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.

Friday, August 09, 2002

Cleansing of Hindus in Tripura

Persecution of Hindus in North-East India
Christian fundamentalist uprising in the volatile North - East

As with many an ethnic conflict that have occurred in the world, some Christian missionary groups took an interest in the ethnic conflict in the North-eastern Indian state of Tripura, believing that it would help promote their agenda of conversion to Christianity. The result has been devastating for the citizens of Tripura, particularly the Hindus. The ethnic unrest in Tripura began when Bengali speaking refugees from erstwhile East Pakistan migrated to Tripura, causing a radical demographic change in the state. The tribals, who once made up 95% of the state¡¦s population have dwindled to 30%. Around half of the tribals are thought to be Christians. Christian missionaries of the Baptist Church have long been active in the state, causing a sizeable Christian population to develop. With strong financial backing from Western Baptist Church groups (particularly the American Baptist Church) the conversion of the indigenous tribal populations slowly but surely became a reality.

The two main separatist groups in Tripura are the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) and the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF). The NLFT is larger and better armed. It says it is fighting not only for the removal of Bengali immigrants from the state, but also for the tribal areas of the state to become overtly Christian. The NLFT has warned members of the tribal community that they may be attacked if they do not accept its Christian agenda (*1). Its violently enforced dictates have included threatening Hindu tribals not to use traditional musical instruments (*2) and banning the celebration of the popular Hindu festivals of Sarasvati Puja and Durga Puja (both Goddess traditions) (*3). Hindu temples and ashrams (spiritual centres) have been destroyed (*4), Hindu religious leaders have been killed (*5). In addition thousands of regular civilians have been murdered. Many incidences of kidnap and extortion have been reported. Clearly, the Christianity that the Baptist Church in Tripura promotes is radically different to that which is now practised in the West. It is more reminiscent of the Christianity practised in medieval Europe, in the days when witches were burnt at the stake, heretics were beheaded, and scientists persecuted who made claims that may go against a literal interpretation of the Bible. The following are a few incidences of atrocities committed by Christian terrorists against Hindus in Tripura: "h 4 members of Indian security forces and 5 civilians killed in an NLFT ambush. 21/3/2001 "h NLFT attacks Hindu temple in Tripura, 8 injured seriously 17/5/2001 "h Six persons belonging to Jamatiya tribal community were gunned down by the NLFT terrorists in five villages. The people killed were members of Hoda, the cultural and religious body of the Jamatiya tribals, who had opposed the NLFT policy of forced conversion. 3/9/2001 "h Two persons were killed by ultras of the outlawed National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) in West Tripura district. 24/11/2001 "h A housewife was killed and three school students were kidnapped by insurgents of the banned National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) in separate incidents in the state "h NLFT murder two people. The victims names were Ramcharan Debbarma and Samarendra Debbarma. 21/12/01 "h NLFT terrorists gun down 16 people, including a seven-year-old girl and two women, at a market in West Tripura district. The attack came on the day of the Hindu festival of Makar Sankranti.. 13/01/02 "h NLFT kills four tribals in Tripura. The victim were identified as Suresh Debbarma (60), Bikram Debbarma (45), Bhikhurani Debbarma (55) and Mahamaya Debbarma (40). 22/4/02 "h 19 Indian soldiers killed in NFFT Ambush, August 2002 "h NLFT kill 2 in Vandarima village in North Tripura, 3/9/02 These are only some of the attacks that were committed within a very limited period of time. Violence of this intensity has been sustained in the state by the NLFT for over a decade, targeting mainly Hindus. The violence has the backing of the Baptist Church of Tripura (*5), which in turn is helped directly by the American Baptist Church (*7). Nagmanlal Halam, the secretary of the Noapara Baptist Church in Tripura. Halam was arrested for possession of a large quantity of explosives to the tune of 60 gelatin sticks, 5kg of potassium, 2kg of sulphur and other ingredients for making powerful bombs . It was two junior members of the same church, that had been arrested earlier who tipped the police off about the explosives which were meant for terrorist organizations like the NLFT. Mr. Halam has confessed to buying and supplying explosives to the NLFT over the past two years. Another church official, Jatna Koloi, who was also arrested has admitted that he received training in guerrilla warfare at an NLFT base last year. Shocking is the fact that the Indian media has not even mentioned these recently unearthed facts in their coverage. Whereas even unconfirmed rumours about any attack on Christians are immediately touted as "An assault on minorities", not a word is spared to enlighten the citizens of the world about the religious terrorism that is taking place in Tripura. Instead of analyzing why such terrorist attacks by Christian missionaries will naturally lead to resentment on the part of the poor Hindus Bengalis and Tribals, the Indian media is busy in its political game of trying to establish non-existent links between the rare attacks on Christians and the ruling party in India. When Hindu activist organizations decided to help the Hindus under attack in Tripura by aiding them to preserve their culture, hundreds of the volunteers were attacked, threatened and blackmailed. Several of them were murdered and last year a number of them were kidnapped and held hostage by the Christian terrorists. To this day, it is not known if those men are still alive. The media was deafeningly silent. When one Christian missionary, Graham Staines, was killed, with his 2 sons in Orissa, 2001 (in what was admittedly a horrendous crime) it was an international story. Newspapers everywhere, particularly the Indian media wrote about it for weeks on end, making it into a sensational story of the Rise of Hindu Fundamentalism.¡¨

Clearly, some lives are more valuable than others. We at Hindu Human Rights condemn such attacks on any human being, but we wonder why the secular¡¨ Indian newspapers do not include clear coverage of massacres of Hindus, while they do not hesitate to give disproportionate coverage to such isolated incidents. Hindus have been, and continue to be killed by Christian fundamentalists in droves, in what is clearly a church backed enterprise. The Hindu casualties in a single attack by the NLFT outnumber the Christians killed in religious violence for an entire decade in the whole of India. Yet somehow the image has been created and perpetuated that the ¡§violent and fanatic Hindu majority of India is persecuting the poor, hapless Christian minority,¡¨ based on a few stray incidents, in which the motives of perpetrators have not even been identified, while the routine massacre of Hindus by separatist Christians is not even considered. Further evidence of the unfair treatment and representation of Hindus can be seen by examining the huge coverage given to the allegations that the USA and UK based Indian charities such as the Ekal Vidyalaya scheme of village schools, were actually funding Hindu militancy in Gujarat. These allegations have so far been investigated with no clear evidence. Yet American Baptist and Evangelical groups have long been said to be financing the propagation of Christian religious bigotry of the most obscurantist kind in India's Northeast and tribal belts. Much of this bigotry has resulted in armed separatism, terrorism and ethnic cleansing of tribes refusing to become Christians (*6). Why is this long standing allegation of funding of terrorism by Church groups never given media coverage nor investigated? Indeed, the US based Baptist World Alliance, that many people unwittingly donate money to, clearly has links to The Baptist Church groups in Tripura and other insurgency racked areas in North-east India (see www.bwanet.org). Hindus have traditionally been a very tolerant community, throughout history having provided refuge to a great many persecuted communities, including the Syrian Christians, who have been in India since the early centuries of the first millenium CE. The Syrian Christian community was never persecuted, or forced to change their way of life. It is time that people took notice of the suffering that Hindus are undergoing rather than falsely accusing them of being an overbearing and violent people, and stop overlooking the horrendous atrocities which are being committed in the name of Christianity on Hindus.

(*1) Analysis: Tripura¡¦s Tribal Strife - BBC, May 21, 2000 (*2) Tripura Rebels Ban Kirtan Instruments - The Telegraph (India), April 1 2001 (*3) Church backing Tripura rebels - BBC, April 18, 2000. (*4) NLFT curb on Hindu institutions - The Telegraph (India), September 14, 2000. (*5) Hindu preacher killed by Tripura rebels ¡V BBC, August 2000 (*6) Church backing Tripura rebels - BBC, April 18, 2000. (*7) Reply to Dr Hathaway, Koenraad Elst, Rediff, September, 2002

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