Jammu & Kashmir’s, September 26, 2012: The decision comes after terrorist groups kill two local officials. Extremists fear losing support among the local populace. After last year’s first democratic elections in 30 years, various administrations have opened new schools, health clinics and roads, making people freer and better educated
More than 50 sarpanch (village chiefs) have resigned in Jammu and Kashmir after receiving threats from Islamic extremist groups. Their decision was made public in local Urdu-language newspaper following the assassination of a local administrator in Baramulla District, the second in less than two weeks. Locals believe the threats stem from fundamentalists’ fear of losing grassroots support in favour of village chiefs.
For the past eight months, village chiefs and their aides have been the victims of intimidation of terrorist groups like Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks) and Jaish-e-Mohammad. So far, more than 700 sarpanch have tendered their resignation.
Everything began in 2011 when the first free vote was held in Jammu and Kashmir’s panchayat (village-level administrations) in more than 30 years. Between 13 April and 27 June, more than 30,000 officials were elected with a 79 per cent turnout despite extremists’ threats and calls for a boycott.
Rapidly, the newly elected administrators launched a series of initiatives to favour the development of the poorest rural areas in the state, including schools, health clinics, roads and electricity.
Locals believe that the wave of democracy and progress pushed Muslim extremists to act in order to stop losing support in a population that was getting better educated.
For now, the two murders have been enough to cause panic among local administrators.
Nevertheless, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah urged panchayat officials to stay at their posts.
“The government,” he told them, “will do everything possible to create trust and bring security. Creating a network of strong and functioning local administrations remains one of its goals.”
Jammu & Kashmir, April 19, 2012: The Jammu and Kashmir Police has arrested a Christian couple on charges of “promoting enmity” while they were allegedly distributing pamphlets about Christianity in the border township of Bandipora in north Kashmir.
The police said the couple from Delhi, along with a local girl, was distributing pamphlets in the Bandipora market when people raised a hue and cry and called the police. Sensing trouble, the police seized the pamphlets and immediately whisked them away for sustained questioning.
The police later registered a case under section 153A Ranbir Penal Code (promoting enmity between groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, etc) at the Bandipora police station. Under this section, the law prescribes imprisonment of up to three years, or with fine, or with both. In case of an offence relating to religion, the punishment could extend to five years.
“We have arrested the duo. The woman was seen distributing pamphlets in the market place where she had gone shopping,” said Bashir Ahmad Khan, superintendent of police, Bandipora district.
The couple and the girl have been detained and questioned in the police station. Police sources said during questioning, they said they were not doing anything unconstitutional or illegal in the town.
The police said they were arrested to avoid any law and order breakdown in the area. “There was lot of hue and cry which could have created law and order problem in the area. Therefore we took them into custody as a preventive measure to avoid any crisis in the district,” said a police official.
The arrest comes six months after the police arrested a Christian priest in Srinagar in November last year. A case was registered under section 153A and 295A of RPC against Rev Khanna at the Ram Munshi Bagh police station. Khanna was arrested three days after he appeared before the self-styled supreme court of Shairait, headed by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir Bashir-ud-din, who had issued summons to him.
Re.: Hearing on Religious Minorities in India
March 21, 2012
The following is the testimony given by Dr. Angana Chatterji at the US Congressional Hearing organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission on March 21, 2012.
Representative Pitts, I thank you and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for honoring me with an invitation to testify at the hearing.
I would also like to acknowledge the dedicated work undertaken by civil society groups in support of the rights of non-dominant religious and ethnic groups and minorities in India, and in response to organized riots and violence against minorities, as well as by state and non-state bodies.
The riots and organized violence against Christian minority communities in Orissa in December 2007 and August-October 2008 was not unexpected. In Orissa, since the mid-1990s, a formidable mobilization has been established by Hindutva groups, including in Kandhamal district. These groups have acted with impunity with adverse impact on society, economy, religion, and security. The Sangh Parivar ‘family’ of Hindutva, Hindu supremacist, organizations has a visible presence in twenty-five of thirty districts in Orissa, and has amassed between 35 and 40 major organizations (including paramilitary hate camps), and a massive base of a few million operating at every level of society.
December 23, 2007: Hindutva-affiliated Adivasi (tribal peoples) organizations organized a march rallying: “Stop Christianity. Kill Christians.”
In the violence of 2008 in Kandhamal, Christians, prevalently poor Dalits (erstwhile ‘untouchable’ groups) and Adivasis, were forced out from approximately 450 villages.
Approximately 4,901 homes were torched, including 101 places of worship. More than 18,000 persons were injured, as thousands sought refuge in nearby forests. Some Christians disappeared, some were tortured, including through rape, and approximately 92 were murdered.
The coordination of attacks across mountainous terrain in Kandhamal corroborate that the violence was planned, premeditated, and that the police had prior knowledge of them.
The number of persons that sought shelter in the relief camps operated by the state was 27,000 at its highest.
Post-violence, injunctions were issued to minority communities, Christian and Muslim, to hide or erase their “difference.” Forced conversions of non-Hindus to Hinduism continued. Economic and social boycotts, too, continued. Psychosocial restitution has been lacking.
State employees have intimated that minority groups must recant their grievances in order to escape further violation. Only 3,300 complaints have been lodged with the police by victims/survivors, of which, as few as 831 have been registered as First Information Reports, with only 510 charge sheets issued.
In January 2009, I documented testimonies of Christian women survivors of the 2008 riots that reveal the scope of the violence (From Chatterji, Violent Gods, Page 357-358):
“About five hundred people surrounded the body. His body was aflame. They killed Christians, buried them, then placed stones over the bodies to stop ‘resurrection.’”
There is need for ascertaining the status of minorities in Jammu and Kashmir, related to displacement, dislocation, and rehabilitation.
In Summer 2010, we documented a list of 51 civilians that were reportedly killed. In 2011, 56 civilians were killed.There is urgent need for supporting the human rights of the affected civilian population as they live with the effects of the conflict, and holding all parties to the conflict (state and non-state) accountable in accordance with international standards.
Sikhs are required to marry under the “Hindu Marriage Act,” since the Sikh Marriage Act was suspended in 1947. In August 2005, the Supreme Court of India declined minority status to Jains and Sikhs, depicting them as sub-sects of Hinduism.
Sikhs are regularly prevented from observing remembrance days for 1984, the year of massive Sikh killings. Incidents of police engaging, and allowing, the removal of turbans continue as a tactic of humiliation.
Cases of custodial torture are reported at regular intervals.
* Between February 28 and March 2, 2002, approximately 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in Gujarat, aided and abetted by the state.
* Women and girls were beaten, thrown into wells, targeted for rape, gang rape, and collective rape, sexually mutilated and burnt.
* Ehsan Jafri, a former member of the Indian Parliament, made more than twenty phone calls seeking help; his pleas remained unanswered, he was brutally killed.
* The Government of Gujarat, lead by Hindu nationalist Chief Minister Narendra Modi, was grossly negligent in providing necessary support, security, relief, and rehabilitation measures to the victims.
* In Gujarat, after 2002, 240 people were held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, 239 Muslims and one Sikh.
* A climate of terror permeates various segments of civil society in Gujarat even today.
Funding for Hindu Nationalism
Various diasporic charitable organizations affiliated with Hindutva ideologies operate in the United States and United Kingdom. These organizations routinely maintain links with Hindu nationalist leaders and organizations in India, including in Orissa. As well, these diasporic organizations seek to influence public discourse and policy in the United States in relation to India.
Thank God for His Mercies & Love - Justice Saldanha getting better
Stop Press: The Lord has heard our continous prayers for the speedy recovery of Justice Michael Saldanha from the major surgery, he underwent. Visitors are as yet Not Allowed and he is advised much rest. He is healing slowly but steadily. Today, his wife, Marie and BG Koshy informs that he was started orally on clear liquid diet and it will be some time, before he is completely well. Do keep the prayers going – It is the only reason, we have Justice Saldanha still with us. May God bless The CSF intercessors and prayer warriors.
Who is responsible for -
Kashmiri Christians Reverting to Islam?
The Suffering Kashmiri Christian Families?
Clergy & Christians Existing as Fugitives & Refugees?
In the earlier part of this series, I quoted from the Bible, in what was known as the ‘Acts of the Holy Spirit’, how the early Christians lived in love and fellowship. In Acts 4:36, we saw how “Joseph, a Levite born in Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means One who Encourages) sold a field he owned, brought the money, and turned it over to the apostles”. Again in Acts 4:46, we saw how – “Day after day they met as a group in the Temple, and they had their meals together in their homes, eating with glad and humble hearts, praising God, and enjoying the good will of all the people. And every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved“.
Our lesser fortunate fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, beckon us to help them do just that. Won’t it be great to have an exclusively Kashmiri Christian fellowship or church - praising and thanking God in their own indigenous way?!.
Help care for and build the persecuted body of Christ in Kashmir, as the disciples contributed to meet the needs of the early local Corinthian, Galatian, Ephesian, Philipian, Colossian, Thessalonian and other churches. And we are sure, if we are faithful to respond to His call, we will not only be a blessing to children of the same Father, but will also reap a great harvest, added to our own account in heaven.
All that the 50 Kashmiri Christian families are asking for is to “Shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, care for the orphans, love thy neighbour, especially those of our own faith”… Is it too much for us to give them - a church, houses, education, employment, etc.? To give two more examples of how, those who helped others were blessed by God and great was their reward:
In Joppa there was a woman named Tabitha, who was a believer. She spent all her time doing good and helping the poor. At that time she got sick and died. Her body was washed and laid in a room upstairs. Joppa was not very far from Lydda, and when the believers in Joppa heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him with the message – Please hurry and come to us. So Peter got ready and went with them. When he arrived, he was taken to the room upstairs, where all the widows crowded around him, crying and showing him all the shirts and coats that Tabitha had made while she was alive. Peter put them all out of the room, and knelt down and prayed; then he turned to the body and said, Tabitha, get up ! She opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
- Acts 9:36-40
There was a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, who was a captain in the Roman army regiment called The Italian Regiment. He was a religious man; he and his whole family worshiped God. He also did much to help the Jewish poor people and was constantly praying to God. It was about three o’clock one afternoon when he had a vision, in which he clearly saw an angel of God come in and say to him, Cornelius !. He stared at the angel in fear and said, What is it, sir? The angel answered, God is pleased with your prayers and works of charity, and is ready to answer you.
- Acts 10:1-4
We close this series of persecuted Kashmiri Christian families with just two more testimonies, as the torture – physical and mental – is similar and Churches, Christians and NGOs interested in providing assistance can get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details. Also we could go on, as reports of more families reach us and we cannot do much other than channel any assistance, we receive.
What is even more shocking is the plight of the families of CNI clergymen, like Rev. CM Khanna, Rev. Gayur Masih, Fr. Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic priest and dozens of lay missionaries – Catholic and Christian, whose lives are also in danger. Why should they not be allowed to return to Kashmir and profess and propagate their faith? This is evidence that there is no religious liberty in Kashmir.
Here are persecution stories of the victims – in the words of the head of the family…
Kashmiri Christian Family # 5
Me and my wife, come from a Muslim background and converted to Christianity almost ten years back. We are convinced that Jesus is our Lord and Master and our faith is a personal choice, which fulfills us and the Word helps us grow spiritually. Ever since we converted, we have had to face persecution, as news spread like wild fire throughout the city, with announcements in mosques. In order that I do not put my family into trouble and also to save my life, I had no option but to leave my village and move to another area. We thought that the Indian army being there would help, but it was only a little respite. The local fundamentalists created a lot of hurdles and attacked us many times.
Often our luggage and belongings were either burnt or thrown out on the streets. I even had to go to jail, under framed up charges, but I willingly suffered the ordeal, knowing it was because I would not deny Christ, that I was being persecuted. It also gave me an opportunity to witness Christ to the non-Christians and pray for the persecutors, which silently moved many of them. The current round of persecution is torture because there is no way we can run away from it, as it involves all concerned – the community, authorities and religious – all at the same time. There is no escape and no one to help.
Inspite of running away, we receive threats on the phone. Our relatives and friends are targetted, being told to get us to revert to Islam or face the consequences. We are now worse than refugees, because even in refugee camps you get some food and shelter. Here we are at the mercy of those who will help us. We can’t see many around, because even the Church and Christians are afraid. We understand, it will affect their other interests, like schools and institutions. We are prepared to take up a job, but we need a house first. We have exhausted all our savings, living as good as on the streets, over the last few months.
These days, we spend our time, praying and waiting on the Lord, since we do not want to move away from where the LORD has planted us. We believe we are called to bear fruit here in J & K, being answerable to the God for doing so. The Spirit is willing and the flesh has taken a beating, but we have faith that there will be a resurrection of Christianity, as the faithful servants of the Lord obey His Word…. There are many times that we get suicidal, especially when our frightening and bleak future comes up before us. Please convey to some of our better-off Christian brothers and sisters to empathise with us and do something to help us.
Kashmiri Christian Family # 6
I am young and came to know Jesus when I was a college student, through friends and decided to follow Him, but my family would not allow me to convert. Finally, since I was insistent and said I would leave the house, my family chased me away, disowning me. Persecution came from many fronts thereafter, including threats and attacks to kill me. My education got disrupted as I had to run away to a distant place and live as an underground Christian for quite some time. My Lord knows how I survived, because HE managed me to do it. I discontinued college, as I did not have money to live and was on my own, doing odd jobs. But all this suffering did not weaken my faith in Jesus, rather it strengthened my and my faith only grew stronger. So I was able to bear all that came along.
I lived in a very simple way, telling many people the Good News, especially since there are very few Christians who are Kashmiris here, though the harvest is plentiful. Over the years, playing hide and seek with the fanatics, I managed to collect some money to put up a small shop and earn some money. However, all my hope was shattered as persecution increased and I was accused of putting up the shop only as a front for my conversion activities. The fundamentalists alleged that I was getting Christian funds to convert Muslims, with inducement.
The scenario was unbearable after the video of Rev. Khanna baptising neo-converts raised a furore, as my shop was targetted, which was my only source of livlihood. I was to get married and my fiancée, is also a Christian convert, but there was no way this could now happen. Rather, we both had to flee Kashmir and even thought of committing suicide. But then the Lord showed us the state of other Kashmiri sisters and brothers, whose state was worse than ours. And we became even more determined not to give up, but to stay and fight the good fight of faith.
Presently, we are dazed and don’t know where or how the Lord will lead us. The persecution by the Maulvis (clerics) and the extents they go with our family and friends is unbelievable. There is no one to hear our cries for help. But we know God is watching and our faith will be rewarded, at least in heaven – where sooner or later, we will be. We ask you to get people to help us after praying about our desperate situation….
Calling for Your Faith in Action – Your feedback & response to this challenge
The Church, Christians and Christian NGOs are known to respond sympathetically to needs of non-Christians, in case of natural or man-made calamities, like floods, famines, droughts, earthquakes… Can we each adopt a Kashmiri Christian family? And help the Lord grow a vibrant Kashmiri Christian vineyard there, which will bear great fruit.
Please pray about it. Faith without works is dead.
Your brother in Christ – Joseph Dias
Kashmiri Christians & lessons we can learn from Kashmiri Pandits. The Church & community needs to act
Jammu & Kashmir, March 4, 2012: A global meet for a satellite township for Kashmiri Pandits is being planned. As the government has failed to come out with a return module for Kashmiri Pandits (KP) to the Valley, leaders of various organizations at a KP global meet in Jammu declared that they have prepared one such module of their own for the return and rehabilitation of the displaced Pandit community in Valley.
The Government till date has failed to take an initiative on its own and prepare a road map regarding the honorable and dignified return of the community to Valley and the KP organizations during their one day global meet held under the aegis of All India Kashmiri Samaj (AIKS) have framed one such module on their own, Moti Kaul president, AIKS told reporters after the conclusion of the meet.
He said a resolution on seven points was also passed with voice vote during the meet.
Mr. Kaul who was flanked by K N Pandita convener JKNM, K K Khosa, senior vice president KP Sabha, B L Sadhu, chairman KMECT, Gautam Kaul senior vice president AIKS, A K Dewani, president JKNUF, R K Raina, senior vice president, ASKPC, H N Jatoo, president AIKPC and others said the global meet resolved that the only justifiable option for the return of displaced Pandits is a satellite city in Kashmir Valley. The city should be self sufficient in terms of overall infrastructure, economic avenues, adequate land, decent accommodation, educational institutions, medical care, recreation centers and commercial infrastructures etc.
Giving further details, he said the KP organizations during the meet demanded immediate Constitution of Commission of Enquiry headed by a sitting judge of Supreme Court of India to probe circumstances and fix responsibility of ethnic cleansing of the entire religious minority community of Pandits from Valley in 1989-90.
Mr Kaul said that members were unanimous on political empowerment of the community and demanded adequate reservations both in the Assembly, the Parliament and local bodies, grant of minority status to the community to preserve the ethno-religious identity of this minuscule minority, economic retrieval of the Pandits who are still putting up in Valley and passage of Shrines and Temples Bill to preserve the age old heritage of the community.
He said, the K P global meet was attended by the elected representatives of Pandit bodies all over India including those from Kashmir Valley and Jammu. Besides there was representation of the community from abroad, he added.
Others who were present in the meeting include Ravinder Bhan from Middle East, Ajay Bharti president JKVM, NCR, P N Goja, of Anantnag Prabandhak Committee, Sham Kaul senior journalist, Bushan Lal Bhat president Vichar Manch J&K , Veer Ji Saraf, convener RIK, Prof G K Muju, convener JK Minorities Writers Forum and delegates drawn from other parts of the country.
- fwd: Predhuman Joseph K. Dhar
The Sharia court headed by you has passed strictures against alleged missionary activity in the Valley. What was the provocation?
Yes. We want the three Christian priests, MC Khanna, Jim Borst and Gayoor Messah, who have been involved in conversions, to leave the Valley immediately. We are still investigating the case against the principal of Tyndale Biscoe School, Parvez Samuel Koul, and we will soon announce the judgment on him.
The Sharia court has also decreed that the state government involve itself in the management of the missionary schools. Besides, we also want a prayer written by Sir Muhammad Iqbal to be read in these schools and a class allotted for Islamic studies.
You say that missionaries are forcibly converting people. What is the proof?
They use methods that force people to convert. There are several missionary agencies charged with harvesting souls for Christianity. People are deployed outside schools to lure students. They usually start with impressionable children or vulnerable people with problems and offer solutions. We also have reports that during the 2005 earthquake, Christian missionaries built houses worth Rs 7.5 crore and they were given to people who were willing to convert. Our Sharia court is still investigating the matter.
But will the Sharia court be able to execute its decisions?
Yes, if there has to be communal harmony in Kashmir, then the decisions of the Sharia court have to be implemented. Kashmir is a very sensitive state. We already have problems of our own, of a very complicated kind at that. So we hope the government will carry out the court judgment. It would be for the good of the state.
Is there any way the Sharia court can ensure that its orders are implemented?
If the state government doesn’t fulfil its obligation, then the people of the state will do it for themselves. In fact, the people are waiting to see what the government does. And if it fails to act, then the people will act.
What will you do if there is violence?
That is why we are warning the government in advance. In case the government fails to do its duty, things can go out of our hand. Violence is but natural under the circumstances. We are not for violence and want it averted. So, in the interest of peace and communal harmony in the state, we feel the missionary activities need to be stopped forthwith.
What is the number of converts in the Valley?
In the course of our investigation, Khanna said that 10 people have converted. He would have revealed more but he was arrested soon. We questioned many persons who had first converted and then returned to the Islamic faith. In fact, it is their account that has helped us understand the full scope of missionary activity in the Valley. We learnt that the persons who convert are given money, all their needs are met, they are taken to California, provided accommodation and jobs and settled there.
How will you deal with those who have converted and won’t return to their original faith?
I call upon them to return and revive their faith in Islam. And if they don’t, then we will respond in the light of what Islam says on apostasy.
- riyaz wani
Delhi, February 28, 2012: “The CSF has fresh persecution reports and will be forced to call for a boycott of Kashmiris in other parts of India, especially states like Goa and Kerala, where they do roaring business at the cost of the local state population. The CSF is awaiting the peaceful completion of elections in Goa and will then seek the intervention of the newly elected chief minister on the issue of Kashmiri Christians, since a large number of Kashmiris earn their livelihood and are treated well “, said Joseph Dias, The CSF general secretary. He called upon the Church and Christians to take a stand and if need be close down schools and institutions all over the country, if the state government does not stop persecution of Christians in the state.
The CSF appeals to all those interested in helping out these martyrs for the faith, to send us your contact details at email@example.com You may also volunteer to join a team that would go to J & K, standing in solidarity with Kashmiri Christians being tortured there.
Union Home Minister Assures Christian Forum Safety of Kashmiri Christians, But Danger is Eminent
The CSF will call for boycott of Kashmiris all over India, IF there is no let-up in persecution
The CSF Awaits Goa Assembly Election Results, as many Kashmiris depend on Goa…
The Catholic-Christian Secular Forum (CSF) delegation met Mr. P. Chidambaram, the union home minister, who assured them that he would advise the necessary authorities to ensure the safety of Kashmiri Christian and also provide security to the community’s institutions and NGOs, working in the state. The delegation comprising Joseph Dias, The CSF general secretary; Father Charles Irudayam of the Catholic Bishops Conference; Advocate Iftikhar Bazmi, secretary, Poonch Bar Association (J & K) and the persecuted victims briefed the union home minister on the harsh realities of ground zero. It was pointed out that there was a massive hate campaign against the Christians in Kashmir and many were being forced to revert back to Islam by marauding mobs of frenzied zealots. These radicals, under instructions from some maulvis (clerics), were violating even the rights of women and children, by forcibly entering homes of neo-converts and also those, who had converted for years to Christianity.
The delegation informed Mr. P. Chidambaram that half of the Christian population had fled the valley, with just a few hundred left behind, living underground or facing immient torture and reeling under a socio-economic boycott. Most Christian NGOs had closed down operations and there was no freedom of religion in Kashmir. The state of almost 50 families, who fled was worse than refugees, with clergymen (missionaries and pastors) and their families, being left to fend for themselves and with no hope of going back to Kashmir, fearing for their lives. The union home minister said while he “did not condone the anti-Christian attacks, the Christian community also needed to be sensitive to the feelings of the majority in Kashmir. Since it was a specially sensitive state, with matters complicated by the fact that it was plagued with militancy and separatism, the union government also had limitations”, Mr. Chidambaram added.
The following was reportedly heard from Kashmir and told to the union home minister, who asked the delegation to provide details, on the basis of which action would be taken:
• Christian children fear dead, wives separated to be given to others and property taken.
• Christian families are near-death because of attacks and total boycott, forsaken by all.
• Christians living worse than refugees, hounded by the police-fundamentalists combine.
• Christians must revert or leave Kashmir. Else face the consequences that few want to.
• Christian institutions/NGOs fear being taken over and the community becomes extinct.
• Churches or Christians can do nothing but become martyrs for they cannot take up arms, even in self-defence, unless the governments or international human rights groups act.
Victims described what Kashmiri Christian families are facing:
1. Burnt with live coals and left to die
2. Homeless in the snow, with no money
3. No freedom of religion or right to choose
4. Brutally injured, with suffering wives and children
5. Maulvi Committees and Special Investigation Teams
6. Fanatics claim Police, Judiciary and Government with them
7. Socio-Economic boycott leaves the Christians impoverished
8. Demonizing and profiling Christians to religiously cleanse them
9. Islamic finance pouring in and being used to finance the war on Christians
10. Danger of extremists and anti-national forces jumping on the bandwagon
11. Fanatics falsely claim 20,000 Muslims converted to Christianity since 1990s
12. Many districts are affected by persecution, where Christians are hounded out
(To be contd…)
Moulvi Fayaz Ahmad was at Jharsuguda, Odisha, in January 1999 when Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burnt to death by right-wing fanatic Dara Singh. Then, Ahmad was a pastor, staying at a nearby church. He had converted to Christianity a few years ago and his name was Father Isaac. Back now as a Muslim with a thick flowing beard, he is at the forefront of the campaign against “forcible conversions” in Kashmir.
Ahmad’s day begins at the crack of dawn when he and his colleagues set off from the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in Srinagar in search of converts living across the Valley and tries to prevail on them to return to their original faith. The places can be as far off as the villages along the Line of Control in Uri and Kupwara, hamlets in central and south Kashmir and areas in downtown Srinagar.
He returns a satisfied man to the Darul-Uloom in the evening. “With God’s grace, I’m able to persuade and reconvert them back to Islam,” claims Ahmad.
By his estimate, Ahmad has met around 300 converts over the past several months after the conversion issue hit the headlines last summer. His advantage is that he knows most of them personally from his days as a Christian missionary.
Ahmad’s modus operandi is simple. His anti-conversion band of preachers arrive unannounced at a convert’s house, ask him privately to recount his story and once certain of his apostasy, seek his return to Islam. “We urge him to recite Kalima again to re-enter Islam,” says Ahmad.
Ahmad was once an ardent Catholic himself, even though he insists he was converted “by way of deception”. After his conversion in the mid-1990s, he was sent to Don Bosco School in New Delhi to study. He soon rose to become a pastor with, according to him, enough influence to get a Kashmiri student admitted to the leading missionary school free of cost.
But this is the period of Ahmad’s life that he’s trying hard to forget. “I don’t want to talk about my past. It is painful,” he says. “I converted in all innocence. I hardly understood Islam and adopted Christianity through a mix of persuasion and curiosity. But once converted, I didn’t entirely let go of my Muslim moorings and often felt uneasy and conflicted about the change of faith. Then, I reached my moment of truth and decided to reconvert.”
He returned home to north Kashmir where his maternal uncle handed him over to a Deobandi seminary. However, his re-initiation into Islam wasn’t easy. The head of the seminary made him the exclusive focus of attention, dedicating his entire Friday sermons to revival of Islamic faith in him to “help him completely disavow his Christian influences”. Within a few months, Ahmad was ready in his new avatar of a moulvi. He grew a long beard and wore a white headdress. His mission is to arrest the “tide of conversions” afflicting the majority religion in the Valley.
Ahmad is at the centre of an acrimonious religious war that has emerged as the latest trip wire in the Valley. Father CM Khanna of the Protestant All Saints Church says Ahmad is exposing the converts to society’s gaze, shaming them to reconvert. “He is responsible for the situation coming to this pass. He identifies the converts and then uses coercion to force them to reconvert,” alleges Khanna.
Khanna has reason to be angry. In the Sharia court of Kashmir’s Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din, it was Ahmad who challenged his assertion that the conversions in the Valley were voluntary. The court later issued a fatwa against Khanna and two other priests, Jim Borst and Gayoor Maseeh, calling on them to quit Kashmir.
But Ahmad remains unfazed. “I can prove that the conversions are engineered through inducements. There are many indigent families who have been persuaded to convert in lieu of humanitarian help,” he says.
He has collected many videos where the alleged converts confess to having changed their faith following offer of help from missionaries. One such video shows a 12-yearold boy from Good Shepherd School alleging on camera that he was baptised. “Let them disprove these stories first if they say conversions are volitional,” says Ahmad.
But are there no cases of voluntary conversions in the Valley then? “There are,” agrees Moulvi Hamid, who accompanies Ahmad on his daily missions. “But they constitute a very small percentage.”
Khanna, who lives in Jammu, dismisses this reasoning. “How can it be so? To say that conversions are forced by using money is like insulting the integrity of Kashmiris,” he says. “Besides, we don’t have unlimited amounts of money to hand out. We don’t work in the field. It is the people themselves who come to us looking for peace. We have no sona, chandi (gold and silver). We only have the Lord’s gospel. And we can’t refuse.”
BUT THIS hardly settles the controversy that arose last summer following the surfacing of a video showing Khanna baptising a group of Kashmiri youth at All Saints Church. In fact, it is only getting more complex by the day with the potential to spill over on to the streets.
Mufti Bashir-ud-din has threatened to issue more fatwas if the missionary schools in the Valley — some of them over a century-old and hailed as harbingers of modern education in the state — do not make the desired changes in their management. This includes the involvement of the state government in the management and teaching of Islamic studies to Muslim students.
In 2005, in the first such attack, suspected militants gunned down alleged convert Bashir Ahmad Tantray of Pattan in north Kashmir. Earlier, a female teacher from West Bengal was killed and another critically injured when a grenade was lobbed at a south Kashmir missionary school. Even though the issue subsequently died down with the government sending a private word to missionaries not to do anything to draw public attention, it is now again out in the open.
Across the Valley, the growing resentment over conversions is feeding into the larger political cauldron, which sees conversions as part of an elaborate gameplan to change the Valley’s demography. There are fears that any further politicisation of the issue could end up making it a side cause of the separatist struggle, even as the hawkish proponent of this ideology Syed Ali Shah Geelani may have temporarily chosen to look the other way.
Hurriyat (G) leader Geelani rejected the Sharia court’s fatwa while blaming the majority community for not addressing the social causes underpinning conversions. However, he had earlier termed conversions “as a systematic exploitation of the poverty in Kashmir”.
Khanna brushes these fears aside. “There are less than 450 Christians in the Valley, around 300 with All Saints Church and over 100 with Holy Family Catholic Church. What sort of demographic threat do they constitute?” asks Khanna.
But this explanation hardly placates Muslim religious outfits in a state where perception outweighs statistics. Their estimates of converts vary from 10,000 to 20,000. “We are still identifying the converts in every nook and cranny of the Valley. Every convert names five others and the effort to reach them has become endless. This gives us a sense of their deep penetration,” says Ahmad.
In his room at the Dar-ul-Uloom, Ahmad and his colleagues emphasise the urgent need to “safeguard their religion”. Sitting around the collected evangelical literature and the video evidence, they say that Muslims in the Valley need to rise to the new challenge. “We are not against the propagation of Christianity in Kashmir. Let them do it in the open. We will welcome it. But we will not tolerate clandestine conversions,” warns Ahmad.
And while he says it, the atmosphere in the room, which frames him, turns into a gripping reflection of the larger tension brewing outside.
- riyaz wani, tehelka
New Delhi, December 05, 2011: The family of Rev C M Khanna, presbyter of the All Saints Church in Srinagar, of the Church of North India, phoned up Christian leaders and lawyers in New Delhi and elsewhere that the Priest had been arrested by the local police on Saturday, the 19th November 201 and taken to the Police station and was being interrogated. At first police told Khanna they were protecting him, then raided his home and church, and finally arrested him on charges of fomenting communal strife under sections 153 and 295 of the Ranbir Penal Code which is the Kashmir equivalent of the Indian Penal Code. The family was in a state of panic, as were the other Christians in the Kashmir valley, specially Srinagar city. The family was also apprehensive about the security and health of the Pastor, who is a diabetic, and the security of the parishioners, specially the new believers who had taken baptism.
Before the police action, a video had been in circulation on YOUTUBE on the internet showing Pastor Khanna baptism some people, whose faces were not clear on the video, in the baptism font of the All Saints Church in Srinagar. The voices were not clear, but occasional snatches of the Pastor’s voice as he spoke the liturgical phrases of a baptism were audible, as was the congregational hymn.
What was most disturbing were reports that Pastor Khanna had been summoned by, and had presented himself before, a Shariah court headed by Mufti Azam Kashmir [Grand Mufti] Bashir-ud-din, where he had been interrogated. To the best of our knowledge at that time, the State government had not notified or recognized this as a Shariah court nor had it passed any legislation defining its powers and jurisdiction., Anyway, it was clear to us, and to our legal advisers that the Shariah court had no jurisdiction over the Christian minority in the State, or elsewhere. And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities.
Apart from the safety and security of Pastor Khanna, his family and his parishioners, old and new, we were also apprehensive of the state of Justice in the valley where the Bar Association had apparently announced they would not defend the Pastor. The local lawyers also disturbed proceedings when Pastor Khanna’s bail petition was eventually heard by the Judge, who eventually ordered Pastor Khanna’s release on bail on 1st December on guarantees of a personal bond of Rs 25,000 and directions that he not leave the State and not baptize anyone in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It may be noted that Pastor Khanna is retiring from the Church of North India early in 2012. The reports in the English language Srinagar papers, as accessed on the internet from their web editions etc were equally disturbing, showing that an attempt was being made to vitiate the atmosphere by maligning Pastor Khanna in particular, and the church in general.
THE FACT FINDING TEAM was set up in the wake of our telephonic and internet demands to Mr Wajahat Habibullah, Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, Vice Chairman Dr H T Sangliana, and the Union Minister for Minority Affairs, Mr Salman Khurshid. We also tried to contact by phone and email senior Muslim political figures and Islamic scholars and members of the Muslim Personal Law Board to seek their mature advice and possible intervention. There was no response from the Islamic leadership in New Delhi barring two senior civil society activists, Ms Seema Mustafa, New Delhi and Mr Javed Anand, Mumbai. Both of whom condemned the arrest and harassment of the Pastor, but said Kashmir was a sensitive state and had many issues (of victimization of the common people) and needed to be handled with sensitivity.
Mr Habibullah said the Commission was sending the Vice chairman, Dr H T Sangliana, ex MP, to go to Srinagar. We learnt that the visit was to be kept low key in view of the sensitivities involved. Dr Sangliana invited Dr John Dayal and Dr Richard Howell to accompany him.
The team did not go at government expense but in their private capacity, and paid for their entire visit themselves.
Finally the team consisted of the following, other than Dr Sangliana who was State guest:
Dr John Dayal, member, National Integration Council and Secretary General, All India Christian Council
Rev. Dr Richard Howell, General Secretary, Evangelical Fellowship of India and secretary, National Untied Christian Forum consisting of the CBCI, NCCI and EFI
Adv Rev Br. P J Marcose, human rights activist, Jharkhand and Kandhamal, Orissa
Rev Vijayesh Lal, human rights activist, secretary, Relgious Freedom Commission, EFI, New Delhi
The team was in Srinagar from 29th November to 2nd December, drove to Jammu on 2nd December and left the state on 3rd December 2011.
ISSUES BEFORE THE FACT FINDING TEAM: The issues before the fact finding ream were:
1. Establishing if the video of the pastor baptizing some people in the All Saints church was done in secret, or if the pastor new of it. Who leaked the video, made by mobile telephones, on YOUTUBE on the internet
2. Circumstances in which Pastor Khanna was summoned by Mufti Azam Bashiruddin Khan to present himself for an interrogation by the Shariah court, including validity of the court in the law of J and K State, and what transpired in the so called court. Was he under threat or pressure.
3. Circumstances in which Pastor Khanna was arrested by the Police and other related events including raid on the church and house of the pastor and of the people who ere baptized.
4. Was Pastor Khanna or his associates tortured by the police, and the conditions of his stay in the police station under remand to the Special Investigating team. As he is a diabetic, was he examined by doctors while in custody.
5. The situation of Catholic and Protestant families living in Srinagar and the Kashmir valley.
6. The course of the legal process and the role of the Srinagar Bar and lawyers in hampering justice.
7. The situation of the Christian managed schools
8. The action of the State government
9. The action of the Central Government
10. The situation of the Church in Kashmir,– the Church of North India diocese of Amritsar, the Catholic church of the Jammu and Kashmir diocese
11. The role of the Srinagar media
12 The future of Church, evangelization and church schools in the Kashmir valley, specially Srinagar
Towards this, the delegation met with the following In Srinagar:
1. The superintendent of Police and the Inspector of the Police station where Pastor Khanna was incarcerated
2. The Inspector in charge of the Special Investigating Team interrogating Pastor Khanna
3. Pastor Khanna in his cell or room in the police station.
4. Mufti Azam [Grand Mufti] Bashir-ud-din, is home-office together with his general secretary, his son and other officials
5. The head Priest of Kashmir, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in his home office, who is also chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema (MMU), together with the deputy Priest of the main mosque
6. Mr Parvez Kaul, principal Biscoe Tyndel school
7. Father Thomas Mathew of the Catholic Church and Burn School, Srinagar
8. Adv Jyoti Aggarwal from Delhi who came to Srinagar to defend Pastor Khanna after local lawyers refused to take his case
9. Former Member, Legislative Council, Mr Gill, a Jammu Christian, who accompanied the lawyers
10. Mr Nicodemus, businessman of Jammu, who accompanied the advocates
11. Mr Amal, prominent Kashmiri Hindu businessman
12. Retired Jammu and Kashmir High Court Justice Muzaffar Jam
13. Members if the Church council and parishioners of All Saints Church at a meeting in the Church.
14. Mohd Syed Mallik, senior editor and political analyst
15. Some police officers of the security department who will remain un-named
In Jammu, the delegation met with
1. Pastor Khanna after his release on bail
2. Mrs. Khanna and their son
3. Two of the men who were baptized by Pastor Khanna in Srinagar
4. Father Jim Borst of Baramullah who was in the St Mary’s cathedral
5. Architect Sydney Rath of Srinagar, currently in Jammu
We acknowledge and believe some senior government functionaries in Delhi and Jammu who said that they had worked quietly and behind the scenes to ensure that Pastor Khanna was not tortured. In Kashmir, we also acknowledge the readiness of the moderate Islamic leadership to meet with us and extend us common courtesies. We will report the substance of our talks with them later in this report and some of their spoken or implied “cautions”, “warnings” and “threats”. We called on senior editor and political analyst Mr Mohd. Syed Mallik at his residence. No Kashmiri journalist met our delegation, though one spoke with Dr Sangliana on the phone. Several English language papers covered the visit of the delegation, and attributed statements to us which we never said. This was in consonance with the type of reporting on the issue.
Brief history of the situation of the minorities in the State of Jammu and Kashmir:
Ironically, among the more popular books in the bookstall at the Srinagar and Jammu airports is one volume that claims Jesus Christ came to Kashmir, and conjectures that there is a grave said to be His. Regardless of this, Christian presence in the Kashmir valley is documented from the middle of the Nineteenth Century, with Catholic and Protestant missionaries coming to various parts including the Valley and the Ladakh area, bringing with them education for the people. Christian schools are the most prominent in the valley, popular among both Shia and Sunni middle and upper class Muslim parents. They have a bare token number of Christian students. The massive Tyndel Biscoe school, for instance, has just four students in its pupil body of over 7,000 including the girls wing. Burn House, the catholic school, has three students out of over 2,000. Christians are also a small minority in the Faculty.
Kashmir was till after the Partition of India ruled by a Hindu King, the late Hari Singh, not much liked by the large Muslim population of the Valley of Srinagar, which is one of the three district entities that make up the state. The other two are the areas of Jammu, with a huge Hindu population and a record number of temples, and Ladakh, which has an almost entirely Buddhist Leh region and a Muslim Kargil region, Hindus and Christians. The tiny Christian minority in the State lives largely in the Jammu region which has about 8,000 of them in various denominations and are of Dalit and Punjabi or north Indian origin. There are about 400 in the entire Kashmir valley. There is an even a much smaller population in Ladakh which has the world’s highest altitude church in the Moravian mission. Srinagar may not have more than 300 Christians, less than 100 of them Catholic and the rest mostly of the Church of North India. Only a handful of Christians in the Valley trace their origins to Kashmiri Hindu Pandits, or to Islamic roots.
For some time after Independence and the ascension of the state to the Union of India, J and K, as it is known popularly, had its own prime minister and Sadr-e-riyasat, [head of state] Karan Singh, before they were designated chief minister and Governor respectively. Special status is accorded to the State under Article 370, many Indian institutions have no jurisdiction in the state and many laws have to be extended to the region through the state legislature. The State has its own Penal code, called the Ranbir Code.
India and Pakistan have fought four wars over the State, the last being at the Kargil glacier. Half a million Indian soldiers, by some counts, are in the valley tackling both the border situation and a continuing confrontation with terrorists as well as with the civilian population, The confrontation has been violent most of the time. Many innocents have been killed, entirely illegally. Women and children have been victims. A major victim of the communalised situation in the valley has been the exodus of the Hindu Pundit population to Jammu, Delhi and refugee camps elsewhere. A sad aftermath has been the rise of fundamentalism and the supremacy of a doctrinaire kind of politico-religious Islamic clergy. There is strong distrust between the restive Muslim population and the State and Union police and security forces. This has its implications for the micro minority of Christians because the state’s top priority is to prevent the flare up of yet another agitation by the Muslim youth irrespective of the concerns for religious minorities.
The seeds of the confrontation with the Christian community lies in the powerful segment of this clergy which is carving out its space in challenge to the established state government, the other political groups, the military and the political parties. Patently, the vast majority of Kashmiris in the valley, all Muslim, are peaceful people adhering to a soft and melodious Sufi Islam, far removed from the stridency of Wahabism espoused by the extremist groups.
There has been violence against Christians in the past too. Recent tensions began in March 2003 after local newspapers alleged that Christian missionaries were converting Muslim youth. Reports of conversions followed an article in an evangelical Christian website in the United States that claimed thousands of Muslim youths were converting to Christianity, which local Christians say was not true. In November 2006, a convert from Islam, Bashir Ahmed Tantray, was shot dead by Islamist extremists in Baramullah district. Tantray’s name had appeared in newspaper reports. In September 2010, Muslim mobs burned a school and a church in Tanmarg district after a television channel showed U.S. pastor Terry Jones burning the Quran. On 26 February 2011, a school run by a Christian family was burnt. The government helped with donating some pre-fab structures to run classes. the reconstruction. Before this the Tyndale Biscoe School Tangmarg was burnt , The Good Shepherd School of the Roman Catholic church at Pulwama was burnt. The All Saints Church, which is on land leased by the government, has been burnt twice by mobs protesting other issues, including the hanging of Pakistan former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the Pakistani military government..
The most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions and schools managements — which are accused of proselytising through the school prayers and text books – as an issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other. Many told us that such elements were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots. This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light, many said. It was also held that the writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley and Srinagar where the Islamic groups and the leadership of the Hurriyat all party conference was the major forces who could mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.
We were also told that the large schools, divorced from the Church leadership, remained a major social force and bargaining point as they were serving an influential section of the majority Muslim population. There could be moves to extort money from the schools by threatening them, several Muslim and others told us. The CD of the Pastor baptising some people, including those from Islam, were freely available as MMS videos on the mobile phones of students. Pamphlets against Christians and Christianity were also freely distributed among students.
There were unconfirmed reports that some students had in fact beaten up a Christian fellow student, a boy. No details were available. This report, however, was not denied by anyone in authority.
According to Rev Khanna, he had been approached many times by people of Islamic faith who asked to be converted. He had always questioned them as to why they wanted to convert to Christianity. Rev Khanna said they always replied that they were not getting any help or assistance from the Islamic leadership. They had heard that the church helped Christians materially. Rev Khanna said he had always turned away such people. Father Thomas Mathew of the Catholic Church had an identical experience with Muslims coming to him. He too turned them away. The Christian clergy also apprehended that some of those seeking conversion were police agents and others had been sent by the Islamic groups to trap the Church. In fact, there was the case of one man who converted to Christianity, said he wanted to learn more, and was sent to a seminary. He however could not adjust to the seminary life, and was asked to leave. He returned to Srinagar, re converted to Islam, grew a beard, and is currently said to be an activist against Christianity in Srinagar.
Then why did Rev Khanna baptise some people of the Muslim faith? Rev Khanna said this small group of about seven people had been coming to the church for ten months, regularly and with great piety. He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.
Eventually, he agreed. The baptism ceremonies were held on several days two months ago. Rev Khanna confirms that he carried out baptisms. He does not deny it. There is no anti conversion law in the state and he is not obliged under law to inform the government or the police about it. Rev Khanna has never spoken against Islam nor has he carried out any anti-government or human rights activity so as to anger the government or any of the Islamic groups. It is not clear why the police arrested Khanna under sections 153 and 295 which are for a person spreading hatred between communities. The police had first told Khanna they were taking him into protective custody as they had received information that the people and Islamic elements were getting restive and angry. Interestingly, they arrested him on Saturday, as no legal relief could be had on Sunday, a holiday, and they could interrogate him without disturbance from the judicial system.
Rev Khanna said he was aware that the baptisms, presided over by him with two assistant priests [who since then have been in Jammu] were being filed by at least three men using their mobile phones. The Fact Finding team was shown the visuals on the laptop of the Mufti Azam, or Head Mufti, Bashir-u-din in his residence. It is clear that the people were aware of the filing as they made space for the people with the mobiles. The mobiles also recovered the liturgy of the baptism, including critical phrases saying the people were shedding their old lives of sin and “shaitan” or the devil. This phrase has been used by the Islamic groups as blasphemous.
The Grand Mufti, Mr Bashir-u-din repeated this phrase often when he spoke to us. The Mufti heads the Shariah court which is yet to be acknowledged by the government. In his own mind and with other Islamic leaders, he is firm that the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State. The Grand Mufti said he knew Rev Khanna and had summoned him after receiving complaints and after seeing the CD of the baptisms. He said by calling their converts” previous life in Islam in the same breath as “shaitan” or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptised. It is clear that the “court” interrogated Rev Khanna for more than six hours, repeatedly showing him the video on their laptop. More than one person interrogated rev Khanna. The Pastor however said he was not physically threatened or manhandled, and was allowed to go home, after being told that the court would give its verdict after some days.
The Grand Mufti spoke with the fact finding team in soft tones. The team told him their final intention was to see that peace was maintained, that the Christian community was not threatened and that its security, as those of the schools and other institutions, was assured.
The grand mufti repeatedly demanded that the fact finding team give him assurances on behalf of the church – written assurances – that there would be no more baptisms in the valley of Kashmir. He made it amply clear that this would be one of the demands in his judgement.
He also had a long litany of complaints against the Christian schools. He said he was keeping an eye on the schools, their principals and their staff and they would hear from him soon. He demanded that the schools stop their morning prayers, which according to him were being used to spread Christianity and insult Islam. He also accused the Christians schools of encouraging drug addiction among children. He did not adduce any evidence, apart from saying that this was well known. Incidentally, the local Urdu, Kashmiri and English language press have by an large been speaking in the same language, and repeating the same charges. The accusers had not bothered to lodge formal complaints with the police in this entire episode. The police action – the arrest of Rev Khanna – was done suo moto on the orders of the superintendent of police and investigation handed over not to the local police station but a Special Investigating Team headed by an inspector.
The Grand Mufti occasionally raised his voice when talking with the Christian team. He said he would prove “that we are men, not impotent persons”. He also said the Community had to be prepared for his judgement. There may be need for the Christian community “to approach the government and police authorities.” His sentence was “we will do what we have to do, and others will have to do what they have to do.” Under the veneer of his politeness and through the occasionally raised voice, it was clear to the team that the Grand Mufti was contemplating a denunciation of the Church if not actually calling for mass action against the church and the schools. He did assure there would be no violence.
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, the head priest of Kashmir, and Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, a political entity, was even more polite and somewhat circumspect. He began by assuring that the religious minorities were safe in Islamic Kashmir Christians and Church need have no fear of violence. He also said that at meetings of the Ulema, he had impressed upon the Grand Mufti the need to be also circumspect and not do take any action in haste. The Mirwaiz, the more respected of the two, however maintained that the Church and the school had committed many mistakes. The Mirwaiz said he was himself a student of Burn hall catholic school. However, he said, things had changed since he was a student. The Mirwaiz asserted that some NGOs, on the pretext of welfare, took advantage of the turmoil and offered monetary inducement to gullible people for conversion. The Mirwaiz said he had also seen the CD of the baptisms and was disturbed by it, specially the references to the past Islamic life of the neo converts. The Mirwaiz said there was freedom of religion in Kashmir and people were free to change their faith, but not under allurement or false promises. “Nobody would be allowed to inspire apostasy through monetary inducements.”
It was not very clear when would the Sharia court of Grand Mufti deliver its “judgement’
Our talks with the school principals and staff were fruitful. They denied there was anything sinister about the morning assembly. They also denied there was any attempt to tutor the students in Christianity, pointing out that the schools had been running for decades without any complaints an almost exclusively catered to the Muslim majority community barring a handful of students from other communities. Principal Praveen Kaul said he had made it clear to the government and the Islamic leadership that he was not a priest and had no links with the church other than the fact that the school was owned by the Amritsar diocese of the Church of North India on a leader of land from the government, and he was a member of the staff. Burn Hall catholic school is however on private land donated by the former maharajah, and the principal is a catholic priest. Father Mathew however also agreed there was nothing sinister in the school curricula or morning assembly, and there was no case of drug peddling in or around the school
Other Hindu and Muslim intellectuals we met spoke of vested interests and groups who were looking to “fish in troubled waters” while other had used the Christian issue to divert attention from pressing issues of poverty, jobs and development. Political analyst Syed Mallik was hopeful that the crisis would pass and there would be no more trouble. The schools have been closed for the winter vacation and reopen in February 2012.
The police has been polite with Rev Khanna after asking him firs to sign on a blank sheet of paper. But their behaviour with the neo converts has been far from police. We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding. Their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targetted by both the police and the Islamic groups. They are masons and were eking out a living. One said he had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action. Both said they feared from the police as much as from Islamic groups. They want to go back home, or elsewhere where they can earn a living. One of them has passed senior high school.
Delhi Advocate Jyoti Aggarwal, who as a member of the legal team that argued in court against the arrest of Rev Khanna – and ultimately won his temporary freedom on a bail bond after two days of court drama – narrated how members of the local Bar had disturbed the proceedings of the court speaking against the Pastor. Thier behaviour tested the patience of the judge who at one staged remark “Do you want me to hang him!” The judge eventually ruled that Rev Khanna be released on Bail on condition that he does not carry on baptisms and that he does not leave the state. Proceedings are expected to continue in court once the police submits its charge-sheet or admits there is no case against Rev Khanna under the law. Rev Khanna can be asked to present himself before the court as and when required.
In its editorial, The Kashmir Times observed in moderate tones “In the case of Kashmir, handling sensitive issues like this one calls for a greater degree of caution. Two universal basic considerations need to be kept in mind by all sides: The process adopted to decide the communally sensitive case must appear to be fair and just and, equally important, in consonance with imperatives of the Valley’s age-old traditions of amity. Till now, by and large that is how the issue has been handled and that is why it has not gone out of hand. The same restraint and sense of responsibility is required to be maintained in taking the matter to its logical end. There can be no two opinions about the desirability of the issue being finally resolved. It cannot be allowed to hang fire indefinitely or generate animosity and hatred. It is the duty of the state authorities to show sensitivity and engage with all parties concerned towards exploring an early end of the dispute. Induced conversion is patently against the law of the land and penalty for the crime is also specified. However, the process adopted in the case has to be fair, just and transparent in order to make it convincingly acceptable to all concerned. Responsibility for ensuring that proper defence is available to the accused and that the charges against him are proved beyond reasonable doubt devolves equally upon all sides. Issue of forcible/induced conversion has been agitating the minds of various communities across the country. In certain cases mishandling of the dispute over religious conversion has resulted in violence and loss of human lives. Zealots find it as an opportunity to cause mayhem. Ultimately it is the society at large, comprising all faiths and communities, whose legitimate larger interests need to be protected. In any case, the consequences of letting this particular issue end up in some sort of law-versus-religion or Islam-versus-Christianity controversy is too frightful even to comprehend. The maturity and wisdom displayed so far needs to be adhered to on all sides and till the matter ends. “
1. The Christian population of Srinagar, numbering less than 400 men, women and children, are in state of panic, fearful of their security, uncertain of the future, uncertain of thier jobs.
2. The Christians also regret they have not received help and assurances from senior church leaders. The priest, Rev Khanna, was left to his own devices during the entire episode. His wife and family are shaken.
3. It does not seem likely that Rev Khanna, who retires early next year, will ever be able to go back to his church. The community is afraid there may be no priest to celebrate Christmas this year in the All Saints Church. The church hierarchy ahs to reassure the community on this point.
4. The police are patently partisan on religious lines although they have not harmed Rev Khanna. They have acted on behalf of the political leadership. It is quite clear they will have no qualms in restricting the religious freedom of the minority Christian community if they feel it necessary to keep the major groups in good humor. The first desire of the police is to see there are no demonstrations in Srinagar. Everything else is secondary, according to one security department official.
5. The state Governmnt has failed to act in the matter other than through the action taken by the police in arresting Rev Khanna. There has been no effort to reassure the frightened Christian community. As officially the State government has shifted to its winter headquarters in Jammu, there is no senior officer in Srinagar to meet with the Christian community and to give them any assurance.
6. The State government has not investigated the charge against the schools and NGOs so as to end rumour-mongering by Islamic groups and mischief makers,
7. The political leadership of all hues has not bothered to intervene to reassure the community or to get Rev Khanna’s freedom or to question the right of the Islamic groups to question the Christina priest. No major or minor political leader met the victim or the Christian community. No one has questioned the powers of the Shariah court.
8. Despite their quoting from the Islamic scriptures in the safety of minority communities under an Islamic majority, the leadership has not issued any public statements to reassure the Christian community which they know is very frightened as it lives in areas where ht family maybe the only Christian one and cannot get police help if need.
9. There has been much muscle flexing and loose talk by various groups who seem to be competing with each other in vowing to teach the minority communities a lesson.
10. Government, police, administration, Islamic groups and clergy have not considered what repercussions their actions will have in Jammu or in the rest of India where Muslims are not in a numerical majority.
11. Islamic groups in the valley appear not to be concerned by the fact that in the rest of India, Christians and Muslims are both a small minority and need each other and the civil society at large to face the challenge of Hindutva fundamentalist elements.
12. Barring one honourable exception, the role of the media has been suspect. Its reporting and editorializing has been one sided and without any reference to the truth as seen by the religious minority.
13. The role of the Srinagar Bar brings disrepute to the legal profession. This is similar to the role of the bar in various states in India where Muslim victims have been denied legal help.
14. The total absence of human rights organisations and the absence of a state Minorities Commission makes monitoring of human rights violations – of which freedom of faith is an important right – makes it difficult to listen to the problems, fears and perceptions of the religious minority communities.
SUGGESTIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS:
1. The police case against Rev Khanna must be withdrawn.
2. The government of India must show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity when it comes across incidents such as those of Rev Khanna. It took more than twelve days before the NCM vice chairman could finally come.
3. Despite Article 370 and the special position of Jammu and Kashmir, it remains a part of India and the security and safety of the minority communities, whichever they are, must have primacy with the authorities including the judiciary, administration and the police and security forces.
4. The role of the State government of Jammu and Kashmir has come in for criticism. It has much to explain, specially why it has failed to act decisively in Srinagar in this matter. The panic among the people is a sign of the failure of the government in assuring security and safety.
5. The police must follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.
6. Police and civil authorities must also train themselves in matters of secularism and a multi cultural society of India, including that of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. They must ask religious authorities to explain things which are not clear them, including the liturgy for baptism a the meaning of baptism. They have jumped to conclusions.
7. If they have some other information, the State Government must come out with a White Paper on this issue.
8. There is no question of Christian priests coming under the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts.
9. The National Commission for Minorities must urge the state government to set up a State Commission for Minorities.
10. Principals of Christians schools too have to do some introspection to ward off charges that they are charging high fees and “donations”, which make them seem as mercenaries in the eyes if the parents who want their wards to get the good education a Christian school promises.
11. In a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.
12. No one can take away the right of any person to change his or her faith, a right guaranteed both by the Constitution of India and the Resolutions of the United nation. But pastors must do rigorous examination of those coming forward to embrace Christianity. They must always remain on guard against people sent as spies to trap the Pastor.
13. There is patent need for a deep introspection in the church on the spoken word, the language of evangelization and the translations of various Biblical verses. We have seen many verses whose local translation entirely mutilates the real meaning and lends itself to misinterpretation. This is a serious exercise which the collective church must carry out as early as possible not just for the sake of the Kashmir valley but for the country as a whole.
14. Christian NGOs have become suspect in the eye of the people. They too must introspect, and if they feel it is required, they must take urgent steps to win back the respect of the people most of whom are very poor and who need the educational, health and welfare services the State cannot provide.
15. The senior church hierarchy must provide a supportive leadership to the lonely pastors an spriest working in the valley.
16. Above all, the Christian community in India must continue to keep the Christians of Kashmir valley in their heart and in their prayers.
- john dayal
Nepal, November 30, 2011: Rev. C M Khanna, Pastor of the All Saints Church from Srinagar, Kashmir has been released on bail, after spending 10 days in police custody at Kothi Bagh police station, Srinagar for a bond of Rs. 25,000.
Rev. Khanna had been accused of blasphemy under sections 295 A and section 153 A of the Penal Code.
EFI welcomes this decision and would like people to remember that the Church has served the community in the valley for more than 130 years.
Pray for peace to prevail in the Kashmir valley and harmony to be maintained. Pray also for the political and religious leadership as they continue to work for peace and prosperity of the state and nation.
- rev dr richard howell
Nepal bomb attempt targets Protestant church
The bomb, which was in a cloth bag and stuffed in a white plastic sack, was discovered Sunday outside the Navajiwan Church, which belongs to the Assemblies of God grouping of churches at around 6pm by the janitor Arjun Magar.
“The sack was left just outside the gate. I became suspicious when I saw another bag inside, so I called the church elders who called the police,” he said.
Police cordoned off the area in Kupondole district before making the bomb safe with a series of controlled explosions.
An army bomb disposal expert later said three high-powered devices were found in the sack and would have caused extensive damage if they had gone off.
Suman Gurung, the church pastor, said people in the area had a lucky escape and that security for services and Church activities in the future would be stepped up.
“We will continue to be vigilant and pray. We didn’t used to examine bags of those coming to worship but from now on we will do that,” he said.
Security has become a major concern for Christians in Kathmandu this week following a bomb attack on the United Mission to Nepal, a Christian NGO, on November 22.
Earlier Sunday, Pastor Gurung, along with several other Christian clergymen in south Kathmandu including two Catholic parish priests, met with police to discuss the security situation.