing the 20 Christians to get on to a truck, which brought them in for interrogation. After the arrest, the police deployed a large number of agents to "control" that the village.

Sajan George explains: "To harass, intimidate and arrest these Christian communities, the Hindu nationalists are exploiting the atrocious Orissa Freedom of Religion Act 1997 [Ofra Act 1997, the anti-conversion law of the State, ed], with the connivance and tacit consent of both administration and police. " According to the president of the GCIC, "the state government should stop persecuting those who use the decree against the population and threaten the Constitution, which is based on respect for justice and freedom." On paper, the anti-conversion laws prohibit conversions that occur "through force, coercion or fraud," and thus allow the government to investigate. In fact, they are applied only in cases of Hindus who switch to another religion. Since its implementation, conversions have decreased in number.

After the anti-Christian pogrom in Kandhamal (2008), he adds, "the perception of being under threat grew," because "the presence of the Sangh Parivar [umbrella that collects all the Hindu nationalist groups and movements, ed] has grown," bringing with it "hate campaigns and social boycott against Christians." However, greatest concern and discouragement regard "the extreme slowness of the machinery of justice for the victims of the massacres: while the number released from prison increases, alongside a decrease in convictions, and even those who have been found guilty get bail." The most striking case concerns Manoj Pradhan, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, ultra-nationalist Hindu party), responsible for the killing of a Christian leader in the pogrom. Despite a final sentence of seven years in prison - and trials for three other killings - the man is free on bail.

Meanwhile, another attack took place in Orissa has come to the attention of the GCIC. On 24 September in Krutamgarh (Kandhamal district), 12 Hindu activists of the Bajrang Dal disrupted a prayer service at a Pentecostal Christian community. The attack was particularly violent and the offenders forced the pastor Mantu Nayak to the ground and beat him, resulting in serious head injuries and fractures to both arms. For the moment, the police have arrested eight activists and are looking for others.

 

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