US activists, groups condemn PM Modi for failure to stop attacks on religious minorities

December 2, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, December 2, 2018: Religious freedom activists from across the U.S. have criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his failure to stop the violence carried out by Hindutva groups against religious minorities, including Muslims and Christians. At an event titled ‘Religious Freedom in India: A Briefing on Capitol Hill’, organised by the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC) on the Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., the activists urged the Indian prime minister to condemn such violence against religious minorities as well as take all necessary measures to curb the rise of Hindutva extremism and punish those involved in violence.

“The failure of Prime Minister Modi to definitively condemn and to definitively distance himself from the extreme elements of his party has played a substantial and significant role in bringing about the situation that we see today,” said Dr Katrina Lantos Swett, former Chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan federal commission tasked with defending religious freedom outside the US.

“Inflammatory rhetoric and a conception of India’s national identity increasingly based on religion have contributed to an atmosphere of intimidation, exclusion, and even violence directed at non-Hindus,” she added, saying Muslims and Christians are the “primary victims”.

Dr Lantos Swett, who is the daughter Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor to have ever been elected to US Congress and who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, said India’s religious freedom violation had a “long-standing pattern of impunity and immunity”. “We see it in the lack of accountability for large-scale communal violence such as the horrors we know took place in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, and in the more individualized crimes committed against members of minorities faiths,” she said.

The briefing was held in a Senate Building before an audience that also included Congressional staffs, officials from the Department of State and USCIRF, and civil society members.

Jeff King, President of International Christian Concern (ICC), quoted a survey saying 82% of Indian Christians were “very concerned” for their safety, 73% experienced discrimination “at least once” last year, 85% saw an “increase in aggression” by Hindu nationalists, and 84% said minorities were “less protected” under Modi.

King urged the Indian Government to allow a team of USCIRF to visit India on a fact-finding mission. Matthew Bulger, Legislative Director of the American Humanist Association, a US organisation promoting theism and agnosticism since 1941, said that compared to global religious freedom standards, “India is failing”. He criticised Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code as a “relic” of British colonial law and “essentially a blasphemy and anti-religious incitement law “inconsistent with the pluralistic and democratic values India publicly accepts.

Bulger noted that although Pehlu Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer murdered by cow vigilantes in April 2017, named six suspects in his “death-bed statement” criminal charges against them were dismissed. “Sadly, this is not an isolated case, as over a dozen similar murders have happened in the last two years alone.”

Rev Sarah C Anderson-Rajarigam, a Dalit Christian Lutheran church priest from Philadelphia, said the status of Dalits had worsened under the Modi government. “Modi’s government has deliberately and openly made violence against Dalits a non-issue by offering impunity.” The perpetrators of violence against Dalits were not only free but “elevated to the status of a hero”, she said, adding: “The patter of violence continues unabated… But there is no shame experienced either by the perpetrators or by Prime Minister Modi and other ministers.”

Pawan Singh, a Sikh representing the Organisation for Minorities of India, said the “fascist ideology” of the RSS that “a small group of people are born superior to others… needs to be checked.” He said: “There is the curtain of democracy that they use, and then go on with their business of killing individuals of dissenting opinion, or because they do not like them.” Singh said the “pseudo institutions” connected with the RSS, such as the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the Bajrang Dal and the Hindu American Foundation “were a threat to our freedom”.

Citing the World Hindu Congress organised in Chicago in September, Singh said the spread of Hindutva was “not just India’s problem any more… That is what gives me the shivers: these right-wing saffron terrorists [are] roaming in the free world, threatening our free institutions.” He criticised the US government for giving a visa to RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat, who, he said, “should be tried for crimes against humanity”, and slammed Democratic Congressman Raja Krishnamurthy for speaking at the Hindu Congress.

Sunita Viswanath, Co-founder of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a New York-based nonprofit, said the “chilling repression of open debate and political expression” in India and the violence against Muslims and Christians was alarming. “This repression and violence is taking place in the name of Hinduism, one that we do not recognise and cannot accept”.

Viswanath noted that the police had named the Sanatan Sanstha, an extremist right-wing Hindutva organisation, for the September 2017 killing of Gauri Lankesh, a Bangalore-based activist and journalist. “The Sanatan Sanstha was also involved in the killing of other activists,” she said. “Despite this, it has not yet been banned or classified as a terrorist organization.” Vishavjit Singh, a cartoonist and performance artist from New York, and a survivor of the mass violence against Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984, said that violence targeting Sikhs “set the stage for the powers to be — doesn’t matter, BJP, Congress, anybody else — to know [that] you can kill with impunity, as many people as you like, in a democracy, and get away with it.”

– national herald india

Nuns help diminish HIV stigma in central India

December 2, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Indore, December 2, 2018: Nehal Patel used to shy away from people with HIV/AIDS who visit a care center that shares space on her high school campus, but now she is no longer afraid to sit near them and exchange pleasantries.

“I could not have imagined doing this some years ago, as I thought it was dangerous even to go near an HIV person,” said the Hindu teenager, who completed 12th grade last spring in a Catholic school in central India.

Patel, 17, credits the change in her attitude to the Sisters of the Holy Spirit, who run St. Raphael’s Higher Secondary School in Indore. The congregation also manages Vishwas (meaning “trust”), a medical and counseling support center for people living with HIV/AIDS. It operates from a corner of the school campus.

“When I saw sisters, volunteers and workers in Vishwas interacting freely with HIV patients, I realized the disease did not spread the way I thought,” Patel told Global Sisters Report. Those with the virus “are like us and have every right to live in society,” she asserted.

Such gradual change in popular perception about HIV/AIDS is one of the achievements of Vishwas, says Sr. Jaisa Antony, founder of the center, which was opened in 2003. In the past 15 years, she says, it has helped more than 5,000 people with HIV lead normal lives.

Sr. Preethi Thomas, the school principal who was congregation provincial when the center started, said Vishwas was the outcome of their congregation’s general chapter earlier that year, during which its members were encouraged to reach out to frontier areas.

However, implementing the decision had some practical problems.

“We were forced to open Vishwas on the school campus because the local people refused to rent us a place to accommodate HIV people,” Thomas said.

Their trouble did not end there. Even teachers, students and parents opposed the center’s presence on the campus. The nuns overcame those fears after several rounds of talks with individuals and groups, Thomas added.

Now parents and teachers support their work among people with HIV/AIDS, she said.

Patel said many students forgo their birthdays and other celebrations to donate money to Vishwas. However, some still avoid contact with HIV patients, she added.

Antony, who now works in neighboring Rajasthan state, says Vishwas was their province’s response to the alarming HIV situation in Indore, the commercial capital of Madhya Pradesh state, and its surrounding areas. “We had no choice but to open the center in Indore somehow,” she said.

Preliminary studies by the sisters (known formally as the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit) revealed that many people in Indore had contracted the disease because the city is a busy hub of goods transportation to various parts of India. Truck drivers are identified as major carriers of HIV in India.

In 2017, India had an estimated 2.14 million people living with HIV/AIDS, according to the latest report of the National AIDS Control Organization.

The nuns also found that many auto-rickshaw drivers, handcart pullers and others in Indore had contracted the virus.

The nuns initially found the infected people were reluctant to admit their health condition or go for treatment. “We had a tough time to convince them,” Antony recalled.

The reluctance stems from society’s fear of the disease. Even relatives of people with HIV are treated as outcasts, Antony said. “No one would share space, food and water with an HIV-infected person.”

The nuns began by visiting the families of the infected regularly to counsel them. “In some cases, we had to take more than 10 sessions to build confidence among the affected,” Antony said.

Sr. Mary Stella, current director of Vishwas, says the center now gets 50-70 new cases every month. Some come even several hundred miles from Rajasthan and Maharashtra states, she told GSR.

Vishwas distributes free medicines and nutrition to those infected and regularly monitors their progress.

The center also helps those with HIV find jobs, educates their children, arranges marriages and settles them in life, the director explained.

One person helped by Vishwas is Divya Singh (not her real name), wife of a truck driver and mother of three. The 35-year-old Hindu woman says her family is alive now because of the nuns. She said she had contemplated suicide twice because of the HIV impact on her family.

“My husband was the first to be detected after he complained of uneasiness,” she said. That was in 2011 and she wanted to end life because “I had heard HIV people would die soon.” Hindus consider widowhood a curse.

Singh mustered courage to reveal her husband’s condition to some close family members. One of them suggested she go to Vishwas.

At Vishwas, Singh’s husband regained strength with regular medication and nutritious food.

But the family suffered another jolt in 2013 when Singh and the children tested HIV-positive, after the nuns suggested they undergo the test at the government-run medical college in Indore.

Singh said the suicidal thoughts returned to her as she worried about her children’s future. “They would not be able to marry or raise families, for no fault of theirs,” she added.

However, the sisters “took special care of us until we reconciled with the reality,” Singh said, adding that they now lead a happy life.

Singh’s husband said they take their medicines and follow a nutritious diet without fail. “We are healthy now,” said the 45-year-old man, sitting inside their two-room house on the outskirts of Indore.

Singh has also found a purpose in life after Vishwas employed her as a counselor. She visits the medical college and homes in the area to spot people susceptible to HIV.

“Whenever I find someone suffering from weakness and uneasiness, I encourage them to undergo an HIV test and, if proved positive, come to Vishwas,” she said.

To the reluctant, she tells her story to convince them that HIV infection does not lead to instant death. “I tell them they can live longer like a normal person, if treated well.”

However, the Singh family keeps its health condition quiet to avoid social discrimination. “We will keep it as a secret until our death,” she said.

Their children also know that it would be the end of their studies and life as they know it if they reveal their illness to anyone.

They now attend a school close to their house. “We take part in all school activities,” said the eldest daughter, a 10th-grader. The younger girl is in the eighth grade and the youngest, a boy, is in sixth.

The children today worry less about their health.

“I want to become an air hostess,” the eldest girl told GSR, whereas her younger sister aspires to join India’s civil service.

Like Singh, Priya (not her real name), who works in Vishwas as a coordinator, keeps her HIV status secret. She became a widow in 2010, three months after marrying a truck driver.

“My in-laws blamed me for my husband’s death and drove me out of the home. Later, I found I, too, was infected,” she told GSR.

She also thought of committing suicide, but her brother brought her to Vishwas, where she found many in similar straits.

“However, I still could not accept that I was an HIV patient,” she added.

She accepted the reality after several counseling sessions with the nuns, who also provided legal assistance for her to fight a case her in-laws filed, accusing her of infecting their son.

Such efforts by the sisters have rekindled hope in many infected with HIV, says Seema Mishra, a social worker.

“The sisters’ sustained campaigns have also inspired people to do something for these unfortunate people,” said Mishra, who is based at Khandwa, some 80 miles south of Indore, where the nuns have another center.

The nuns’ admirers include Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore. “Their success in rebuilding shattered lives of HIV people is remarkable,” the Divine Word prelate told GSR. “They have given respect and confidence to people who are not accepted in society.”

The nuns have also inspired other nongovernmental organizations to join the HIV mission. “Even the government has started caring for HIV-infected after seeing the sisters’ work,” the bishop said.

Mishra says what distinguishes Vishwas from other organizations working among people with HIV is its constant touch with its patients. “The sisters have helped people believe that, if treated well, one can live a full life,” she said.

Stella says Vishwas maintains a call center to follow up with outside patients.

“Every day, our center calls more than 100 patients to monitor their health condition. Unless we do this, they will tend to lose track, and it will harm them,” the director explained.

Raju Mudgal (not his real name), HIV-positive for 15 years, says he follows instructions from the office strictly and leads “a comfortable life without any difficulty.”

Vishwas has also found recognition.

In 2012, it received the best community care center award from the Madhya Pradesh State AIDS Control Society for its humanitarian service to people living with HIV. The society functions under the government of Madhya Pradesh, a state ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party), the political arm of right-wing Hindu groups who oppose Christians elsewhere in the country.

Stella says they get public grant money from the federal and state governments to support their work serving people with HIV.

Vishwas also encourages HIV-positive persons to get married. Stella says she is looking for a match for Priya. “Some couples have children who are HIV-negative. This has emboldened them to think of a life beyond HIV,” the nun added.

– matters india

What’s Christianity to those who pray to sky & sea, says first woman to contact Sentinelese

December 2, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

India, November 30, 2018: The Sentinelese are strong — one middle-aged Sentinelese man can take down five young men — and have rebuffed outsiders for centuries. John Allen Chau, the ‘missionary’, went to the North Sentinelese Island illegally and was allegedly killed. He unethically bribed fishermen to take him to the North Sentinel Island. And he wasn’t the first Christian missionary to do so.

Many foreigners have tried to approach the Sentinelese — some even from nearby Myanmar and Indonesia. And the local fishermen are always ready to take them to these no-contact islands in exchange for money. But these trips have either ended fatally or with no success.

I visited the Sentinelese tribe in the Andamans years ago as a researcher with the Anthropological Survey of India. Official tours to the Sentinel islands have been closed for years now because of their small population and their hostility towards outsiders.

When we first reached out, we exchanged fruits like raw bananas (which the Jarawas love roasting) and coconuts (which the Sentinelese used) for hours at an end to gain their trust. It’s an exercise in patience.

The Sentinelese see no difference between a journalist, researcher, police or missionaries approaching them. In fact, when police personnel went with our contact-teams to these islands, they would have to be dressed in plain clothes. The retrieval of John Allen Chau’s body is up to the police, Indian and US administrations. I don’t know whether the Sentinelese will even allow them to come to the island — they are angry. But it’s not like they attack first-off, they show warning signs — through facial gestures, knives, bows and arrows — and then take action if those are disrespected. John Allen Chau must have faced a similar situation.

Most of the tribes in the Andamans, including the Sentinelese, are animists. They worship nature. I saw their practices when I lived with them, months at an end. Those who pray to the sky, water, and land — what’s Christianity or Hinduism to them? When I visited the Great Nicobar Islands, I saw that most of them had been forcefully converted to Christianity. But they do not adhere to that religion— when the time for prayer comes, some sit on chairs and protest. Unlike Christians, they make wooden replicas of those who die and leave out food and water for them.

When the British ruled India, they tried to contact the 10 tribes in the Andamans, whose population was over 3,000 at the time. Angered at British attempts to set up a penal colony, the tribes attacked the British in 1859. The battle of Aberdeen or Andaman was fought between two groups— one with bows and arrows, another with guns. Many tribes were wiped out. The remaining tribal people were segregated into ‘Andaman Homes’ where diseases like measles claimed lives. Later, syphilis and other venereal diseases started spreading after the British exploited tribal women, killing off more chunks of the population.

Considering their dwindling population and vulnerability, it was decided that the Indian government would not interfere in their lives. These tribes will anyway die out because of their small numbers as well as their limited gene pool. But if we interfere, they will die out sooner. Many rules and regulations are now in place to keep these tribes isolated.

If you are Indian by birth, you may still get permissions to study the tribal people, but if your child is born abroad, he/she will not be given access. Similarly, if you work in the Anthropological Survey of India, you will be allowed to work only in the region you have been posted to, even if you want to go to the Andamans to study.

Except for natural calamities, we should not contact them. And if we do contact, as we did after the tsunami in 2004. it should be through the government only – that way they will start accepting and trusting a small group to help them in times of crisis.

The Sentinelese and other tribes don’t need to be oppressed with religion, because doing so will make them more hostile. They understand nature, and that’s all they need. For instance, when I was with the Jarawas, I was travelling one day from one village to another, but they asked me not to go since it was going to rain. This was a bright sunny day! But it did rain within half an hour, such is their understanding of nature.

If I got the opportunity to visit the Andamans again now, I would. I last visited in 1999, after Union minister Maneka Gandhi urged me to go. The Jarawas there recognised me and called out, “milale milale”, their term for ‘friend’. They always remember.

– the print

Filipino Catholics honor Christian martyrs

November 29, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Manila, November 29, 2018: Facades of Catholic churches and schools across the Philippines were bathed with red light on the evening of Nov. 28 to highlight the plight of persecuted Christians around the world.

It was part of the so-called ‘Red Wednesday’ campaign initiated by Aid to the Church in Need — a global Catholic group under the auspices of the pope that supports Christian communities suffering persecution.

In the capital, Manila, Father Teresito ‘Chito’ Soganub, who was previously abducted by Islamic militants, led the faithful in paying tribute to Christian martyrs.

In his homily, the priest said he was passionately supportive of the event because of his experience as a hostage.

Victims of persecution such as himself cried from their hearts and souls as well as their eyes.

“You cannot do anything except pray,” he added.

He said that in the midst of a difficult situation, with the bullets flying around, it had been difficult to see the presence of God.

The priest added that he even tried to bargain with God during his almost 116-day captivity from May 23 to Sept. 26, 2017.

“I prayed hoping the Lord will grant my prayer,” the priest said.

Father Soganub felt that he had failed when he was not freed, but later realized he was wrong to have reacted in that way.

“I could not see the presence of God because fear swallowed me, because imminent death and the trauma covered my eyes not to see the wonders of God and his protection,” Father Soganub said.

Data provided by Aid to the Church in Need noted that more than 90,000 Christians were murdered worldwide in 2016, equivalent to one every six minutes.

The group noted that many people in the Philippines remain unaware of how difficult it is to practice the Christian faith in some Muslim-majority areas of the southern island of Mindanao.

The ‘Red Wednesday’ event sought to improve awareness among Filipino Christians of such issues.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines invited all churches and diocesan shrines across the country to illuminate their façades in red, the color of martyrdom in the Christian faith.

– ucan

Pastor severely beaten for preaching Gospel vows not to stop despite persecution

November 29, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Bihar, November 28, 2018: An Indian pastor who was severely beaten alongside members of his congregation earlier this month in Bihar state has vowed to continue preaching the Gospel just like the heroic figures of the Bible did.

“Since I am working for the Lord, I have always prepared myself for any kind of eventuality, persecution, or danger. I am prepared to pay the price for serving my God,” said Pastor Bangali Das in an interview with International Christian Concern while wrapped in bandages and breathing heavily due to injuries he sustained during the attack.

“Great men of God in the Bible like Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and their friend Daniel were persecuted. So I feel that it’s an occasion for me to glorify God, like them. I will continue to work for the Lord in spite of all such obstacles and pain,” he added.

Das, who has been a pastor for the last 12 years, was accused by others in the village of Tetua of carrying out forceful conversions, which is a charge often used against Christians in villages across the Hindu-majority country.

With his congregation having increased to over 200 worshipers, for months he also faced issues with local police. In February, they evicted him from the premises that he rented for church services, due to noise complaints.

But Das refused to give up on ministering to people in Tetua and explained that he had to carry out services at an open place.

He said that a number of men and women from the local Manjhi caste “accepted Jesus and they offered me an open place to conduct worship.”

As many as 150 non-Christian Manjhi attacked a worship service on Nov. 4, however, accusing the pastor of forcefully converting people, and demanding that he stop preaching.

“When our believers requested them to give some time to buy a place and build a worship hall, they surrounded us and started beating us,” Das explained.

“Two men caught me and began to rain blows on me with their hands. I got hurt in my chest very badly and my arm was injured. They threw me on the ground and beat me until I became unconscious.”

Christians have been under a wave of persecution in several Indian states this year, which has resulted in pastors being beaten and churches being destroyed.

Pastor Singh, who leads a congregation in India’s Madhya Pradesh State, shared of how Christians are being threatened to stop following their faith back in September.

Hindu radicals threatened to beat and kill Christians, leading to 15 families becoming too reluctant to go to church.

“The reason for this drop in the attendance is the threats from Hindu radicals,” Singh told ICC at the time. “The radicals say they will beat and kill my church members if they continue to attend the services.”

“Prior to May this year, around 200 people used to worship regularly in my church,” he added. “But now only 50 to 60 people attend my church on Sunday. They are under tremendous pressure from Hindu radicals.”

– christian post

Christians denied vote in Indian state election

November 29, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Madhya Pradesh, November 29, 2018: Hundreds of Christians, including a Catholic archbishop, were turned away from polling booths in India’s Madhya Pradesh state because their names were not on the voter list.

Christian leaders claimed there was foul play in the Nov. 28 poll.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, the state capital, and hundreds of other Christians, had to return home without exercising their franchise to elect 230 legislators.

This was despite them having election identity cards and other relevant documents.

Christian leader Saji Abraham flagged a petition to election authorities seeking an investigation of what he branded as a conspiracy.

He and other Christian leaders suspect that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has ruled the state for 15 years, influenced officials to remove from voter eligibility lists the names of Christians traditionally considered supporters of the BJP’s archrival, the Congress Party.

“I’m sure my name was deliberately deleted from the voter list, which is unjust and not a good sign for the democracy,” Archbishop Cornelio told ucanews.

The prelate said he was denied the right to vote, even though he showed his election identity card, on the basis of an incomplete voters’ list.

“This is a stern message to the Christian community that they are no more in the reckoning,” Archbishop Cornelio said.

“The message is subtly conveyed through deletion of names of senior community leaders.”

Indira Iyengar, a 78-year-old Christian former member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minorities Commission, said there had been a BJP-supported move to lower the number of votes for the Congress Party. She was also denied the right to vote.

“It is a well known fact that I am a member of the Congress Party and my vote will never go to any other party,” she said.

“Therefore, my name was struck out.”

She added, in reference to the BJP; “It is a ploy of the Hindu party.”

Christians comprise 0.29 percent, or some 211,000 of the state’s 73 million people, with 91 percent of them Hindu.

Muslims, the largest religious minority, make about seven percent of Madhya Pradesh’s population.

The BJP, which also runs the federal government, has been accused of providing politically motivated support to hard-line Hindu nationalist groups.

– ucan

Lynch Nation: documentary looks into hate crimes in IndiaLynch Nation: documentary looks into hate crimes in India

November 29, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, November 28, 2018: Pictures of his brother lying in a pool of blood flash on the massive screen before him. His mother Saira is talking into the camera about the apathy of the onlookers who refused to come forward to help her sons. The brother, Junaid, was killed one and a half years ago, a few days before Eid.

All the accused in the case roam about freely, having been granted bail by the courts while Hashim awaits justice for his younger sibling Junaid who was lynched on a train in June 2017. 15-year-old Junaid was on his way home from Delhi, with his friends and brothers including Hashim on a Mathura-bound train when they were attacked by a mob.

As the legal process continues to test their patience, Hashim and his family members have found new hopes in a documentary film.

“I appreciate the hard work of the filmmakers who compiled this film, maybe after watching the film some goons might have a change of heart ” Hashim remarked after watching “Lynch Nation” at its first press screening in the Press Club of India in New Delhi.

the 44-minute film, directed by budding journalists Ashafaque EJ and Shaheen Ahmed, documents seven incidents of mob lynching, capturing testimonies of the victims’ families and survivors of mob attacks.

“As I watched the film it felt as if the incidence was taking place in front of me once again. I was reliving it all over again” says a choked-up Hashim. The tremors of Junaid’s death hadn’t shaken just his family but had evidently affected many.

It was Junaid’s tragic death which pushed the duo to start working on the film. “In most cases of lynching, even in those included in the film, the crimes were committed under the garb of protection of cows. But there was no cow involved in Junaid’s case; He was just a boy who had done nothing wrong and was killed only for his identity,” Ashfaque puts it boldly for the audience.

Having resolved to make what is arguably one of the first films on lynching in India, Ashafaque and Shaheen,-both residents of Kerala,-reached out to other people for help. Having roped in journalist Amit Sengupta (Ashafaque’s former teacher from Indian Institute of Mass Communications as a mentor) they were joined by their friends Furqan Faridi and Vishu Sejwal as they travelled across North India covering Dadri, Alwar, Latehar, Ramgarh, Bhaivratpur, Ballabgarh and Una.

As they travelled with their crew across several North Indian states, they received help from members of Not In My Name Campaign, United Against Hate Campaigns, local activists and people for their crowdfunded project.

But it wasn’t all a rosy picture. The crew was always worried about their safety and the hostility that they could face from fringe groups.

“We were extremely precautious throughout our entire journey. For example, we steered away from Jharkhand during Ramnavami when local activists warned us that the environment could be communally charged,” Shaheen told this reporter. “We were scared throughout the film…at one point we thought that we were being followed and all our movements were under watch. But thankfully, nothing big happened”.

There are still other causes for worry for the young filmmakers.

Even as filmmaker and member of the Not in My Name campaign, Rahul Roy termed the film “quiet and largely observational” in its approach, he was certain the film could not be screened at many public spaces like Delhi University without coming under attack from right-wing groups.

To be on the safe side and be able to take the film to as many people as possible the filmmakers said they would apply for certification from the Censor Board.

The filmmakers believe that incidents of lynching have become a routine affair in the country and see their film as a fight against the increasing normalization of such events in the media and the mainstreaming of the ideology which promotes it. Talking about what the film sets out to achieve, Ashfaque said, “We might not be able to counter the growing hate with this film but we hope that somewhere we are able to prick people’s conscience. We want people to connect to the families who lost their loved ones and feel their pain. Everytime a Pehlu Khan is killed or a Ummar Khan is killed or a Junaid is killed, we want people to feel that their own brother died”.

Apart from what the film can achieve, the film itself was seen as an achievement of sorts by the likes of Prof Apoorvanand who attended the inaugural screening of the film. “It is no coincidence that the filmmakers are young Muslims, which is extremely important and necessary. It’s important in the context of Muslims reclaiming their rightful share of spaces, fighting for themselves and not being represented by other groups” argued the Delhi University teacher.”

– tcn

Asia Bibi protest leader arrested in Pakistan

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under Asia, newsletter-asia

Karachi, November 26, 2018: Pakistan has launched a crackdown on a religious group who paralyzed the country for three days after the acquittal of Catholic death row inmate Asia Bibi.

Bibi, a mother of five who had been held in solitary confinement on death row since 2010, had her blasphemy conviction overturned by the Supreme Court on Oct. 30.

The court’s ruling sparked three days of violent protests led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the firebrand cleric and chief of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), a politico-religious group known for its staunch support of draconian blasphemy laws.

The protests prompted the government to sign a controversial deal that drew condemnation from minority and human rights groups.

The Christian woman was eventually released on Nov. 8 in Multan and flown to Islamabad. Her whereabouts have been kept secret due to threats to her life and her family.

On Nov. 23, police, rangers and other law enforcement agencies detained Rizvi and hundreds of his followers in an undeclared crackdown against the group. The move sparked clashes between Rizvi’s supporters and police in Lahore in which at least five people were injured.

Government spokesman Fawad Chaudhry said Rizvi was taken into protective custody after he announced plans to hold a rally in Rawalpindi.

“Khadim Hussain Rizvi has been taken into protective custody by police and shifted to a guesthouse. They insisted on coming to Rawalpindi and refused the government’s proposal for alternative arrangements,” Chaudhry said shortly after the arrests.

“The government did its best to convince them but they refused every offer and started to provoke violence. The public are requested to stay peaceful and calm. The law shall take its course and it cannot be left to individuals.”

In a press statement on Nov. 25, TLP Karachi head Allama Razi Hussaini said the group was being punished for staging protests against Bibi’s acquittal.

“Our more than 500 leaders and workers have been missing ever since the crackdown was launched by the police,” Hussaini said.

He also condemned the house arrest of Islamic scholar Mufti Muneeb ur Rehman for his support of the TLP.

Bibi was sentenced to death in 2010 on charges of making derogatory remarks about the Prophet Muhammad during an argument with a Muslim farm worker.

Her lawyer Saiful Malook has fled Pakistan after threats to his life.

The raw video below shows TLP supporters clashing with police at Numaish Chowrangi in Karachi on Nov. 24. (Video courtesy of TLP media)

– ucan

Hindu extremist mob tries to burn Pastor alive in Odisha state

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Odisha, November 26, 2018: Pastor John Lakra was taking his 18-month-old baby to the hospital for emergency treatment in Odisha state, India when hundreds of Hindu extremists surrounded his car.

The pastor, his wife and their three children were on the way to the hospital in Sundargarh at about 7 p.m. on Oct. 23 when the mob began hurling stones at them and hitting the windows with rods as they shouted curses at him, he said.

“There were so many people that we could not even try get out there,” Pastor Lakra said. “We could not even see through the windows. My children and wife were crying. I did not know what to do.”

Earlier he had received word that Hindu extremists were looking for him regarding a text message and photo insulting the Hindu goddess Durga that a hacker had sent from his phone. He thought they only meant to talk with him.

“Soon, they pulled me out of the car, slapped and beat me black and blue,” Pastor Lakra told Morning Star News. “They ripped off my clothes. Not a single part of my body was left unstruck.”

After throwing him onto the road and kicking him, they picked him up and forced him onto a motorcycle, he said. With hundreds following, they took him to a Durga idol and forced him to kneel before it even as they continued beating him, he said.

“Then they poured a gallon of petrol on me,” he said. “Right there, I was praying in my heart. I said, ‘Lord! I submit myself to you. May this bring Glory only to you.’ While I was praying, I was so moved by the Holy Spirit. There was so much pain that I have not done enough, that I must share about my Lord’s love to so many, my journey is not over yet. These words rumbled in my heart.”

Hindus shouted that he should be given as a live sacrifice to the goddess, the pastor said.

“After they poured petrol on me, miraculously there was a blackout [power out],” Pastor Lakra told Morning Star News. “And within minutes, police reached the spot and rescued me.”

Christians in Odisha practice their faith with awareness of how Hindu extremists burned to death Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and 6-year-old Timothy, in their car in the state’s Manoharpur village on Jan. 23, 1999.

Jailed and Charged

At the police station, church members informed Pastor Lakra that hospital staff members managed to pull his wife and children from the mob, he said. They also brought him some clothes.

Local Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to the police station and demanded that he render an apology, he said.

“I agreed to it since the text had been forwarded by my number,” Pastor Lakra said. “I apologized for it and for hurting their feelings. But their leaders refused to forgive me and had put pressure on police that they must lodge an FIR [First Information Report] against me.”

Sundargarh police booked him for “deliberate and malicious acts to outrage religious feelings” (Section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code), “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion” (Section 153-A) and “criminal intimidation” (Section 506).

A judge rejected his plea for bail, and he spent 10 days in jail. The pastor received bail only after an inspector from the Central Bureau of Investigation found that a hacker had forwarded the derogatory message from another source using Pastor Lakra’s WhatsApp account. The pastor was released on Nov. 1.

He told Morning Star News he did not send the message insulting the Hindu goddess and did not know how it got sent from his phone to the 200 people in his WhatsApp group.

“The post in Odiya language is a widely believed mythological theory about the birth and life of goddess Durga,” he said. “I did not know it until I received screenshots from friends with my name and number as the one who circulated it.”

The message was sent on Oct. 21, a Sunday, he said.

“It was a Sunday, and we gather in thousands for worship services in Sundargarh, and I was very busy,” he said. “I received so many calls from my school and college friends, and I told them that I do not know how the message got forwarded from my number.”

Pastor Lakra, formerly a Hindu known as Shankar Kumar Lakra, on Oct. 23 had set out for Bagdi, 36 miles far from Sundargarh, on an errand to enable orphans to receive funding from the state government for their education.

“When I was in Bagdi, I received information that they are on the look-out for me, but I thought it must be only to talk about the post,” he said. “I was totally oblivious of their plans to attack me. After I came back home, my 18-month-old baby fell sick, and we had to take him to the hospital. While we were packing up to leave for the hospital, one of my schoolmate’s brother called me and asked, “Hey Shankar! Where are you man? We want to meet you.” I told him, ‘Brother, I am at home. The baby fell sick, so we are going to the hospital.’”

The baby has since been treated at the hospital.

Prior False Charge

Pastor Lakra has faced opposition before.

After graduating from a Bible college in 2011, he built a prayer center for healing the sick. About 15,000 people from all religions and classes of society came for prayer, and many who were healed put their faith in Christ and attended worship services, he said.

“I have seen opposition when the high-caste Hindus and family members of RSS and Bajrang Dal activists came to know Jesus,” he said. “They hurled stones at the building, and I received threats. But the Lord helped us establish churches in six districts in Odisha state. And in Sundargarh, we now have several such prayer centers assembling on weekends and praying for the sick.”

In 2015 Hindu relatives of Lakra joined RSS leaders and other hard-line Hindus to file a case against him alleging that he had mixed poison into water served during Christmas season services. Police charged him with attempted murder, and he was in jail for 13 days before he was released for lack of evidence.

“Police could not find any evidence against me, but the case is still on and I have to go to the court whenever they call,” he said.

Since his release following the Oct. 23 attack, unknown people have knocked on his doors, broken light bulbs and damaged flower pots, he said. Also, a woman recently came to his home saying she knew many key BJP leaders and demanded 200,000 rupees (US$2,835) to close the cases against him, Pastor Lakra said.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist BJP, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution.

– morning star news

Tribal group in poll-bound Mizoram calls for support to Congress CM

November 27, 2018 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

Guwahati, November 27, 2018: A tribal organisation has appealed to Mizoram’s powerful Presbyterian Church to support Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla in the Assembly election, describing him as a “prominent Christian leader” in the country.

The Kuki Organisation for Human Rights Trust (KOHRT) — a Manipur-based organisation of the Kuki tribe — has alleged that the current political climate was promoting religious intolerance and affecting the Christians.

In his letter to Rev. Lalrinnunga, the moderator of Mizoram synod of the Presbyterian Church of India, KOHRT chairman T Lunkim said he considered Thanhawla as a prominent Christian leader in the country.

Thanhawla is also considered to be a conscientious and inclusive leader for all the Kuki, Chin, Mizo people across the globe, Lunkim said.

He alleged that money power was being used in the northeastern states, terming it a great shame to any state where the larger population follows Christianity.”

The Kuki leader, however, did not say who was promoting religious intolerance or using money power in the northeastern region.

When contacted, state Congress spokesperson Lallian Chhunga alleged that the religious factor was a major issue in this election because of a “secret understanding” between the main opposition Mizo National Front (MNF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“They (KOHRT) have rightly said that Thanhawla is a good Christian leader. We can even say that the church is now supporting us at the last moment of the campaigning,” Chhunga said.

Mizoram goes to polls on Wednesday.

– news18

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