June 1998


Followers of Jesus in a Hindu Rashtra

Attacks on Christians and their places of worship continue unabated throughout India

Emboldened by the existence of the BJP government at the Centre, various wings of the saffron combine who had launched a systematic attack on Christian religious persons in February and March this year (see Communalism Combat, April 1998) still continue with attacks on persons and places of worship taking place in Ranchi, Bihar, Orissa and Kerala since April–May 1998.

Latur district in Maharashtra, was the locale for one such brutal assault last February. As the accompanying excerpts from a document acquired by CC from Latur and circulated locally by the Dharma Raksha Samiti, affiliated to the local branch of the RSS shows, sustained, hate–propaganda is whipped up and suspicions against Christians and Christianity in general unleashed among sections of the local populace in areas around which such attacks take place to ensure their complicity in the subsequent violence.

In Orissa, on April 13 this year, Pastor Jakhya Digal, was brutally attacked and humiliated by an aggressive group of young men belonging to Gurukula Ashram of Chakapad, Kandhamal (Phulbani) district, Orissa. The Pastor, presently serving in Tikabali Pastorate and being stationed at Rupagaon (about 4 kms from Chakapad) was returning from his official station to his native village Ladapadara, in Phulbani district after observing Easter with his congregation.

On his arrival from Rupagaon at Chakapad main bus stand he was quickly surrounded by an aggressive group of hitherto unknown young men (numbering about 30), obviously awaiting him, violently dragged by the mob out of the public carriage in which he was travelling with the assaulters shouting, "You, the Christian Pastor don’t you know it is a Hindu Rashtra, how dare you preach Christianity?" After that Jakhya Digal was mercilessly beaten up by the young men, who dealt out several heavy blows at his face until he started bleeding and fell down on the ground licking the dust, while public were watching the cruel incident silently.

Following the assault, they removed the blood stained shirt from Jakhya Digal and made him put on a clean shirt and ridiculed him by parading him in front of the Principal of the Gurukul Ashram who was "asked to pronounce his judgement." The Principal of the Ashram, however, refused to approve the assault by the Ashram students, but asked them instead to leave the place.

Thereafter, the miscreants took Jakhya Digal to a nearby Hindu temple and forced him to embrace Hinduism. When he refused, they snatched his diary from Jakhya Digal along with his other belongings including a sum of Rs. 90 and a bag of rice and chased him out of the village with the stern warning that he should never return.

Trembling in fear and shock the innocent pastor, still bleeding, crawled into a bus to escape from the hands of the murderous mob to save his life.

In Ranchi, Bihar, unidentified assailants attacked Jesuit Brother Modestus Tirkey, at the Jesuit Residence on the night of May 15 . Brother Tirkey, aged 49, is the Headmaster of Jesuit run Prabhat Tara Middle School, in the industrial suburb of Ranchi.

The assailants, who, it is reported, were armed with lethal weapons, invaded his room while he was evaluating the mid–term examination papers, with his door left ajar on account of the summer. He sustained severe head injuries and is currently being treated for skull fracture in a hospital, unable to speak.

Father Elvius Kujur, the Superior of the Community, while explaining the incident to the local media said that the victim’s cries of alarm could not be heard, because of loud–speaker music playing in the neighbourhood. The miscreants were masked and they, reportedly, did not carry or destroy things in the Brother’s room. Neither did they attack other Jesuits who were in the residence.

But, while fleeing after the assault, they also attacked another Jesuit Father (of the same community) who they suddenly encountered. He, however, escaped with minor injuries.

Police have arrested three persons for interrogation. The local Christian community is understandably shocked, as another priest in a rural parish had been similarly attacked by unidentified persons last April.

Meanwhile, undeterred by the law or the police, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Pampa Vimochana Karma Samithi (PVKS) have served an ultimatum on the Left Democratic Front Government (LDF) of Kerala to demolish before June 15, 1998 a sub-surface dam built on the river-bed at the famous Christian convention site of Maramon "or face dire consequences." The dam had been originally built to prevent the further erosion of sand.

Last year, the PVKS and other Hindu right–wing outfits had launched an agitation to get the granite structure dismantled. On the night of May 16 1998, the Pathanamthitta police were mute witness to the partial destruction of the structure by ‘’anti–social elements." Ten people arrested by the police in the next few days and remanded to jail for their role in the alleged demolition were granted conditional bail on May 31 this year by the additional sessions judge E K Muraleedharan.

The situation has now taken a turn for the worse with the VHP and the PVKS telling the government to dismantle the structure since ‘’hardly three months remain for the Aranmula snake–boat race further alleging that the structure hinders the smooth conduct of the race which has religious significance."

The VHP and PVKS have warned that if the structure is not demolished by June 15, on which date a convention of Hindu organisations is being organised at Kozhencherry, a militant agitational programme would be chalked out and ‘’the LDF government will be responsible for its consequences."

The MLA from Aranmula, Ramakrishnan has accused the Congress of "double standards" on the issue instead of co–operating with the LDF in containing the VHP ‘s communal threat. He claims that Congress MP P.J. Kurien had initially agreed to the demolition of the dam to prevent a communal explosion but then he backtracked.

Pathanamthitta District Congress Committee chief Peelipose Thomas was also stirring up passions on the issue, he has alleged. Mr Ramakrishnan has also said that the expert committee report — appointed after the VHP made consistent attempts to whip up communal passions on the issue — on the need for the dam to check sand erosion from the river-bed be made public. He has also called for an all–party meeting to settle the issue once and for all.

Matters seem to be going from bad to worse with the VHP–PVKS hardening its stance and the LDF Government in no mood to accommodate the votaries of Hindutva. Caught in the midst of this are the faithful of the Marthoma Syrian Church who have organised the Maramon Convention for more than ten years as an event for the "social and spiritual upliftment" of the masses. n

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