Tuesday, November 4, 2014

RLPB 285. Chhattisgarh, India: Bastar ready to explode

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 285 | Wed 05 Nov 2014

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Supporting International Day of Prayer (IDOP) for the Persecuted Church
IDOP 2014: Sunday 9 November
See: Critical Prayer Requests (CPR)
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CHHATTISGARH, INDIA: BASTAR READY TO EXPLODE
plus updates: Houston, USA; Pakistan
By Elizabeth Kendal

The Indian state of Chhattisgarh in north India's tribal belt has long been a hot-bed of hindutva (Hindu nationalist) activism.  Thousands of Christians -- often under duress -- have been 'returned to the Hindu fold' in ghar wapsi (home-coming) 're-conversion' events.  When India's desperately impoverished and disadvantaged Dalits ('untouchables') convert to Christianity they lose their scheduled caste status along with the benefits that affords. Hence the economic benefits of 're-conversion' can be very alluring. [See RLPB 276 (2 Sept 2014) for background.] On 10 October the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in Narendra Modi's BJP-led government, Thawar Chand Gehlot, confirmed that Dalits who convert to Christianity are no longer considered Dalits and therefore no longer have rights to Dalit 'reservations': affirmative action, reserved jobs and places in education.

Since early May hindutva activists have been encouraging Hindus in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district to use the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to issue rulings banning Christianity. (This Act facilitates rural self-government by empowering village assemblies.) By the end of July some 50 villages across Bastar district had used the Act to ban non-Hindu religious practice. Persecution has soared and Christians are being intimidated, abused, assaulted and even denied access to food rations and water -- all with impunity. [See RLPB 270 (22 July 2014) for background.] In September Christian organisations in Chhattisgarh filed a petition in the Bilaspur High Court contesting the constitutionality of the bans.

On 9 October Dinesh Kashyap, an MP from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), visited Madota village. While there he conducted a ghar wapsi ceremony in which he washed the feet of 35 'neo-Christians' (presumably converts) and announced their return to the Hindu fold. 
Madota church. (Scroll.in) 
Kashyap stirred up the local Hindus and left them fuming over conversions. They have since directed their hostility towards the Madota church and the regular prayer meetings being held there.

Persecution with impunity is prevalent across Bastar. Morning Star News reports that on Sunday 19 October a group of around 30 Hindus besieged a Christian worship service in Madota. Most of the Hindus remained outside chanting anti-Christian slogans while five militants entered the church and beat the Christians, including women and children. Local Hindus subsequently forbade the Christians from using the water pump near the church. Also on Sunday 19 October some 25 Hindus staged a similar attack on a church in Farasgaon. The next day a Christian named Laxman was beaten unconscious in Tokapal area by his three Hindu brothers and was unconscious for 24 hours. Other Christians and churches have been threatened.

In a purported effort to ease communal tensions, local officials in Madota invited Christians to attend a mediation meeting on Saturday morning 25 October. The Christians were told that the sub-divisional magistrate, deputy superintendent of police and town inspector would be there to discuss the district administration’s response to the Christian petition in the Bilaspur High Court. Though the Christians attended, nobody else did. The Christians waited at the meeting place all day. In the evening a truck carrying some 50 Hindu militants arrived. Wearing saffron bands and armed with swords, sticks and axes, they violently attacked the defenceless Christians, accusing them of 'forcible conversions'. Fifteen Christians were wounded, with 12 requiring hospitalisation for serious injuries. Some Christians are so afraid they have gone into hiding. Bastar officials refuse to admit that religion had anything to do with the attack. Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) president Arun Pannalal believes that the manner in which the attack was orchestrated raises suspicions that local officials were complicit with the attackers. 

This is an extremely dangerous situation. Chhattisgarh -- indeed the whole tribal belt -- is a tinderbox of anti-Christian radical Hindu nationalist communalism due to decades of unchecked hindutva activism.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT --

* the petition in the Bilaspur High Court will be successful; may religious freedom be upheld and  impunity end.

* God will supply the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum and all other Christian organisations aiding Chhattisgarh's persecuted and imperilled believers with everything they need: wisdom, insight, courage, strength, faith, personnel and funds.

'For nothing will be impossible with God.' (Luke 1:37 ESV)

* God will intervene in this hostile and exceedingly dangerous, incendiary environment, calming the situation and removing those who would like to light the fire and fan the flames.

* India's Christians will draw ever closer to Christ and grow in faith as they experience his presence. 'Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by.' (Psalm 57:1 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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TENSIONS ERUPT IN INDIA'S BASTAR DISTRICT

Tensions are erupting in Chhattisgarh's southern Bastar district as violent persecution with impunity becomes prevalent. At least 50 villages have banned all non-Hindu religious practice. In many places Christians are being denied food rations and access to water. Churches are being attacked and Christians assaulted without the authorities intervening, which guarantees that the situation will escalate. Officials in Madota invited Christians to meet with them for mediation on 25 October. The Christians attended but nobody else did. Then in the evening a truck arrived with 50 Hindu militants who attacked the defenceless Christians with knives, swords and axes.  Fifteen believers were wounded and 12 required hospitalisation for serious injuries. Many Christians have fled. Impunity is almost inevitable. Please pray for the Church in India.

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UPDATE to RLPB 284: HOUSTON, USA

Houston City has withdrawn the subpoena on sermons/speeches and other communications issued to five pastors involved in opposing the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). After some 'civil discourse' with Houston pastors, Houston Mayor Annise Parker said she had not intended to trigger a conflict over religious liberty. The mayor's office had been bombarded with responses and over one thousand Bibles that were sent to the office will now be donated to other causes that have requested them. While the subpoenas have been withdrawn, the struggle over the HERO continues.

UPDATE: PAKISTAN - breaking news

On 4 November a young Christian couple, Shahbaz Maseeh (32) and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi (28) -- both bonded labourers (slaves) -- were savagely murdered by a large mob of angry Muslims in the town of Kot Radha Kishan, Punjab Province. Local mosques had broadcast the claim that the couple had desecrated Qur'anic texts. According to some reports the couple were beaten to death and then burned. Other reports say they were alive when thrown into the kiln. Police are reportedly investigating and have increased security around Christian neighbourhoods.  The couple had reportedly been under extreme pressure and were not being paid. When they applied to leave they were told that as bonded labourers they would have to pay to redeem themselves. But it was much more than they could afford, so they were planning to flee with their four young children. Pray for the Church in Pakistan.

Report from World Watch Monitor

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Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).