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  Anti-Conversion Bill Becomes Law in North India State  
 

 

 
  On 19 February, the governor of Himachal Pradesh state, Shri Justice Vishnu Sadashiv Kokje, gave his assent to the anti-conversion law passed by the state legislature on 29 December 2006. The bill has now passed into law.
Himachal Pradesh is a mostly mountainous state in northern India.
Minority groups had expressed grave concern that the ‘Himachal Pradesh Freedom of Religion Bill, 2006’ was passed by the secular Congress Party, after similar laws were passed and strengthened in states ruled by the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) last year. CSW partner organisation, the All India Christian Council (AICC) is considering a legal challenge to the law at the Supreme Court.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) previously reported that Christians faced a fresh wave of harassment by Hindu extremist groups after the bill was passed. Further attacks have subsequently taken place.
Dr Joseph D’souza, President of the Dalit Freedom Network and the All India Christian Council, said, “It is highly regrettable that the secular Congress government in Himachal Pradesh has chosen to pass this law, which severely undercuts the fundamental right to freedom of religion, particularly for exploited Dalits and tribals.
“The assent of the governor amounts to an endorsement of the discrimination and persecution against religious minorities in that state, which has already begun since the bill was passed on 29 December.”
CSW’s Advocacy Director, Tina Lambert, said, “Hindu extremist groups already seem to have been bolstered by the passage of this law, encouraged by the state-sponsored religious freedom restrictions which are becoming ever more common across India.
“This is a very troubling trend, and we urge the international community to make urgent representations to the Indian government about the proliferation of anti-conversion legislation.”


Source: All India Christian Council, for Dalits
 
     
 

Dalit Christian Reservation Adjourned for Eight Weeks
Central Government will Study Commission Report
 
     
 
New Delhi, January 23, 2008
 
Supreme Court of India adjourned Dalit Christian reservation hearing for another eight weeks. Central Government sought for eight weeks to study the reports submitted by National Commission for Scheduled Caste (NCSC) and National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minority known as Misra Commission.
 
The council of lawyers appealed in Supreme Court to restore the Scheduled Caste status to all Dalits irrespective of religion. Dalit Christians mount up the frustration at delay of their demand.
 
The court adjourned when Additional Solicitor General Gopal Subramanian sought for eight weeks to study the reports submitted by NCSC base on the recommendation of the Misra Commission.
 
A Three Judges Bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan told the council that shorter date will be given to Central Government to make decision over a half century old demand of Dalit Christians. "There is no urgency as the Presidential order of 1950 has been challenged. You have come after more than 54 years," the bench says.
 
The constitutional rights are denied to Dalits converted to other religions different from Hinduism. The Indian constitution protects every Indian citizen from discrimination in form of racial, faith, religion, color and region. But the Presidential Order of 1950 seems to be against the constitution rights as it takes away the scheduled caste status from Dalits converted to other religion different from Hinduism.
 
Dalit Sikhs and Dalit Buddhists gained their scheduled caste status with the amendment of Article 341 Para 3 in 1956 and later in 1990.
 
Dalit Christians have been denied their constitutional and fundamental rights ever since India got independent in 1947. Government after Government has assured to restore the Scheduled Caste status to Dalits Christians. Commissions after commissions have found out the socio-economic and educational backwardness of Dalits converted to other religions different from Hinduism.
 
The Misra Commission setup by United Progressive Alliance government to study the socio-economic and educational of Dalit Christians, has recommended extending the reservation to all Dalits irrespective of religion.
 
In November 2007 hearing, Supreme Court of India has directed the petitioners to seek the opinion from National Commission for Scheduled Caste. Buta Singh has given his report to Central government to extend reservation to Dalit Christians.
 
In the studies conducted by Misra Commission, the social scientists, activists, journalists and scholars have found that conversion from/to any religion, could not remove the caste stigma. Dalits in all religion suffer socio-economic and educational backwardness.
 
Restoration of scheduled caste status to all Dalits irrespective of religion will be the sign of democracy, secularism and constitutional guarantee to all citizen of India.


Source: All India Christian Council, for Dalits
 
     
 


"What is behind Hindu-Christian violence"

By Dan Isaacs (BBC, January 29, 2008) http://wwrn.org/article.php?idd=27621

 
     
 

Orissa, India

Hundreds of families in a remote region of the eastern Indian state of Orissa remain homeless and without support after a wave of violence swept the region
last month.

The minority Christian community in Kandhamal district, many of whom are forest tribal people and low-caste Dalit converts from Hinduism to Christianity, say they've been targeted by radical Hindu nationalist organizations seeking to put an end to the church and its activities in the region.

This is rejected by the Hindu groups who say the violence is the consequence of local issues unconnected with their presence in the area.

The district has remained under night-time curfew since the tensions erupted and has been largely inaccessible to foreign journalists until now.


Repeated pattern

Father Ravi Samasundar stands amid the burned out ruins of his church in the town of
Bamunigan.

"They brought oil, and kerosene, piled everything they could find in the middle of the
Church and set fire to it. They destroyed or looted everything."

Across this remote region, deep in the highland forests, the pattern was repeated over and over.

Churches were ransacked, entire villages razed and their inhabitants forced to flee into the forests.

The violence, which began on Christmas Eve, has now largely abated, but the plight of the people has not.

Many are now living in the shells of their burned out homes, all their possessions lost.

The conflict has pitted Hindu against Christian, tribal against non-tribal.

All share some responsibility for what has happened, all have suffered. Years of relatively peaceful co-existence of these communities, living a fragile rural existence, has been shattered.

Seething

The Christian community blames the virulently anti-Christian rhetoric of Hindu nationalist organizations; and one person in particularly, a revered local holy man, Lakhanananda Saraswati.

Father Ravi Samasundar seethes with anger at what has been happening. "Saraswati speaks against Christianity, against the priests, against the nuns," he says.

Hindu activists accuse the local Christian community of stirring up trouble by making "unreasonable" demands - a reference to their attempts to be granted the same preferential access to jobs and education given to low-caste Hindus and tribal communities.

"Political parties or organizations have nothing to do with this. It is a clear social problem", says Jagabandhu Mishra, editor of Rashtra Deepa - a newspaper in the local Oriya language, which reflects the more extreme views of the Hindu nationalists.

When I met Mr. Misra in his office, the front page of a recent addition of the paper lay on the desk between us.

It accused the 'Sons of Jesus' of attacking Hindus, and reported on a Christian mob brutally injuring the local Hindu leader Saraswati, an event which triggered much of the worst violence, and which subsequently turned out to be entirely false.

Was there, I asked, a campaign of conversion, or re-conversion of Christians to Hinduism in the area? "If those Hindus who converted to Christianity want to come back," he told me, "the door is now open to them."

Christian mob

No side is left blameless in this conflict. After the initial attacks on church institutions and the shops and homes of Christian families, Christian mobs responded in kind.

In the village of Gadapur, Hindu families, standing amid the charred rubble of their homes, told me how a mob of tribal Christians had descended on them, forcing them to flee into the forest, before destroying every shop and dwelling in the village.

For those now living in makeshift tents, or in the ruins of their old homes, aid from the state government has been limited: a few tents, some plastic sheeting, food and cooking utensils.

But far more is needed on a sustained basis.

Ministers from the Hindu nationalist BJP-controlled state government have toured the area, made promises, but pledged little constructive support for those in most need.

Perhaps more alarmingly, NGOs and church organizations have been banned from offering direct assistance. The official reason given is that by helping one community and not another, they may provoke further violence.

Interest rates

Church and other aid organizations, desperate to help their local communities see sinister motives at work.

"This conflict is fought in the name of religion," says NGO worker Kailash Chandra Dandpath, "but the real motives are economic and political.

"The business communities here, with its links to the Hindu nationalist organizations, were once in complete control here. They'd lend money to the tribal and the Dalits at incredibly high rates of interest, up to 120% per year, and then the debtor would have to sell his farm produce to the lender at a price controlled by the businessmen."

Mr. Dandpath is describing the system still widely practiced in India, of bonded exploitation, where a family might well be indebted to the lender for generations.

"What's happening now", says Mr. Dandpath, "is that the farmers, the most marginalized of whom are from tribal and Christian communities, are being linked by the NGOs to local banks, lending at perhaps 10% interest a year - ten times less.

"This is clearly a threat to the businessmen. And they are trying to break this link, using religion as an excuse... in India, the easiest method of politics is to take religion to divide and rule."

The dynamics of conflict are rarely easy to dissect.

There are always economic and social divisions within society to be exploited by those more rich and powerful, particularly when the existing order is threatened.

And there's no doubt that the diverse communities in Kandhamal district have suffered a terrible tragedy in recent weeks, which threatens to break down the existing delicate social order there forever.

Source: All India Christian Council, for Dalits

 
     
 


Fact Finding Reports Released on Unprecedented Orissa Tragedy
Massive protest rally to be held on Jan. 10th in Orissa’s capital; aicc welcomes visit by National Commission for Minorities

 
     
 

HYDERABAD, January 8, 2008
 
In the last few days, All India Christian Council (aicc) leaders released two reports on the anti-Christian violence in Orissa which began on Christmas Eve. Newly confirmed cases of arson, murder, and assault make this violence qualify as the largest attack on the Christian community in the history of democratic India. Both reports show that the Dalits – formerly known as untouchables – were the main group affected by the violence.
 
Four leaders from aicc chapters in Orissa visited the affected villages from January 3-5 and released their report on Jan. 7, 2008. The report says 95 churches were vandalized or destroyed, 730 Christian homes burnt, and four Christians killed with many still missing and presumed dead.
 
On Jan. 5, 2008, aicc Secretary-General John Dayal released a white paper after visiting the area. Advocate Nicholas Barla, a lawyer and human rights expert, and Mr. Hemant Nayak, a social scientist and human rights and development activist, were also part of the fact finding team. They concluded that the attacks on Christians included simultaneous, planned violence by extremist Hindutva supporters and complicity and consistent incompetence by police and local authorities.
 
According to media reports, two members from India’s National Commission for Minorities (NCM), Dileep Padgaonkar and Zoya Hasan, are currently in Orissa to investigate the violence. Aicc leaders met with the NCM chairman on Dec. 27, 2007 in New Delhi.
 
“We are saddened to acknowledge the violence in Orissa will go into the history books as an unprecedented attack on Christians in India. The tragedy is deepened by proof that the violence was avoidable if the authorities had enforced the rule of law,” said Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President.
 
Together with the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations led by Dr. Udit Raj the aicc will hold a “Stop Violence against Christians Rally” in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, on January 10, 2008. Protestors will meet at 10am at Master Canteen Chowk and march to the Orissa State Assembly for a public meeting. Confirmed speakers include Dr. Udit Raj, Dr. Joseph D’souza, Bishop Joab Lohara of the Free Methodist Church, and victims from Orissa.
 
“Many have expressed outrage with the authorities and Hindutva extremists whose actions hurt innocent people during Christmas – a season of peace across the world. But we must express our anger and frustration in a peaceful manner. I invite all Indian citizens of good will to join the “Stop Violence against Christians Rally” on Thursday,” said D’souza.
 
The violence allegedly began when Christians in Bamunigaon village in Kandhamal district of Orissa began to celebrate Christmas Eve. Local Hindu fundamentalists opposed the event and a quarrel ensued. Also, a Hindutva leader, Swami Saraswati, was attacked by unknown assailants -- he alleged they were Christians. The next day a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-affiliated group called for a strike and VHP members began attacking Christians across the state.

Source: All India Christian Council, for Dalits

 
     
  Living Mission reports persecutions and attacks against Christian missionaries in India.  
     
     
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