Friday, January 20, 2012

Karnataka Christians most targeted in India

India (MNN) ― Karnataka State is one of the most dangerous places in India for Christians, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India's (EFI) annual report.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party came to sole power in May 2008, anti-Christian attacks increased in the state and continue steadily increasing every year, according to the EFI. However, harassment doesn't always come in the form of violence. It is often subversive and emotionally draining.

Don Edwards, a spokesman with Grand Rapids, Michigan-based Mission India, shares one case involving a group of their partners. "Two and a half years ago, we had a training going on in the same state of Karnataka where all the trouble is happening today. 10 of our partners were arrested, thrown in jail, and then released on bond waiting for a court hearing."

In late 2010, there was faint hope that a judge would throw out the Karnataka case in which the team was accused of "inciting communal violence and bribing people to become Christians" in August 2009 during a 3-day training session for the Children's Bible Club program.

The partners have to travel back to Karnataka to appear before the court to answer the charges. The months of delay, while not a direct threat, intimidates through inconvenience and expense.

Edwards says, "They have to drop everything and show up at the court at least once a month. That's been going on now for two and a half years. Every time they show up,at court, the court case is postponed. It's quite an act of harassment."

Once again, the team arrived in Karnataka on Thursday, January 19. "There was another court hearing. It was postponed for another five days. The court hearing has now been postponed until next Tuesday, January 24. We certainly would appreciate any prayers from those who would remember Mission India's ministry, especially in the state of Karnataka."

The charges they face could be determined under India's Penal Code, Section 295-A which reads, in part: the offense is "deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs."   

While legal protections against violations of religious freedom exist in India, corruption impacts how the laws are enforced, a fact noted by the U.S. State Department. Edwards notes, "It could be interpreted any way by the judge and whoever is the political power broker in the state at the time. That particular crime of 'intending to outrage religious feelings' is punishable by imprisonment for three years, or a fine, or both."

The accusations are false: the team was sleeping at the time they were arrested, so they could not have been inciting communal violence. "That's just one of the charges leveled against this particular group and often is leveled against people when they're attacked by Hindu fundamentalists and the government arrests the Christians rather than those who are committing the violence."

There is openness to the Gospel, and the church is growing. Edwards urges you to pray "that this case would be dismissed and these Christians would no longer be harassed simply because they  were conducting training for Christians to share the Gospel."

Mission India has long waiting lists of people who want to participate in their literacy program, Bible Club, and other outreach programs. Growth is only limited by resources, however. Here are links to help Mission India move forward.

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