Haryana

Church under attack

Print edition : April 17, 2015

A flag with Hindu religious symblos that some miscreants placed on a building after removing the cross, in Kaimri village on March 15. Photo: Manoj Dhaka

Sadhvi Deva Thakur, Hindu Mahasabha vice-president, protesting in Karnal against the construction of the church in Hisar. Photo: Manoj Dhaka

EVEN as reports of attacks on churches in Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere began pouring in, causing wide consternation, the report of an “under-construction” church being vandalised at Kaimri village in Hisar district of Haryana was received with surprise. The “church” had been erected on a plot of land in a residential area. It was technically not a part of the village. Some prayer meetings were held off and on, mainly attended by Dalits of the village. Conflicts between non-Jats (mainly Dalits) and Jats have been on the rise in Hisar, which, incidentally, has been the epicentre of the Jat agitation for reservation.

On March 15, the day before the Bharatiya Janata Party government got the Haryana Gauvansh Sanrakshan and Gau Samvardhan Bill, 2015, passed in the Assembly, some village residents climbed on to the roof of the church and broke the cross. They then installed a statue of Hanuman inside the main hall. One person was arrested in connection with the incident and a complaint was registered against 14 people, including the sarpanch of the village, and a first information report (FIR) was filed. Residents Frontline spoke to had mixed feelings about the incident though no one supported the action. Barring one church in Hisar town, which dates back to 1865, there are no other churches in the vicinity. The Christian population of the State is minuscule.

“This is a serious issue. It has vitiated the atmosphere. But we don’t want the issue to flare up again. We have to live here,” said an official associated with the church, requesting anonymity. There are around 40 or more temples in the village, including one near the building that was vandalised. Some three dozen people from the village, including the sarpanch and former sarpanches, submitted a complaint to the local police on February 7 alleging that one Subhash Chander, who had purchased the parcel of land, was indulging in religious conversions and was using the building he was constructing on it as a church rather than for residential purposes. Subhash, who is a pastor, and his friends were threatened with violence if they did not stop their activities.

Frontline spoke to some others in Kaimri, who said that the conversion issue was a bogey. The land was in the name of a trust run by de Villiers and had been acquired for the purpose of constructing a church. There was no illegality about it. A social activist from the village, requesting anonymity, told Frontline that a month ago, local leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal visited Kaimri and told the residents that the church should not be built. “They incited the villagers who had hardly bothered until then about it. This was not a gram sabha matter but the sarpanch got involved because the panchayat elections are a few months away,” he said. The issue of the church, the bogey of conversions, and the panchayat elections all fell into place.

Amid all this, the all-India vice-president of the Hindu Mahasabha, Sadhvi Deva Thakur, visited the village on March 18 and defended the desecration of the building under construction. She addressed a public meeting in Hisar where she made statements against the minorities. At Karnal, she held a protest outside the Chief Minister’s camp office on March 23 demanding the quashing of the FIR and the booking of the pastor. She declared that churches should not be constructed where Christians did not live and that if any church was constructed in Hisar, it would be turned into a temple. “Along with the 14 people named in the complaint, Hanuman ji is also in police custody,” quipped a village, who felt the issue was stoked by communal elements.

As in other BJP-ruled States, the conversion bogey and reconversion, or ghar wapsi, campaigns are on in Haryana. Frontline spoke to Swami Brahmanand, national convener of the Bharatiya Sanskriti Raksha Dal, a Hindu outfit based in Rohtak. He said that recently he had performed the reconversion of 138 families from Christianity to Hinduism in Tosham in Bhiwani district. Brahmanand was visiting Kaimri out of concern. “In January, we did a similar reconversion in Gohana, Sonepat. We also reconverted Muslims to the Hindu fold in Meerut,” he said, adding that his organisation’s main mission was “awareness”.

Despite the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) expressing concern over the attacks on the church in Hisar and the rape of a nun in West Bengal, it has not done much to assuage the feelings of the minority communities, as groups such as the Hindu Mahasabha continue to vilify them through public statements.

T.K. Rajalakshmi

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