10/09/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Varanasi: Hindu fanatics destroy Christian school, shelter for widows

by Prakash Dubey

The attack took place yesterday in Danupura in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The mob looted the buildings and accused the two Protestants who run them of proselytism. Local Catholics say the real reason for all this is the land on which the buildings stand.

Varanasi (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of fanatic Hindus have attacked and ransacked a shelter for widows and a school for poor children run by an American Christian couple who were accused of proselytism and forced conversion. The attack took place yesterday in Danupura village in the heart of Varanasi district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh state.

Surendra Charan, a Christian lawyer from Varanasi – a famous Hindu temple town – defended the couple. He told AsiaNews: "The fanatics took everything they could carry: carpets, electrical batteries, radios, televisions, even chairs and tables. The total damage is around US,000 dollars." Charan filed a report with the local police but the officials "appear reluctant to nab the culprits and seem rather to be colluding with them."

The couple, James and Monica, has lived in India for years. They run a restaurant called 'Bread of Life' in Varanasi, frequented especially by tourists. They used their earnings from this venue to buy two acres of land in Danupura, some 15 kilometers away from Varanasi, the district capital.

Here they built a shelter for vulnerable widows and a school for poor children. The lawyer said the two Americans "find work for the widows so they will not feel useless, and in the meantime they support them free-of-charge. They also look after the children to whom they impart basic education."

However, some locals were unhappy about their work. Charan said: "Some village residents, including the leader of the council, sought to extort money from them, getting themselves hired and then exploiting the beneficiaries of the house and school. At first, James and Monica did not understand what was going on but once they realized some of their workers were cheating them to the detriment of the widows and children, they sent them away."

This angered the swindlers who cooked up false charges of proselytism against the two Christians. The lawyer said the couple was "accused of converting Dalit children and elderly people. The head of the village council, together with some local Hindu leaders, even filed a police report against the shelter around five months ago." However, after investigating the charge, police were forced to admit that "there were no traces of conversion in the places run by the Americans."

Since they could not count on the authorities, the village residents decided to use another tactic: two of them told a group of local Hindu fanatics that the couple had sought to convert them and that the widows living in the shelter, around 50 of them, had all become Christians.

Furious, the fundamentalists got together a mob that attacked and ransacked the buildings. In the meantime, their leaders have tried to get the land as "compensation" for damages "suffered" because of the couple.

A local Catholics priest, Fr Anand, said the crux of the whole matter was precisely land. He told AsiaNews: "The way things happened clearly shows some villagers were eyeing the land and so created false accusations to send the Americans away."

But the priest, who works in the social work sector in Varanasi, said he was optimistic: "The people of Varanasi, the holiest Hindu shrine city, are very scrupulous and rational and they would not swallow this bait of false charges by villagers. They will do all they can to stand for justice."

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