By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) — Indian Hindu militants attacked a Christian orphanage of Hopegivers International (HI), one of India's leading mission organizations, injuring orphans and three pastors, its president confirmed Thursday, February 2, following a weeklong investigation.
Bishop Samuel Thomas, who leads HI, told BosNewsLife that his organization's Hope Home in the town of Tindole in the state of Rajasthan was stormed by 14 Hindu militants armed with 'tridents', three-sponged spears that have reportedly been used to intimidate the Christian minority.
Speaking by telephone from the US city of Pittsburgh where he discusses the situation with American supporters, he said the militants started to beat the pastors as 36 orphans, aged two till nine, tried to escape. "They even threw stones at the children as they ran away, injuring several of them," he told BosNewsLife in an interview about the January 26 attack.
He said one of the three pastors leading the orphanage was still in a stable but "serious condition" with head wounds in a local hospital, while two other pastors suffering broken bones were thrown in jail four days ago, because militants accused them of "provoking" the violence, Thomas said.
"The children have now returned to the orphanage and our missionaries, who arrived to help stabilize the situation, are trying to free the pastors," he added. "There is now police to protect us, but we don't trust them. We are planning to go to the High Court of Rajasthan to defend the pastors."
MILITANT'S BABY DEAD
Thomas denied reports that an orphan had died in the violence, but said his investigators "established that one baby of the militants was found dead after his father returned home. It is still unclear why the boy died."
Last week's violence came shortly after the government of Rajasthan, India's largest northwestern state, withdrew criminal procedures against most militants of the influential Hindu nationalist organization Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or 'World Hindu Council', involved in the massive distribution of tridents.
The government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or 'Indian People's Party', already lifted a ban on special Hindu ceremonies, known as 'trishul diksha', where the tridents are distributed.
"We are very concerned about these developments. They [the Hindu militants] already threatened to carry out massacres among Christians if we continue a planned record-breaking graduation ceremony later this month in the city of Kota in Rajasthan" for over 10,000 people including orphans, he said.
"These students, aged 19 till 30, finished a seminar or high school in our orphanages or related facilities spread over several Indian states," the bishop added. HI operates over 90 Hope Home orphanages in India, nearly 200 schools and 500 outreach programs to people with leprosy.
Bishop Thomas said most of the graduates are 'dalits', the term used for the so-called "untouchables" of India, up to 300-million people, who occupy the lowest place in the country's ancient caste system of Hinduism.
Several millions of them are believed to be Christians, although there are no exact figures. "We already established 21,000 churches [since we began our work in India two decades ago] and hope to reach one million churches by 2020," explained Thomas.
Many of the churches will be established by the graduates "who almost all plan to serve the Lord among the dalits, but there is ofcourse a lot of opposition [from Hindu militants]," he said.
CATHOLIC SCHOOL ATTACKED
In another incident, a 50-strong Hindu mob attacked a new Catholic school and boarding hostel as the facility was inaugurated over the weekend, Christian news agency Compass Direct reported Thursday, February 2. During that January 29 attack in Ghosali village of Maharashtra state, the mob allegedly threw stones into the crowd, broke chairs and beat participants with sticks.
Hindu militants had reportedly asked police three days before the opening ceremony not to allow the school to operate in the village. The mob accused Catholic school staff of trying to convert their children by offering them education and chanted, "Leave! We don't want Christians here,!" Compass Direct said.
Hindu groups have also accused mission groups like HI of "forced conversions," charges Thomas and other evangelical leaders strongly deny. "I have learned to live with threats as I survived eighteen assassination attempts," said the 39-year old bishop
The bishop, who will soon return to his native India, said however he is concerned about an upcoming religious festival in neighboring Gujarat where Hindu organizers hope to attract 500,000 people from February 11-13, to commemorate the mythological story of Shabri and Ram in which the latter kills the demon Ravana.
Human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has accused the organizers of the festival of calling for the same treatment for Christians, "describing it as a dangerous foreign faith." The Indian authorities have come under international and domestic pressure to either ban the festival or to ensure the protection of religious minorities, including Christians, as well as Muslims. (On the Web: www.hopegivers.org. With reports from India, BosNewsLife Research and BosNewsLife News Center).
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