India's Christians ask: What would Gandhi do?
St. Thomas brought the faith to the subcontinent in 52 a.d. and Gandhi called for peace and plurality -- but persecution is growing.
BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
to leave town – leaving behind anything they could not carry with them.
That scene was repeated at Jharapata. A mob stopped 10 newly converted Christians who were returning home from a Sunday worship service, beat them and threatened them for five hours if they did not renounce Christ – and reveal who had led them to become Christians.
What would Gandhi have done? “The spirit of non-violence necessarily leads to humility,” he once wrote. “Non-violence means reliance on God, the rock of ages. If we would seek His aid, we must approach Him with a humble and contrite heart.”
The recent incidents “are driven by ultra-nationalist Hindus of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party,” writes an Indian Christian, Nirmala Carvalho. But even more disturbing, “in both cases, the police arrested the Christians.”
Police also sought evidence that the Christians must have bribed or forced the Hindus to convert to Christianity. In the village of Pati near the city of Indore in the Bhalwani district of India’s Madhya Pradesh state, the police arrested a preacher who, as with local practice, uses only a single name, Arjun, along with one of the faithful of his church, named Rakesh. The two were conducting a prayer meeting along with 75 other Christians.
After hours of questioning, police released the three without filing any charges. A similar episode occurred in nearby Keshavapura after police received complaints from extremists. Police arrested a pastor named Manjunath and traveling Christian evangelists named Stella and Bhavani. The three had been distributing leaflets about Christianity at the bus station in the town of Hubli.
According to reports coming out of India, Hindu militants surrounded them, insulted them and snatched the leaflets. Then, the activists took them to the nearby police station, where the Christians were held in custody. Manjunath has been a preacher in the Indian Church of Christ for years and had no police record. However, he and the two evangelists now have been charged under a state anti-conversion law. Madhya Pradesh is one of six Indian states that prohibit anyone to persuade someone else to switch religions. Legislators in Karnataka have been attempting to pass one there as well.
“The Christian community,” says Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, “is even more vulnerable where there are such laws. The ultra-nationalist Hindu groups enjoy the protection of the authorities, and this encourages them to violate every aspect of the life of a Christian, even the most intimate and private.”
The anti-Christian attacks are “shameful” and show “a disturbing pattern: violence and appalling social pressures, to limit religious freedom,” says George, who is a native Indian.
On June 9, forty Hindu radicals broke into the home of Christian converts Manesor and Mala Rabha. The Global Council of Indian Christians reports the extremists threatened to forcefully reconvert the Rabha family back to Hinduism, but they got away and took shelter in another Christian’s house. Two Christian friends Michael and Prashanto Rabha tried to help — volunteering to guard Manesor and Mala Rabha’s house, but at midnight, armed assailants took the Christians to a village establishment and interrogated them. When they refused to recant their faith, International Christian Concern