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RELIGIOUS MINORITIES

Violence against religious minorities continued to be reported from Madhya Pradesh, Kerela, Rajasthan, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The victims are mainly the Adivasis,  indigenous peoples who are the target of conversion and reconversion.

Reconversion of the indigenous/tribals peoples from Christianity to Hinduism under Ghar Vapsi (Home Coming) programme of the Vishwa Hindu Prishad, Rushikul Seva Trust, Bharat Vikash Parishad (VHP), Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram and Adivasi Suraksha Samiti continues.

Around 212 tribals who had embraced Christianity from two western Orissa districts of Jharsuguda and Sundergarh were reportedly re-converted to Hinduism at a specially arranged function in Jharsuguda town on 4 March 2004 in a two-hour ceremony. The ceremony was presided over by Bharatiya Janata Party leader Dilip Singh Judeo, who reportedly washed and wiped the feet of the tribal men, women and children with Ganga jal (water of Hindu holy river Ganges) symbolizing their back home to Hinduism. [1] On 19 September 2004, the Orissa units of the VHP and Bajrang Dal reconverted 75 Christian tribals into Hinduism at a Ghara Bahuda (home coming) ceremony at Sarad under Udala sub-division of Mayurbhanj district. The converts belonged to 35 tribal families and included 36 women. [2] On 17 October 2004, about 85 Christian tribal families comprising 336 members were reconverted to Hinduism at a function organized by the VHP at Birda village in Sundergarh district of Orissa. The reconversion included 114 men, 117 women and 75 minor children, hailing from 11 villages of seven gram Panchayats spreading over three blocks - Gurundia, Lathikata and Subdega. [3]

Unidentified masked miscreants attacked the Roman Catholic Church at Kudu under the Kuddu Police Station in Lohardaga district of Jharkhand on the night of 22 August 2004. Two of its priests, father John Sundar and father Albanus Tirkey were seriously injured when they resisted the attack. The same church that housed 150-odd students, teachers, staff and priests was also reportedly attacked by unidentified men on 9 June 2004. [4]

On 10 February 2004, at least nine persons, including seven women, were allegedly tonsured and beaten up at Khilipala village, in Orissa’s coastal district of Jagatsinghpur, for attending the church on 8 February 2004. Of 250 families of Khilipala, about 20 are Christians. [5] While rightwing Hindu fundamentalists always maintained grudge against them, they reportedly invited the anger when they went to church to pray on 8 February, Sunday. Subsequently, a pastor, Subhas Samal, was allegedly attacked at his home. Apprehending trouble, some 10 Christian villagers reportedly fled the village on 9 February. On 10 February 2004, the victims alleged, some of the villagers forcibly entered their houses in search of the male members, but unable to find them, they tonsured the women in the houses in the presence of the villagers in broad daylight. The victims were identified as Dolly Bhoi, Sanjukta Kandi, Shanti Kandi, Sumitra Kandi, Umitra Kandi, Nisha Samal, Nayana Samal, Subhas Samal (pastor) and Golakha Rout. Kandi, who bore the brunt of the brutal communal attack, alleged that two people held her hands while she was stripped before being tonsured. [6]   A case was reportedly registered and some alleged accused were arrested. [7]

A crowd of over 300 people attacked and ransacked a Catholic Church in the Raikia town in Phulbani district of Orissa on 27 August 2004. [8] On 28 August 2004, police arrested 12 persons. [9]

On 5 November 2004, in the Bejai church, the Tabernacle was opened and hosts were strewn, monstrance stolen and other religious vessels were tested whether silver or gold and money stolen. [10]

A group of five miscreants shouting pro-BJP slogans allegedly attacked two nuns- Sister Sirolina and Sister Rose Merlyn of the Missionaries of Charity at West Hill in Kozhikode and their driver Saji when they came to a Harijan colony near Pantheerankave in Kozhikode district in Kerala to distribute food around noon on 25 September 2004. Sister Sirolina reportedly suffered head injuries. Hearing the news, a second group of the Missionaries of Charity consisting of Mother Superior, Sister Kusumam of the Vellimadukunnu centre, Brother Superior Varghese of Mercy Home, Brother Varghese, Sister Shalot, Kenyan missionary Bernard and driver Anto arrived at the spot. They were allegedly attacked by a mob of over 30 persons.  Mother Superior, Sister Kusumam reportedly suffered head injuries. Sister Shalot alleged that the attackers tried to drag her and Mother Kusumam out of the vehicle. Five of the injured had to be admitted in a private hospital in Kozhikode. [11] On 26 September 2004, the police rounded up 15 activists of the RSS for questioning in connection with the two attacks. [12]

On 12 September 2004, heavy security arrangements foiled the attempt of the VHP to demolish the tomb of Afzal Khan, a 17th century Mughal governor, at Panchwad, about 65 km from Pratapgarh Fort in Satara district of Maharashtra. The police arrested nearly 500 VHP activists, and seized 13 vehicles carrying them to Pratapgarh. [13]

Madhya Pradesh has also been at the center of religious intolerance. On 30 December 2003, a group of Christian girls who were participating in a bible quiz competition were allegedly stoned and humiliated near their prayer house at village Antervalia in Jhabua district, Madhya Pradesh by some members of the local Hindu fundamentalist organisations. The mob also burnt the jeep used by the girls to reach village Antervalia. However, no action has been taken against any of the accused. On the same day, another group of Hindu fundamentalists burnt the homes of Lal Singh Bhuria and another Christian resident in village Antervalia. Instead of punishing the culprits, the police arrested Lal Singh Bhuria. On 31 December 2003, a mob allegedly humiliated the members of the local Christian community at village Gadauli Toli in Jhabua district. [14]

Atrocities against the Christians was allegedly perpetrated following the recovery of the dead body of a ten-year-old girl identified as Sujata, daughter of Panchhilal Saket [15] on 11 January 2004 on the premises of a Catholic Mission compound in Jhabua town, Madhya Pradesh. It was suspected that she was raped and murdered. On 14 January 2004, a group of Hindu fundamentalists trespassed into the Catholic Mission compound and beat up the principal, father John Sunny, father John Kennedy and father Arogya Swami. They also damaged the motorcycle and jeep of the Principal. Later police arrested the principal and about six other priests. A Catholic Priest and a deputy ranger KC Mal, also a Christian, were also allegedly beaten up by a mob of Hindu fundamentalists on 14 January 2004. [16]

On 16 January 2004, a few sadhvis from Gujarat led by Krishna Behn went to the village of Amkut, 60 km from Jhabua, and allegedly trespassed into the CNI mission, as a policeman stood guard outside. They entered into classrooms where examinations were being conducted and tore down posters of Jesus, and vilified the students. The Christians reportedly retaliated by pelting stones on those in the procession, forcing the Sadhvis to flee. When news of the retaliation reached the nearby town of Alirajpur, several vehicles carrying armed men led by Alirajpur MLA Nagar Singh rushed to the village in the afternoon. But the Bhil converts ambushed one of them outside the village of Punniawat, 3 km from Amjut. Several men inside the vehicle were injured and one of them died. Following this, a mob comprising mainly of Sewa Bharti, VHP and BJP men attacked churches and Christian homes in Alirajpur. Though the CNI church campus is only 100 yards away from the police station, the police did nothing to prevent the attack. [17] The then Chief Minister Uma Bharati termed the violence as a law and order problem. The administration allegedly tried to shield the Hindu rioters. [18] The 12 persons arrested included the head of the mission Theophile Stephen, two of the female teachers, and a priest for being part of the mob that pelted stones at the sadhvis. [19] In an interview to the Indian Express, Chief Minister Uma Bharati claimed, “There has been no attack on any church. Jhabua ...was a simple law and order problem that was tackled within an hour.” [20] Christians of Jhabua district moved the NHRC against atrocities on them, and demanded an inquiry. [21] In early March 2004, the Minister of State for Home, Jagdish Muvel, categorically denied the arrest of innocent Christians. He said 27 cases have been registered, and one-member inquiry committee, headed by DGP Narendra Prasad, has been formed to probe into the matter. [22]

On 27 April 2004, the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association accused the state administration of harassing Christian minorities in tribal-dominated Jhabua, and denying justice to them. In protest against the atrocities on the Christian minority community, a rape victim decided to immolate herself in front of the DGP’s office on 29 April 2004. She alleged that she was gang raped, her valuables looted and her house burnt down in the riots following the formation of the BJP government in the state. Despite several complaints the police allegedly failed to register an FIR against the criminals. [23]

On 31 December 2004, about 45 unidentified tribals from Dahod district of Gujarat allegedly attacked one Puran Chand, who was allegedly converting residents in Jhabua to Christianity. Additional superintendent of police Dharmendra Chowdhury said that after the tribals stormed into Chand’s house, they set a jeep, a motorcycle and a place of worship on fire. The state government has ordered a probe into the incident. [24]


[1] . Judeo reconverts 212 to Hinduism, The Asian Age, 5 March 2004

[2] . VHP converts 75 Christian tribals in Orissa, Deccan Herald, 20 September 2004

[3] . 336 tribals reconverted to Hinduism, The Deccan Chronicle, Chronicle, 19 October 2004

[4] . Priests injured in church attack, The Indian Express, 24 August 2004

[5] . Christian converts tonsured, The Statesman, 16 February 2004

[6] . Nine Christians tonsured in Orissa, The Asian Age, 17 February 2004

[7] . 7 women tonsured in Orissa, The Pioneer, 16 February 2004

[8] . Communal tension in Raikia, The Pragativadi, 27 August 2004

[9] . Communal tension in Raikia: 12 held, The Pragativadi, 29 August 2004

[10] . Christians flay attack on churches, Deccan Herald, 23 November 2004

[11] . Attack on sisters of Missionaries of Charity, The Hindu, 26 September 2004

[12] . RSS workers held for attack on missionaries, The Deccan Herald, 27 September 2004

[13] . Police foils VHP attempt to demolish tomb, 500VHP activists held near Afzal monument, 12 hurt in police laticharge, The Asian Age 13 Sept. 2004

[14] . Misplaced populism, The Central Chronicle, 6 February 2004

[15] . Minister denies innocent Christians were jailed, The Central Chronicle, 5 March 2004

[16] . Misplaced populism, The Central Chronicle, 6 February 2004

[17] . Police are silent watchers as terror returns to Jhabua, The Indian Express, 19 January 2004

[18] . Uma refuses to see beyond law and order, The Indian Express, 17 January 2004

[19] . 19. Police are silent watchers as terror returns to Jhabua, The Indian Express, 19 January 2004

[20] . Firing Line : Uma Bharti, CM, Madhya Pradesh, The Indian Express, 1 February 2004

[21] . Jhabua Christians’ plea to NHRC, The Hindu, 2 February 2004

[22] .  Minister denies innocent Christians were jailed, The Central Chronicle, 5 March 2004

[23] . Rape victim threatens to kill herself, The Indian Express, 28 April 2004

[24] . Conversion row rerun, The Telegraph, 1 January 2004