By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with reporting from India
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) — Several arrested missionaries and church leaders were recovering from injuries in Western India late Tuesday, May 8, after they were attacked by Hindu militants and dragged to local police, the latest in a series of violent incidents against Indian Christians.
Indian television channels showed activists of the radical Hindu groups Bajrang Dal ('Bachelor Team') and Vishwa Hindu Parishad ('World Hindu Council') attacking two young priests in public in Kolhapur town in the southern part of Maharashtra state.
The priests, identified in one report as Ajit Billawi and Ramesh Kagargole of the Frank Missionary Prayer Board group, were seen suffering from pain in news footage. An activist knee hit one priest in the groin, making him double up in pain, while another kicked the missionary in the head.
The crowd accused the priests of forcibly converting poor Hindus, and handed them over to police. But a local Christian leader told reporters those baptized by them had willingly changed their faith.
"The point is whether it was forced conversion or not is subject to a police investigation and is not to be judged by a mob," Dolphy D'Souza said. But police said in a statement that the two men had been detained on complaints that they were fraudulently converting people.
However Kolapur's Superintendent of Police, Sukhwinder Singh, told reporters that "a complaint has also been registered" against the people who were involved in the attack.
Singh said investigations were underway to find those responsible. Yet Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil reportedly described the incident as 'condemnable' and ordered a high-level probe into the violence.
Tuesday's violence came on the heels of another attack against two other church leaders, a senior rights investigator told BosNewsLife. Sajan George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said Pastor Ramesh D. Gopargode, 34 and Pastor Ajit Belavi,35, of the "Friends Mission Church" were attacked in Shahapur village of Maharashtra on Monday, May 7, following a Baptism service.
"They had a small congregation [where] seven believers expressed a great desire to embraceJesus as a Savior out of their own freewill," during a baptism service, he said. But while the seven were returning from the baptism in a local river, they were threatened by "a mob" of 65 militants of the Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ('National Volunteers Union'), George added.
He said the "extremists questioned the believers and pastors" of their activities and that "terrified and poor newly baptized" Christians were forced to help militants abuse the pastors with "filthy language".
In addition the pastors were soon dragged to a nearby police station where they were arrested on "false complaint of forcible conversion," under a section of the Indian Penal code, George claimed.
The incidents have been linked to anger among right-wing groups about what they see as Christian missionaries trying to convert lower-caste Hindus to Christianity. However Christian groups say lower-caste Hindus who convert do so willingly, apparently to escape the highly stratified Hindu caste system.
In some cases, police however crackdown on militants, the GCIC said. It said in a statement that police in India's largest state, Rajasthan, on Sunday, May 6, arrested a local official of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad group, Virendra Singh Ravana, described as "the mastermind" of an assault against a pastor last week. Seven people arrested earlier in the case reportedly admitted that they were involved in the attack on orders of Virendra.
GCIC investigators said a group of about 20 masked youths "stormed into Pastor Walter Masih's house" in Nandpuri locality on April 29 "and thrashed him mercilessly with lathes" while claiming that he was trying to convert people in the nearby Bhojpura slum colony to Christianity. The pastor was apparently seriously injured in the incident.
"We condemn the brutal attacks and urge the state and central governments to extent protection to the minuscule Christians," George said in a statement to BosNewsLife. Human rights groups say militants have been emboldened by controversial anti-conversion laws passed in several states ruled by the Hindu nationalists.
Christians comprise roughly 2.3 percent of India's predominantly Hindu population of over 1.1 billion people. (With BosNewsLife Research and BosNewsLife News Center).
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