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  Armed Mob Threatens Christians on Palm Sunday in Kandhamal, Orissa  
  March 16, 2008

For the first time in more than a decade, the Palm Sunday procession could not be carried out in Tiyangia village under the Raikia police station in Kandhamal district’s Udayagiri block. The pageant was called off after a crowd of armed Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) extremists threatened local Christians this morning.

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (aicc), reported from troubled Kandhamal district that an armed mob prevented the 180 Catholic families of the Betticola Parish in Tiyangia village to hold the traditional procession to mark the Palm Sunday.

The mob was still in the village, and growing, at the time of reporting.

Dr. Dayal quoted Betticola Parish priest Fr. Praful Sadhapati as saying that that when he came to the village at around 10 a.m. to conduct the Palm Sunday mass, he saw a huge crowd of people carrying arms and shouting slogans asking Christians to leave the area.

The mob was also using a loudspeaker to gather more people.

Sensing trouble, Fr. Praful Sadhapati informed another Catholic clergy in the Bhubaneswar Archdiocese, who reported the incident to the police inspector, identified only as Panda. The superintendent of police of Kandhamal was also informed, and police were expected to arrive at the scene.

Local Christians think the crowd was collected by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), whose leaders are eying the land on which a Christian grave is built outside the village.

Christians are apprehending violence, and tensions have gripped the Tiyangia village and surrounding areas, Dr. Dayal said.

Asma Jahangir, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion, was in Kandhamal yesterday to take stock of the aftermath of the violence, which began on December 24, 2007 and lasted for more than a week. The series of attacks killed at least six Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches.

Thousands of displaced Christian victims are in various relief camps set up by the state government of Orissa.

Rajasthan 'anti-religious conversion bill' likely to be discussed
    Jaipur (PTI): The BJP government in Rajasthan is all set to take up an anti-religious conversion bill in the ongoing assembly session for discussion and passage on March 20 despite strong reservations on it by Opposition Congress.
The Congress has warned that it would protest inside the House and on the streets as the bill, reintroduced by the government, was a "hidden Hindu agenda to appease RSS in the state assembly elections slated later this year".
The Raje government has introduced a fresh bill, the Rajasthan Dharma Swatantrya Bill, 2008, last week with some changes as the earlier measure, passed by the Assembly through a voice vote on April 7, 2006, was still pending with President Pratibha Patil for assent.
Patil, who was the then Governor of Rajasthan, had returned it with objections in certain clauses to the assembly. Later in 2007, the Raje cabinet had "re-submitted" the bill to the Governor for approval, but Patil had referred it to the then President A P J Abdul Kalama with her remarks.
"The 2006 bill is still pending with the President. Let that be decided or returned. It was only after that the BJP government should have thought of reintroducing the bill on the same matter," Congress Chief Whip Juber Khan told PTI.
"It appears that the BJP government is working on the hidden Hindu agenda to appease RSS in the Vidhan Sabha elections slated later this year in the state," Khan said.

UN Sees Major Challenges to Religious Freedom in India

New Delhi, March 20, 2008

Ms. Asma Jahangir, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, announced her initial findings on religious freedom in India at a press conference in New Delhi on Thursday morning, March 20, 2008. The All India Christian Council (aicc) coordinated six meetings between the UN Special Rapporteur and non-governmental groups (NGOs) during her three week visit. Aicc leaders presented an analysis of increasing religious discrimination and violent attacks.

Jahangir said in her press conference that communalism seems to be increasing across India in the last decade. She warned that divisions based on religion must be halted now or certain groups may experience oppression. She was hopeful that vigilance by civil society, media, and government authorities will stop the potential disintegration of religious freedom.

Dr. Joseph D’souza, aicc President, said, “We are proud of India. It remains the world’s largest democracy and the only officially secular country among the eight member countries of SAARC. However, there are dark clouds on the horizon because violence against Christians and other minorities is on the rise. Authorities must arrest perpetrators and protect the innocent. Tragically, often perpetrators are protected and the innocent arrested.” SAARC is the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

“The right to embrace any religion and seek the Divine is the most basic of human rights. It must not be hindered. But some radical elements, especially within hard-line Hindu nationalist groups, are attacking minorities with impunity. Their spokespeople say that conversions must be stopped at any cost,” said John Dayal, aicc Secretary-General. “For example, during the attacks over this past Christmas in the eastern state of Orissa, about 100 churches and 700 Christian homes were burned. At least four Christians were killed and many injured and abused. Yet the state government banned charitable and religious institutions from giving direct aid to victims and the aggressors still roam freely today.”

The aicc invited Muslims, Christians, Dalits, Buddhists, and other minority leaders to give independent testimony to the Special Rapporteur. Meetings coordinated by aicc were held in: Ahmedabad, Gujarat (March 9); Trivandrum, Kerala (March 14); Bhubaneswar, Orissa (March 15); Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh (March 17); and New Delhi (March 5 and 19). In Lucknow and Bhubaneswar, Christian and Muslim victims recounted attacks. The aicc recorded an anti-Christian attack every three days, on average, in 2007

“We applaud the Indian government for graciously hosting the UN Special Rapporteur. She reportedly met the Chief Ministers of every state she visited as well as minorities and human rights bodies. We are hopeful the government will heed Ms. Jahangir’s wise recommendations on how to protect the religious freedom of all Indian citizens,” said Dr. Sam Paul, aicc National Secretary of Public Affairs.

The last visit to India by a UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief was in 1996. Since then, India’s citizens experienced: riots targeting Muslims (Gujarat 2002); continued legal discrimination against Dalits if they are not Hindu, Buddhist, or Sikh; the passage of anti-conversion laws in four states and amendments in two other states; two major outbreaks of violence against Christians during Christmas celebrations (Dangs District, Gujarat, 1998, and Kandhamal District, Orissa, 2007); and increasing attacks on Christian clergy and places of worship. In most cases, attackers were Hindutva activists.

Ms. Asma Jahangir and her Geneva-based assistant, Mr. Michael Wiener, visited eight states and numerous cities in India since arriving on March 2, 2008. She is a respected human rights activist from Pakistan and has held several positions with the United Nations. Jahangir was appointed as Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief in 2004. Her job is to “identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles.” In about three months, she will present the final India country report to various UN human rights bodies and the UN General Assembly. The last India country report was released in February 1997. See:

Anti-conversion bill passed in Rajasthan
  Published on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 at 23:09 in Nation section

New Delhi: Rajasthan Assembly passed a fresh anti-conversion bill amid protests from the Opposition on Thursday. The bill has two major modifications.

Rajasthan is the sixth state trying to pass an anti-conversion law after Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh.

The bill requires a signature of the Governor before it can become a law.

The bill has been passed just months before Rajasthan goes to the polls and is being seen as an attempt to woo the Hindu vote by the ruling BJP.

The opposition also objected to Kataria and Law Minister G S Tiwari's remarks against Patil and demanded that Deputy Speaker R N Vishnoi protect the dignity of the highest office.

Interestingly, the BJP government in neighbouring Gujarat had recently withdrawn a similar legislation after it was returned by the state Governor.

"Whether Patil had made any suggestions, objections, or rejected it is not known to the government. Whether the bill was sent to the President through the Home Department officially is also not known. Hence, the bill has been taken up again," Kataria said.

He said the bill was necessary to maintain communal harmony and to curb conversion activities in tribal areas of Dungarpur, Banswara, Udaipur, Kota and Ajmer district.

Opposition MLAs were further irked when Tiwari said "I am telling the House that the then governor took the wrong way of action on the bill".
  Living Mission reports persecutions and attacks against Christian missionaries in India.  
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