Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hate Campaign against Christians in AP

Silent Attacks: Hate Campaign against Christians in the State of Andhra Pradesh -- R.Uma Maheshwari

Lost in the din of the battle cries for and against Telangana State creation / AP bifurcation, is a silent cry of fear of the Christians, especially converts from the dalit castes. A very disturbing trend is lately becoming visible - of consciously planned physical assaults on pastors and Christian believers. What seem like unconnected one-off events in different places are actually part of a communal-hate discourse consolidating itself through the joint attempts of the Sangh Parivar, especially in the Telangana region. What is even more disturbing is the attempt to pull into this vortex young members from the SC and BC communities. The latest to hit the headlines was the physical assault on the pastor of Vikarabad (few kilometers outside Hyderabad), Sanjivaiah, who later succumbed to the injuries on 13th January, at a hospital in Hyderabad. Candlelight protests were held for him. The attack was carried out by the fundamentalist group, Hindu Vahini. Unfortunately, it was his death that brought the issue to limelight. But similar (and earlier) attacks on Christian preachers in Nalgonda district have largely gone unnoticed. The majority of Christians in this district belong to the SC and BC communities – nearly all of them are agricultural workers or involved in manual construction labour. Very few have small shops of their own. And the attacks have also been carried out by members of either SC or BC community.

On 29th December, 2013, at around midnight, Pastor Nama Moses of the Baptist Church, Narketpally in Nalgonda district, and his wife, Suvata, were attacked by several armed youngsters by the Church compound outside his home. Pastor Moses, too, belongs to the SC community. The young men who attacked Pastor Moses are now in custody at the semi-open prison in Nalgonda, charged for attempt to murder (Section 307). They of course, deny being part of Hindu Vahini, VHP or Bajrang Dal. Following the public outcry over the murder of Pastor Sanjivaiah of Vikarabad, the police themselves arrested the attackers of Moses and slapped cases on a few others on suspicion. After all the photo-ops by MLAs, political leaders at the Kamineni hospital, Moses today lies on a bed at his sister’s home in Nalgonda, visibly scared, mentally scarred and grievously injured. His wife and daughter are nursing him. Showing the stab wounds on his back and wrists, he is barely able to speak. But Suvata helps out - “It was after midnight, may be 12.30 or so, when they attacked us. Some men knocked on the door of our house and asked me to open the Church for them to pray. I asked them, ‘at this time in the night’? They said it was urgent. I woke Pastor Moses up. Some men’s voices seemed familiar, so I assumed they were members of our congregation. As soon as we opened the door, they hit me hard on my head, and even as I fell, they started stabbing him. He sustained 13 stab wounds. When he tried to protect himself, they slit his wrists... I am unable to understand…I have grown up here; my parents belong to Miryalguda….A neighbour, Yasin, immediately rushed us to the hospital…”

A similar incident took place on 9th August, 2011. Pastor C.H.Jairaj, of the Calvary Gospel Church in Narketpally. In this case, a FIR was filed at the police station in Narketpally, and in 2012, the police closed the case. He was attacked at 11.45 pm, with sticks. Though he did not know who they were, he says, the police identified them as members of VHP.  Jairaj filed the FIR, but nobody was arrested in that case. Jairaj says, “I have had no problems in this place, personally, but the attack caught me by surprise. It was so sudden, without any warning. I have lived here since the last 20 years; my own village, Mutyalammagudi, is a few kilometers from here (in Nalgonda district). But I have noticed the attacks on Christian believers started since the year 2009 in these parts.” Jairaj shows his wounds, and some photographs taken in that time. He was hit on his head and nose, and had to get a series of surgeries done; steel plates were placed inside his nasal passage, and facial bone was smashed; similar steel plates have been placed there. His tooth was smashed too. His left wrist was injured badly. He remembered falling unconscious and finding himself in the hospital next when he gained consciousness. He got an artificial tooth fixed and had to undergo a second surgery on his nose a year after. He says, “It is difficult to go stand in the bus stop alone, you never know.” The Calvary church prayer hall now has a higher compound wall, to prevent future attacks.

Jairaj’s wife filed the FIR (No. 145/2011, dated 10 August, 2011), at Narketpally police station under the Sections IPC 147, 324, 149. In the FIR it states that the “offence” occurred on “9th August’11, at 23.30 hours at Chruch Colony, beside NH 9 road, Nalgonda.”

Pastor David, who also preaches at Narketpally, says, “BJP has been doing a lot of groundwork here among the youth. Every year here at an open ground adjacent to a college, a martial arts event for youth is organised by the right-wing groups. When Narendra Modi visited Hyderabad, two truck loads of young people went from villages nearby, mainly from Nakkalapally, four kilometers from here. Gandikota Raju, who is the local organiser in Narketpally mandal, for RSS, VHP, Hindu Vahini branches, took the youth from here to attend the event in Hyderabad. He is one of those who attacked Pastor Moses…”

At the Prison in Nalgonda, I met (with due permissions) the group arrested under Section 307 (attempt to murder) for the assault on Pastor Moses. Speaking to Gandikota Srinu and Gandikota Raju and two others seemed like a disturbing confirmation of the discourse that has been at work on a sustained basis for these many years in these villages. BJP or the Sangh Parivar’s enmity does not begin and end with the Muslims. The Christians of Nalgonda district are currently the targets. Gandikota Srinu told me he attacked Pastor Moses, “to teach them a lesson so that they do not convert any more people from our community or villages. We are filled with pain (baadha) to see them (the Christian preachers) come into our people’s homes and asking them to convert. Hindus have 30,000 gods and goddesses (mukkoti devatala gala dharmam maadi), and the tell us, ‘leave all these and accept only one Yesu! We are born into Hinduism, it is our dharmam; how will we feel if they ask us to leave our own dharmam? If they ask my mother to roam around without bottu in front of my father, how am I supposed to feel? That is why we attacked them. So that they stop doing this to other people. We have been feeling this pain and hence we attacked. We are not part of any association or group.” Others with Srinu, included a young BTech student, who also aired similar views on Hindu religion and the conversion issue. There was not a sign of remorse in any of their eyes, and in fact it seemed that, should they be released (even on bail) anytime soon, they have set their sights clearly on the goal, so far as ‘protecting’ the ‘Hindu dharmam’ goes. That can include, perhaps, some more physical assaults, some of which may perhaps, also lead to death, as it did, with Pastor Sanjivaiah.

A news item - in the Telugu daily Eenadu on March 4th 2012 - reporting the meeting of VHP, in the presence of Ashok Singhal and G. Raghuva Reddy confirms the larger plan behind these attacks. Raghuva Reddy is reported to have said that conversions to Christianity in six districts of AP will be stopped. Every Sunday satsangs are being conducted with a young VHP person in charge. “In the next 2 or 3 years we will stop conversion all over the state (of Andhra Pradesh).”

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R.Uma Maheshwari is an independent scholar-journalist in Hyderabad.

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