The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Tuesday, January 09, 2001

Acts of Religious Terrorism by Christian Fundamentalists in India

by Ramnarayan Gopalkrishnan

Ever since the death of Baptist missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, the Indian media seems to have found itself a newfound preoccupation with weekly reports of "persecution" and heinous crimes committed on Christians by rabid Hindu fundamentalists in India. One cannot fault the media with factual reporting of tragedies when they do happen as the result of criminal endeavors, but the extreme bias and imbalance seems to consistently color news coverage by the Indian media. Whereas reports analyzing or informing readers about attacks on Christians have become a staple feature in leading newspapers, hardly a few lines are ever relegated to describe the numerous crimes that are being visited upon the poorer segments of the majority Hindu populace. The past few weeks alone were replete with numerous instances of evidence that the Christian missionary forces currently residing in India are perpetrating unnamable atrocities on Hindu citizens of India. And in contrast with the news stories about attacks on Christians which are seldom substantiated with hard evidence, but rather rest on the mischaracterization of common criminals as extremist Hindus, the atrocities perpetrated by the Christian forces in India are primarily motivated by religious bigotry.

When the Graham Staines story broke, almost none of the newspapers reported the fact that this hard-core Baptist proselytizer was living illegally in India, as he had far overstayed the period specified by his visa. Staines' visa had expired years before his death. Yet anyone pointing out this important fact was labeled a Hindutva stooge with ulterior motives. Ignoring the violation of immigration laws could potentially prove to be extremely dangerous for the security of the country. Missionaries like Staines who do violate India's immigration laws do so for the specific purpose of covering up their illegal activities such as forcible conversion induced by bribery and trickery. Here are a few of the most disturbing incidents from the past few weeks which highlight the illicit and dangerous role of Christian extremists and missionaries who are perpetrating religious terrorism in India today.

On November 17, the Indian government asked 10 Christian missionaries from the United States to leave the country by Sunday. The missionaries belonged to a church in the southern city of Madurai. They had ignored warnings issued by the government and failed to make any attempt to renew their visa papers after the expiration date. The order for them to leave India was issued by the Union Home Ministry in New Delhi. The local populace had complained about the aggressive campaign being waged by these missionaries who were constantly harassing the locals in addition to loudly denouncing Hinduism in public forums by referring to idolatry as "evil" and Hindu gods as "Devils and demons". They were even provided a grace period, but when the missionaries failed to present themselves before the local police for the renewal of their travel papers during this period, the authorities were forced to take action. In a contemptuous dismissal of the legal proceedings against them, the missionaries told PTI that they were "disappointed" by the directive from the "fascist government" and that they would leave for Sri Lanka and return "soon"

On November 11, 2000 police arrested David Berry, a 51 year old British national for brutally sodomizing and perpetrating savage sexual abuse on at least 11 minor Hindu boys in the holy temple town of Puri, Orissa. Berry was assisted in his heinous crimes by Bijoy Behera, a local schoolteacher and recent convert to Christianity. The police were forced to arrest the two Christians following a complaint lodged by a victim's father, Shree Banamali Senapati. Initially despite his lodging of the complaint, the police dismissed the case and refused to arrest the perpetrators, but were forced to act when an angry mob from the town besieged them and threatened dire consequences if the guilty were not punished. Shree Senapati was in tears as he related how Berry had sodomized his traumatized 12-year-old son at least eight times in his hotel room and elsewhere. The boy related to the police that Berry had forced him to have oral sex and kept him a virtual prisoner in the hotel room for hours. He also revealed that the Briton had sodomized at least 10 other school children, all below the ages of 12. The children were so traumatized by Berry's threats and Behera's beatings that they did not dare to confess to the horrors visited upon them until young master Senapati could take no more and broke down to his father.

On November 9, 2000 it was discovered that seventeen poor Hindus had been blinded in one eye after operations in Orissa. They had all undergone surgery at the Serang Christian Eye Hospital at Serang in Gajapati district of Orissa in August last year. The Serang Christian Eye Hospital was set up in the Gumma block of Gajapati district by the Baptists of Canada to supposedly provide health care to tribals. The hospital is run by the Council of Christian Hospitals, which has its head office in Bangalore. The poorest of the tribals are misled into receiving free treatment at this hospital in exchange for their souls. The victims are operated upon then pressurized to convert to Christianity, or else told that they will have to cough up the payment for the operations.

Dr Sadguna Raju, a Christian convert and ophthalmologist attached to the Serang hospital, operated upon 27 patients on August 30 and 31 last year. Out of these at least seventeen of them are now blind in one eye. Dr Raju left Orissa a day after the operations and the tribal Hindus were given no post-operational care at all. Many times the arrangements for these "quickie" operations are makeshift and rampant malpractice increases the chance that patients could be infected in the operation theater itself. In fact at the post-operative stage the Christian doctors had even noticed the deterioration in the condition of some patients but they chose to do nothing about it as the tribals had refused to convert.

Many of the victims had developed pesedomolas, a bacterial infection, following the operation leading to pus formation in the eye. Some of them have had to turn to begging for their livelihood after this devastating trauma.

On October 9, 2000 a group of converted Christians stripped a 12-year-old tribal Hindu boy and paraded him naked in Gasukia village after he opposed attempts to convert him to Christianity. He was taken to the village school and brutally beaten for "refusing to accept Jesus as his savior". This event naturally led to communal tension as the Hindus were outraged at the heinous crimes being forced on them. Neighboring villages in the Tikabali sub-district of Kandhamal, 350 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar were reported to be in a state of communal tension. Kandhamal has a population of around 700,000 of which around 200,000 tribes persons have adopted Christianity. Senior police and administration officials were camped at Baliguda as tribes persons there had threatened to picket the police station demanding action against converted Christians. The illegal construction of new churches and encroachment on community land in various villages by the Christian converts has led to the conflict. Adding fuel to the fire are the foreign missionaries who teach these converts derogatory and demeaning slogans against the Tribal Hindus and inflammatory pamphlets which demonize Hindu gods and insult Hindu religion.

On December 5, 2000 barely 24 hours after desecrating an ashram set up by murdered Hindu leader Shanti Kumar Tripura, Christian terrorists of the so called National Liberation Front of Tripura brutally desecrated another ashram at Jirania Khola yesterday and forced the inmates to stop all Hindu rituals and practices at gunpoint. A group of seven armed NLFT terrorists barged into the ashram at 4.30 pm and asked for Badal Debbarma, who heads all institutions set up by Shanti Kumar Tripura.

When they were told that Debbarma had gone out, the Christian terrorists threatened the 150 tribal inmates with dire consequences if they continued to perform Hindu rites at the ashram. The terrorists fled only after a large group of locals rushed to the ashram.

The day before, Christian terrorists from the same group had raided Shanti Kumar Tripura's ashram at Chachu Bazar under Sidhai police station. They had desecrated Hindu idols and destroyed photos of the slain religious leader revered by both Hindu tribals and Bengalis. The Christian terrorists also raped two female devotees and brutally attacked two men who had come to the ashram for puja. A delegation from the Jirania Khola ashram met West Tripura district superintendent of police Anurag Dhankar and demanded that a police post be set up in the area. However, the SP reportedly turned down the proposal and instead promised to intensify patrolling in the area.

But clearly this promise was never implemented. No arrangements had been made for the security of the Ashram's inmates since the killing of Shanti Kumar Tripura on August 27. Altogether 11 ashrams, schools and orphanages set up by the murdered Hindu leader in various parts of the state have been forcibly closed down by the Christian fundamentalist terrorist organization known as NLFT.

The Christian terrorists also killed Jaulushmoni Jamatya, a leader of the Jamatya hoda (community council) that week. The NLFT terrorists had warned the Jamatyas of dire consequences if they did not convert to Christianity.

In early October the same Christian fundamentalists had issued a diktat ordering the indigenous tribal Hindus to stay away from Durga Puja celebrations and warned that any tribal members seen taking part in the festival would be instantly killed. In it's official public statement, the NLFT said it wanted all tribals in Tripura to become Christians. They also stated that salvation for Tripura lies only in Christianity and would eliminate anyone who dared to come in the way of their plans to forcibly convert all of Tripura to Christianity.

Given the pattern of hate crimes perpetrated by Christian fundamentalists and their missionary counterparts in India, there should hardly be any surprise at the outrage and anger of the Hindu population. The aggressive, violent and forcible attack on their faith by the Christian forces is the primary reason for the retaliatory reactions which have become the focus of the self-righteous and disdainful Indian media. When the media no longer serves to express or reflect the rationale behind a people's aspirations, issues and rightful indignation, then the populace sometimes turns to violent means to bring such injustices to the notice of the world.

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