I have been getting emails and text messages urging for fasting and prayer for victims of the persecution that is currently taking place in India. I am usually skeptical of anything that comes from some Christian circles, because they often tend to play on the sensational. Even in the recent bout of messages, I got some that had graphic images of burnt bodies and the like, which I think is unnecessary, and fall on the wrong side of journalistic ethics.

If you are an Indian Christian who has received similar emails:

  • Do not blindly forward the email to all your contacts.
  • Look for the date of the email. Emails can do their rounds for years.
  • Check to see if the contents are confirmed by secular press acounts. Remember that for the greater part the press in India is free
  • Re-word the message if it is unduly  sensationalized.
  • Remove graphic images. Check if the pictures are really connected with the incident spoken about.
  • Do not forward if the message is hateful towards the perpetrators.

But strange things are going on in my dear home country. Two states, Orissa and Karnataka, in particular are suffering at the present time. Members of the Christian religion, Catholic and Protestant, have been targetted. In this post, I shall stick to reports from secular press accounts. To get something of the sense of the urgency that the emails and text messages contained, one has to read between the lines.

Karnataka church attacks: Two cops suspended
Indo-Asian News Service, Sunday, September 21, 2008, (Bangalore)

In the first action against policemen in connection with attacks on Christian places of worship in Karnataka, two constables were suspended on Sunday in Kodagu district where window panes of a church were damaged in stone throwing Saturday night. . .

One church in Mariannana Palya in northeast Bangalore was vandalised Saturday by people who entered by breaking open its backdoor, city police commissioner Shankar Bidari said.

A statue of Virgin Mary outside a church in Rajarajeshwari Nagar was damaged in stone throwing Sunday morning. A church at Boonahalli on city outskirts was also stoned Saturday night, police said. . .

The Karnataka unit of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Sunday denied that it or the Bajrang Dal were involved in the attacks on Christian places of worship.

“We oppose conversion by force or inducement and will continue to fight against but we do not believe or indulge in violence,” VHP zonal secretary BN Murthy told reporters.

US to India: Protect religious freedom
Press Trust of India Saturday, September 20, 2008, (Washington)

Taking note of the recent violence against the Christian community in India, the United States has asked the Indian government to protect the religious freedom throughout the country.

“We urge all parties to refrain from violence and urge government officials to protect religious freedom throughout India and thus preserve India’s longstanding tradition of religious tolerance,” said Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, John Hanford.

Conversions in Karnataka: Myth or reality
Vasanthi Hariprakash, Saturday, September 20, 2008, (Mangalore)

The attacks on churches and prayer halls in Karnataka brings into focus the debate over conversions.

On paper, there is little proof in the claims made by the Bajrang Dal of rampant conversions in this region by evangelical groups like New Life.
And yet what emerges from speaking to groups like New Life is a gradually growing presence and gaining converts who they claim have made the choice of their own will. . .

At any rate, they say, there is nothing to prevent them from preaching their doctrine. The Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. And yet in a communally sensitive region like Mangalore their more direct proselytization makes them an easy target for Hindu right wing groups to dramatize their role.

“For the last six or seven years, a group of Christians – New Life – are directly involved in mass conversions. They have different names. Nearly 57 such prayer halls are there in South Canara, Dakshina Kannada belt,” said Prof M V Puranik, VHP National Executive member.

But those may be exaggerated claims. Evangelical and Pentecostal groups do not have a formal and organised structure. They often meet in prayer halls or even in homes. And yet, globally, evangelical Christianity is on the rise compared to the older churches.

More attacks on Mangalore churches
Sify News, 17 September 2008

He also came down heavily on forcible conversion and enticing people to get them converted and dubbed it as an offence. He also called for ban on the New Life Organisation, which has been the target of attack following allegations that the organisation was indulging in forcible conversions. . .

Rights body to probe anti-Christian violence in Orissa
Indo-Asian News Service, New Delhi, September 16, 2008

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will send a team to Orissa to probe the recent violence against Christians that led thousands of them to flee their homes.

The panel’s move follows a petition submitted by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, seeking protection from violence at the hands of Hindu radicals.

“The petition raises serious questions about human rights violations and therefore the panel has sought a report from Orissa’s chief secretary and DGP (Director General of Police) within two weeks,” an NHRC official said.

Orissa’s Kandhamal district was hit by communal violence after Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four others were shot dead by unidentified gunmen at his Jalespata Ashram in the district Aug 23.

Though police said Maoist rebels could have killed the VHP leader, Hindu groups blamed the Christians for the murder and went on the rampage against them . . .

In closing

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time (1 Tim 2:1-6)

Article 25 of the Constitution of India grants Indians the ‘freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion.’ We must pray that no force emerges in that free land to threaten this precious freedom.