Masses interrupted, pastors arrested, allegations of forced conversions: Easter plight of India’s Christians
Bishops, activists and ordinary people complain about incidents of violence and intimidation across the country. Despite constitutional guarantees, the Christian minority is being persecuted. The threat on Palm Sunday: "If you want to pray, you must have official permission."
New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Incidents of violence, intimidation and harassment against Christians in India, a discriminated minority oppressed by the majority Hindus. Even on Palm Sunday and Holy Week before Easter. As reflected in the stories of what happened throughout the national territory, pastors and believers arrested, prayer meetings suppressed, masses interrupted, arrests on false accusations of proselytism, tribals forced to "return home", that is to Hinduism. Bishops, activists and ordinary people speak to AsiaNews pointing out that India is a secular and democratic country only on paper (constitutional), and over the years has become increasingly prey to the Hindu nationalists, led by the central government (BJP Bharatiya Janata Party) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On April 7, the radical nationalist youth brigade Hindu Yuva Vahini, created in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, raided a Dadhauli church in Maharajganj district (Uttar Pradesh), and interrupted the church service. There were about 150 faithful in the church at that time, including 10 American tourists. All Christians, including the pastor Yuhanna Adam, were arrested by police on charges of forced conversions to Christianity. Msgr. Thomas Thuruthimattam, bishop of Gorakhpur, complains: "It was a real indirect attack on religious freedom. These indirect threats are against the principles established in the Constitution, against people who are represented in the Constitution itself. "
Witnesses say that the nationalists insulted, intimidated and provoked Christians, although police established the falsity of the disputed charges. The pastor Adam also reports that young people entered the church with an excuse: "They arrived early in the morning, asking to visit the facility for its historical value. How could we stop them? The church is open to all and everyone is welcome at any time. Later, as soon as the Mass began, the group with saffron bandanas [typical of nationalists headgear, ed] came back with police. The police immediately blocked the function and asked everyone to leave the building. "
Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), criticizes the behavior of the police: “India is a Secular Democratic Republic with Constitutional Guarantees, no illegalities were being done at the Church event, yet the police stopped Worship services under the baseless charges of conversion activities. GCIC fears the increasing insecurity and targeting of the vulnerable Christian minority.”
The Christian leaders also condemned the “shameful act of targeting the tourists for attending worship is denounced and condemned by GCIC. Moreover, it repeats the same old stereotype, of missionaries being out to ‘convert’ the gullible masses.It is a very common sight to see western tourists in saffron robes attend all hues of Hindu festivals in India, very often they are also seen distributing copies of Hindu texts and books at various places, but the police neither stop them or arrest them, But when the western tourists attend Worship, they are detained and harassed. This is a grave human right violation”.
Since last month in Jharkhand radicals of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have "brought home to the Hindu family" 53 tribal families, including the last seven in early April. The campaign of tribal conversion will last throughout the month. Sajan K George denounces "the tribal Hindus have never been Hindu, therefore, an attempt to bring them back to the Hindu fold is just a way to harass them." Then he poses a technical question: "To what caste they would like to include them, since the tribals are not Hindus?".
On April 8 in Bangalore, Karnataka, a Christian event scheduled for the next day was canceled at the last moment. The authorities withdrew permission to carry out the event, which had more than 1,000 people registered who were supposed to attend a conference of two American evangelical pastors. The event was canceled after Girish Bhardwaj, radical Hindus, filed a complaint with the Immigration Service against the hypothetical attempt to convert by the two foreigners holding a visa that allowed them only to participate in the rally , and not to speak in public. The GCIC president expresses a strong condemnation of the incident and asked the Prime Minister of India to "invite the state governments to ensure the safety of Christians during Holy Week."
Indeed, preparations for Easter have also been marred in India, as well as the attacks against Coptic churches in Egypt. On Palm Sunday many episodes of intolerance occurred across the territory. In Madhya Pradesh, in the village of Sitabedi, members of the RSS - accompanied by police - have interrupted the celebrations and arrested the pastors Amar Singh Solanki, Kishore Solanki Barela and Prabhakar, their wives and other Christians on charges of forced conversions . The same charges have been laid against pastor Yashpal, whilst celebrating mass in Kaithal, Haryana. In the village of Jahanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, other Hindu extremists beat Pastor Paul Krishna, the Believer's Church, and dragged him to the police station. The same fate has befallen the pastor Saji Mathew of the Church of God in Sri Ganganagar, Rajasthan, who was arrested along with seven other Christians. Finally Taluka in Palani, Tamil Nadu, some administration officials privately broke into the pastor Gunasekaran’s residence while he was leading prayer. The authorities took photographs and filmed the people attending the function. They have also warned that if Christians want to pray in the future, they will have to obtain an official permit.