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Court orders police to finish church fraud investigation: The Church of England Newspaper, May 16, 2014 June 2, 2014

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The Bombay High Court has directed police to complete their fraud investigation of four Church of North India Bishops accused of selling church lands for their personal profit. In an order handed down last Justice Naresh Patil and Justice Anuja Prabhudesai complained that the initial complaint had been filed in 2008 and that it was “high time” for the “investigation officer completes the probe.” In 2012 the former Bishop in Pune, the Rt Rev Vijay Sathe was arrested on charges of fraud, forgery and breach of trust for allegedly seeking to sell the Afghan Memorial Church in Bombay to property developers and pocketing the proceeds. The former bishops of Bombay, Pune and Gujarat were also ordered arrested by the court. All have since been released on bail. In a report dated 18 April 2009, VR Patil, the Maharashtra State law and judiciary department’s legal adviser, found that a “bogus” corporation entitled the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Private Limited had been created to “grab the properties of genuine Christian trusts” — the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Limited (BDTA) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in the Diocese of Bombay. “The bogus trustees indulged in many illegal activities to grab the property of BDTA Ltd and SPG by taking advantage of the similarity in the name of the bogus trust with the complainant’s trust,” the Patil report said. In 2004 the fake trust sought to redevelop the Afghan Memorial Church – a former Church of Scotland church built to honour the dead of the First Afghan War – prompting lay members of the congregation to go to the police.

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Indian bishop arrested/deposed: The Church of England Newspaper, January 10, 2014 January 16, 2014

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Corruption.
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The Church of North India has deposed the Bishop in Lucknow. Police also arrested Bishop Morris Edgar Dan on 15 December 2013 after the Allahabad High Court revoked the bishop’s bail on charges of forgery and fraud.

CNI general secretary Alwan Masih told The Church of England Newspaper Bishop Dan had “duly terminated by the  executive committee  of  the CNI synod  as of 25 November 2013” following an investigation into charges the bishop had sold church lands at below market prices to a syndicate which then resold the property, giving the bishop a kick back of the profits.

Shabnam Dan, the daughter of Bishop Dan, told CEN her father had been “framed”.  She accused an influential businessman with orchestrating a campaign to ruin her father after he refused to cooperate in a plan to defraud the diocese. The criminal case continues.

Christian march on Parliament in Delhi broken up by police: The Church of England Newspaper, December 20, 2013 January 5, 2014

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Police in New Delhi used water cannons and truncheons to stop a march on parliament in support of Dalit rights by Christian leaders last week.

After breaking the marchers’ line with jets of water on 11 Dec 2013  police wielding lathis (canes) waded into the crowed marching on Sansad Marg (Parliament Street) after they refused an order to disburse.

The march began at Jantar Mantar and headed towards Parliament House in defiance of a ban on protests along Parliament Street.  Police arrested the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto, the General Secretary of the Church of North India Alwin Masih and a number of clergy, nuns and activists. Several clergy were injured in the attack.

The march had been organized by Christian leaders to call for an end to the statutory discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims. Under Indian law Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits, or Untouchables, are eligible for special government benefits and preferences. However, Christian and Muslim Dalits are not eligible for the subsidies as the government has held that once an Untouchable becomes a Christian or Muslim, he is freed from caste discrimination – a stance disputed by Christian and Muslim leaders.

After his release from jail Archbishop Couto said: “Government after government have been turning a deaf ear to the demand of Christians.  Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and now arresting us too.”

Fr Ajay Singh, a Catholic priest from Orissa who was present at the march told Christian Solidarity Worldwide, “The Prime Minister’s apology must be followed by action to end more than 60 years of injustice done to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, which is totally against the spirit of equality and secularism.  He should not play politics with the millions of Indians deprived of their human rights.  The police response to the protest shows how the state ignores the multiple layers of discrimination against the most vulnerable and marginalised minority communities”.

The CSW reported that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has offered his apologies for the police action and told march leaders their concerns would be discussed at the next Cabinet meeting.

Arrest warrant for Indian bishop stayed: The Church of England Newspaper, June 16, 2013 p 6. June 19, 2013

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An Indian court has stayed two arrest warrants issued against the Bishop in Lucknow, the Rt. Rev. Morris Edgar Dan, after the bishop’s lawyers filed an emergency petition with the Allahabad High Court.

Justices Arun Tandon and M K Gupta stayed execution of the warrants last week after two criminal complaints were filed against the bishop. On 22 April Paul Geniya lodged an FIR – the initial complaint in Indian criminal court proceedings the bishop accusing the bishop of threatening his life and for having held him in captivity.

The second complaint filed by Subodh Kumar Srivastava of Agra alleged the bishop had forged documents in order to allow him to the property of Luckow Diocese Trust Association. Last month the bishop was granted bail in two other criminal proceedings were he had been charged with theft of diocesan assets.

The bishop’s legal battles reached public notice in July 2011 after he held a press conference accusing Mr. C V Innes, the former principal of the diocesan owned Boys’ High School in Allahabad, of conspiring to kill him.

Bishop Dan told reporters that “with the help of former Bishop AR Stephen, Innes had got the by-laws of society changed and announced that the Bishop of Lucknow will not be the chairman of the Allahabad High School Society.”

The bishop demanded the government protect him from Mr. Innes and Bishop Stephen’s supporters. School leaders had sought to remove Bishop Dan after accusations of theft of school assets were leveled against the bishop. The cases and the bishop’s counter claims are currently pending in the courts.

Bail granted to bishop in Indian fraud case: The Church of England Newspaper, June 2, 2013, p 6. June 6, 2013

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The Church of North India’s Bishop in Lucknow has been granted bail in connection with a criminal complaint for fraud.

On 24 May 2013 the Allahabad High Court granted the petition of the Rt. Rev. Morris Edgar Dan releasing him from the threat of imprisonment pending the outcome of two proceedings underway in Jhansi and Allahabad.

Two First Information Reports (FIRs) have been lodged with the police alleging criminal misconduct by the bishop and his associates. Under Indian law a FIR is the formal complaint filed by the victim with the police. A FIR sets the process of criminal justice in motion for only after the FIR is registered in a police station do the authorities take up the case.

The bishop is accused of selling land belonging to Christian Inter College in Jhansi city that had an appraised value of Rs 20o million for Rs 12.5 million. A bribe of Rs 60 million is alleged to have been paid to the bishop to facilitate the transaction.

The bishop has denied any wrongdoing and the case continues.

Anglican Unscripted Episode 54, October 26, 2012 October 27, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Tanzania, Anglican Consultative Council, Anglican Covenant, Anglican.TV, Canon Law, Church of England, Church of Nigeria, Church of North India, Church of South India, Fort Worth, Persecution, Zimbabwe.
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In this weeks episode Kevin and George bring an update on the Diocese of South Carlina and their separation from the Episcopal Church. Also this week they talk about Women’s Ordination and the new task force created by the Anglican Church in North America. And what episode would be complete without news from one of the broken Anglican “Instruments of Unity”. Peter talks about the reality of Women Bishops in England and Allen Haley guildes the viewer thru the Kangaroos courts found in Title IV. Comments to AnglicanUnscripted@gmail.com #AU54

Indian bishop jailed for fraud: The Church of England Newspaper, October 7, 2012 p October 8, 2012

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Church of St John the Baptist (Afghan Memorial Church) in Bombay

The former Bishop of Pune has been jailed and several other serving and retired Church of North India bishops are accused of complicity in a scheme to sell churches to property developers and pocket the cash.

Last month the Bombay High Court ordered the Rt Rev Vijay Sathe to be remanded into custody on charges of fraud, forgery and breach of trust for allegedly seeking to sell the Afghan Memorial Church in Bombay to property developers and pocketing the proceeds.

The former bishops of Bombay, Pune and Gujarat are also being sought by police.

Prosecutors claim that up to a dozen senior church leaders who acted as trustees to a shell corporation alleged to have been created to divert church properties into private hands may be implicated in the scheme.

In their application to the court, prosecutors asked the bishop to be jailed to prevent his flight after a search of his home unearthed evidence it believed incriminated Bishop Sathe. A bail hearing was set for last Monday, 1 October 2012.

An investigation by the Maharashtra state charity commissioner found there was an ongoing pattern of fraud in the sale of church lands in Bombay. In a report dated April 18, 2009, VR Patil, the Maharashtra law and judiciary department’s legal adviser, found that a “bogus” corporation entitled the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Private Limited had been created to “grab the properties of genuine Christian trusts” — the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association Limited (BDTA) and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) in the Diocese of Bombay.

“The bogus trustees indulged in many illegal activities to grab the property of BDTA Ltd and SPG by taking advantage of the similarity in the name of the bogus trust with the complainant’s trust,” the Patil report said.

In 2004 the BDTA Private Limited group presented an application to the charity commissioners to redevelop the Afghan Memorial Church – a former Church of Scotland church built to honour the dead of the First Afghan War. The colonial church was in need of structural repair and was also located in what was now the heart of the city’s commercial district. In 2008 lay church activists filed a complaint with the charity commission saying BDTA Private Limited was not the owner of the church, the BDTA was. They also argued that under Indian law churches built on cantonment land – land set aside during the British colonial era for military purposes – reverted to the control of the government if they were no longer used for religious purposes.

Lawyers for the BDTA Private Limited trustees responded to the charge by bringing a charge of criminal liability against the lay activists and sought to lift an injunction against development imposed by the charity commissioners. However, in August 2012 the charity commissioners finalized their ruling and directed the courts and police to investigate the BDTA Private Limited trustees for fraud.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Triple consecration in Delhi: The Church of England Newspaper, September 23, 2012 p 6. September 25, 2012

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Cathedral of the Redemption, Delhi

Three bishops were consecrated last month at an unusual triple ceremony at the Cathedral of the Redemption in Delhi. On 28 Aug 2012 the Moderator of the Church of North India, Dr. Philip Marandih laid hands on the Rev. Silvans Christian for the Diocese of Gujarat, the Rev Andrew Rathod for the Diocese of Pune and the Rev Robert Ali for the Diocese of Bhopal.

“The Church has a responsibility to take care of God’s sheep in different areas of live. It is very difficult to take the cross and walk. However, we must strive to be good witnesses in our own respective places,” Bishop Marandih said in his sermon.

CNI general secretary, Alwan Masih noted the ceremony was “unique as it was the first time three bishops were consecrated on the same day, especially in the presence of two former Moderators, all members of the Executive Committee and CNI Bishops and Office Bearers of CNI Synod”.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Death Penalty upheld for Bombay terrorist: The Church of England Newspaper, September 9, 2012 p 6. September 13, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Terrorism.
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Mohammed Ajmal Kasab entering the Bombay CST station on 26 Nov 2008

A two-judge panel of India’s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence of Mohammed  Ajmal Kasab, dismissing the 25-year old Pakistani’s appeal of his conviction on 80 counts of murder and terrorism charges arising from the 2008 terror attack on Bombay.

In the opinion handed down last week, Justices Aftab Alam and C.K. Prasad held that in “view of the nature of the gravity of his crime and the fact that he participated in waging war against the country, we have no option but to uphold his death penalty.”

Church leaders in India had been divided over the propriety of imposing the death penalty following Kasab’s 10 May 2010 conviction. Catholic leaders had urged clemency citing their church’s social teachings on capital punishment. However, the Church of North India’s general secretary told reporters the sentence was just and that Anglicans did not oppose in principle capital punishment.

Kasab was one of ten heavily armed terrorists who attacked a rail station, hotels, a Jewish center and other Bombay landmarks on 26-29 November 2008 in a rampage that that left 173 dead and 300 injured. A closed circuit television camera captured Kasab carrying a sub-machine gun in the Chatrapathi Sivaji Terminal where 52 people died.  Kasab was captured by police on the first day of the assault while the other nine were killed in gun battles with police.

Following the 2010 conviction, the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan, General Secretary of the Church of North India said: “We welcome the judgment. It is a message to everybody that the rule of law prevails.”

While Christians differed on the morality of capital punishment, he believed it was ethically just.  It also served as a deterrent to crime, he argued.

However, the head of the Roman Catholic bishops’ Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, Fr. Nithiya Sagayam, said the Catholic Church was opposed to capital punishment.

“Capital punishment does not solve any problem. It will only make things worse,” he argued.

Kasab may ask for reconsideration of the court’s ruling or petition President Pranab Kumar Mukherjee for clemency.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Communal violence errupts in Assam: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 1. September 6, 2012

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Communal violence in the North East Indian state of Assam has claimed the lives of approximately 75 people and displaced over 400,000 people after fighting erupted between Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh and the predominantly Hindu and Christian Bodo people.

The Church of North India in conjunction with the Lutheran World Service India trust, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action and other Christian NGOs has asked for assistance to support the refugees housed in 270 relief camps across Assam.

Press reports from India state the violence erupted on 20 July after four Bodo youths were killed in a fight with Bengali immigrants.  Bodo tribesmen retaliated by attacking Bengali settlements and the violence then spiraled out of control.  Hundreds of villages are reported to have been looted and over 5000 homes destroyed.

Friction between Bengali immigrants and Bodo tribesman has grown in recent years and is not the first time the two groups have come to blows.  In 1993 2000 people were killed in sectarian clashes, and in 2003 the government signed a peace deal with Bodo militants giving them autonomy over the four districts.

On 24 July the Indian Federal government responded to the sectarian violence by dispatching troops to the troubled districts, which are part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s parliamentary constituency.  A dusk to dawn curfew was imposed on 26 July and the army ordered to shoot looters on sight.

Prime Minister Singh visited the riot torn area last week and said the central government will closely work with the Assam state government to ensure the people’s safety.  He also announced the government would send approximately £12 million to rebuild homes destroyed in the fighting and to compensate the families of those killed in the fighting.

On 15 August the Indian government announced it had lifted the state of emergency and said it would close the refugee camps.  However, church aid agencies report that many of those living in the refugee camps have become ill with dysentery and twenty-two people have died so far in the camps, while around 8,000 children are sick, according to government figures.

Many also now have no place to go.  “Most of the displaced fled with nothing,” says Zubin Zaman from Oxfam India. “Sanitation has to be stepped up with better hygiene practices, access to clean water and more toilets. There is also a need for bedding, clothing, mosquito nets and tarpaulin sheets.”

Survivors say they cannot live in such conditions, but add that it is better than dying at the hands of armed mobs.

“We do not want to live like this, but we will not go back. The security forces cannot protect us. They cannot be there 24 hours a day, guarding us,” says Barendra Brahma, 70, a retired school teacher in a camp in the town of Kokrajhar.

“I was born in that village. If I go back now, it will only be to die,” she told Relief.Net.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Bhopal bishop questioned by police: The Church of England Newspaper, July 22, 2012 July 22, 2012

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The Bishop of the Church of North India’s Diocese of Jabalpur has been questioned by police in Bhopal in connection with the abduction and beating of a church school headmaster.

On 3 July 2012, Mr. Ladley Matthew, the headmaster of Christ Church Boys School in Jabalpur was walking to the home of a friend following a meeting of the school’s governors when he was abducted by three men.  Forced into a car, Mr. Matthew was taken to an undisclosed location and beaten.  His captors took a number of documents pertaining to the management of the school and the diocese’s finances and then released the schoolmaster.

Mr. Matthew made his way to a police station and reported the incident.  A police inspector confirmed to the Times of India that the Rt. Rev. B.P. Singh, Bishop in Jabalpur was contacted by the police and asked to appear to give a statement in the matter.  The bishop has subsequently denied any involvement in the attack.

Founded in 1870 to educate Europeans and Anglo-Indians, Christ Church Boys School has approximately 3000 students and is reputed to be the most prestigious private school in the Indian state of state of Madhya Pradesh.  The school retains close connections with the Anglicanism as it holds regular chapel services and the chairman of the board of governors is the Bishop of Jabalpur.

In recent years, however, disputes over financial contributions from the school to the diocese and accusations of the sale of admissions by church leaders have soured relations between the school and the bishop.  Mr. Matthew has leveled charges of corruption against Bishop Singh while the bishop has pressed for Mr. Matthew to step down.

Investigations into the abduction and the charges of financial irregularities are on going.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Stay ordered in Kashmir blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2012 p 7. February 23, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A high court justice in Kashmir has ordered a stay of proceedings in the case of the Rev. C.M. Khanna on charges that his baptism of Muslim converts had caused a breach of the peace and aggravated religious tensions in the Northern Indian state.

On 28 Oct 2010 the Anglican priest was called before a Sharia court to answer charges of blasphemy. The summons came in the wake of the publication on the internet of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service Mr. Khanna conducted for seven Muslim men. The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs had charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The All India Christian Council denounced the arrest, noting the Sharia Court had no legal authority in India and accused the police of arresting the priest in order to forestall an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists.  No member of the Kashmir bar would appear in court on Mr. Khanna’s behalf and a number of attorneys called for the state to refuse him bail.

However, bail was granted on 1 December after outside counsel travelled to Srinigar to defend Mr. Khanna before the state court.

On 11 February 2012, Justice J.P Singh of Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued an order staying legal proceedings and directed the Director General of Police and the Home Office to answer Mr. Khanna’s petition that his arrest was unlawful.

According to the petition filed with the court, on 26 Oct Mr. Khanna was summoned to appear before the Sharia Court to answer charges of blasphemy on 28 Oct.  The following day the police began a formal investigation of Mr. Khanna on charges of disturbing the peace – a charge, he noted that was a cloak for the blasphemy charge brought by Muslim leaders.

Mr. Khanna was summoned a second time by the Sharia Court and appeared on 11 Nov before 25 to 30 Muslim clerics.  “The atmosphere in the said proceedings was so surcharged that everybody was shouting insults and false accusations against the petitioner. These proceedings were highlighted almost in every local newspaper in the [Kashmir] Valley,” the petition noted.

It was in the wake of these proceedings that the police arrested Mr. Khanna for fomenting religious strife on 19 Nov, he argued.  He was subsequently kept at a police station “under illegal detention” until he was bailed.

In his petition, Mr. Khanna noted that the Sharia Court had issued a Fatwa on 19 January that ordered his “life ban” on returning to Kashmir.  He asked the court to dismiss the criminal proceedings as no prima-facie case had been presented by the police that he had violated any civil law.  Sharia law, his attorneys argued, should not be empowered by a secular state through the support of the government.

Sharia court orders expulsion of Christian clergy from Kashmir: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012, p 6. February 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Islam, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Two priests convicted of blasphemy by an Indian sharia law court have been expelled from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On 19 January 2012 the Deputy Grand Mufti of Srinigar, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam held a press conference to report that a sharia court had decided that the Rev. C.M. Khanna of the Church of North India’s All Saint’s Church in Srinigar, Roman Catholic Mill Hill missionary Fr. Jim Borst and two lay catechists, Gavoor Massi and Chandra Kanta must be expelled from J&K – the only Muslim majority state in India.

The four Anglican and Roman Catholics were “guilty of luring the Muslims especially young boys and girls to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions, promoting immorality and moral degradation, exploiting serious health ailments by facilitating different kind of help to Muslims against the conversion from Islam to Christianity,” Nasir-ul Islam told the press conference according to the Kashmir newspaper the Rising Kashmir Daily.

The sharia court had “imposed a life time ban” on entering J&K, he said, adding that the state government had agreed to enforce the sharia court verdict.

Mr. Khanna, who has left Srinigar for the safety of the state’s winter capital Jammu, told UCANews the sharia court’s actions had put his life in peril, and the “government has not done anything to protect us.”

On 20 January the Greater Kashmir – the state’s largest circulation English language newspaper — published an article allegedly written by one of Mr. Khanna’s converts that offered a lurid account of his conversion.  Mr. Khanna and his wife were accused of plying the young man with alcohol, narcotics, sex, money and the opportunity of moving to California if he became a Christian.  The article entitled “Apostasy Unveiled” culminates with the fantastical passage:

“There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others.”

The 64 year old Anglican minister has denied the charges proffered by the Sharia court, but has had to leave Srinigar after 24 years of service.

The Church of North India’s Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. P K Samantaroy denounced the sharia court’s order saying “nobody has the right to expel us from the state or country.”

He told UCANews that it was “unfair” to question the integrity of Christians who “have played a major role in building peace and harmony in the state.”

However, Mufti Nasir warned Christians from trying to return to the state.  He called upon the government to take over the administration of Srinigar’s Anglican and Roman Catholic mission schools and to combat the “dirty and sinister designs” of Christian missionaries.

The mufti appealed to his “fellow Muslims to remain vigilant and guard that such elements don’t reappear in the state.”

Sharia Court convicts Anglican priest of blasphemy for baptizing Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 6, January 21, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The All India Christian Council has condemned an indictment issued by a Sharia law court in Kashmir that charges two priests with blasphemy by enticing Muslims to convert to Christianity.

On 11 January 2012 Muslim leaders in the Northern Indian state issued a statement saying that “it was proved beyond doubt that the accused” the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, the Rev Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India, “along with other accomplices was luring Muslim people to change their religion.”

A second priest, Fr. Jim Borst, a Roman Catholic missionary who has worked in Kashmir for 46 years, was also charged with converting Muslims to Christianity.

“The Kashmir situation is going through a critical phase and if such elements are not brought to book it will have a serious and negative impact on the (Kashmiri Muslim) society,” the Muslim leaders said.

“It is shocking and surprising that the state government was allowing such activities. Kashmir society will not tolerate such activities at all and we stand united against such elements,” Mufti Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam said.  The sentence from the court would be announced shortly, he added.

On 19 Nov 2011 Mr. Khanna was arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police on charges of fomenting civil unrest.  He was released on 1 Dec 2011 and has since left the state for fear for his life.

However, Christian leaders have denounced the indictment stating that Sharia courts have no civil standing.  In a statement released on 13 January 2012, the All India Christian Council (AICC) said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Sharia court’s actions.  “Such statements can encourage extremist elements to indulge in violence,” the Council said.

“It was hoped that religious and secular authorities, and the state government, would show maturity and responsibility,” the AICC said, “keeping in view the delicately poised public peace situation” in Kashmir.

The “Church does not accept as genuine any conversion brought about by fraud or force,” the AICC said, noting that a fact finding team which went to Srinagar shortly after the arrest of Mr. Khanna and “interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school, authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary.”

The head of the AICC, Dr John Dayal, said it “devolves on the Jammu and Kashmir Government, religious leaders and people of goodwill in the Kashmir valley to ensure that the nights of minorities are respected, their welfare assured, and communal harmony strengthened in the region which so desperately requires and environment of peace for its development and well being.”

 

Kashmir priest arrested to placate Muslim extremists, report finds: The Church of England Newspaper, December 16, 2011 p 7. December 15, 2011

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The Rev. C.M. Khanna

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Fears of an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists prompted the imprisonment of an Anglican priest in Kashmir, an investigation by the All India Christian Council has found.

In an 8000-word report paper released on 5 Dec 2011, the All India Christian Council stated that the Rev. C.M. Khanna, the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, was arrested to placate Muslim leaders, angered by his baptism of seven young Muslim men.  The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The arrest followed the circulation of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service he conducted for seven Muslim men.  The priest has since been released from prison on bail on 1 Dec, and warned neither to leave the state nor to baptize any more Muslims.

According to the All India Christian Council report, Mr. Khanna had been wary of baptizing Muslims for fear of an agent provocateur seeking to discredit the church.  He had also turned away those who sought financial assistance and offered to convert to Christianity in return for cash.  While Kashmir has no anti-conversion laws, the small Christian community in Srinigar (300 Anglicans and 100 Roman Catholics) has sought to avoid confrontation with the Muslim majority.

However, the seven young men had been attending the church for ten months and displayed “great piety,” Mr. Khanna told investigators. “He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.”

After watching a video of the baptism, the Chief Mufti of Srinigar, Bashir-u-din ordered Mr. Khanna to appear before a Sharia court on 28 Oct.  He interrogated Mr Khanna for six hours and then released, warning him not to baptise anyone else.

The Chief Mufti told the fact finding mission that he had summoned the priest before the court after having received complaints.  “He said by calling their converts’ previous life in Islam in the same breath as shaitan or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptized,” the report said.

The mufti waived away the fact finding mission’s observation that religious courts had no legal standing, stating that “the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State.”

“And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities,” the report noted.

Mr. Khanna’s mistreatment continued after his arrest, as local newspapers printed false stories saying he had paid the young men to convert, and fabricated quotes from the priest that served to inflame public sentiment.  None of the city’s lawyers would agree to act as his counsel, the report noted, and while he was held in jail crowds gathered outside the prison calling for Islamic justice.

While the police stated they had treated Mr. Khanna well and that he had not been tortured, the seven converts were arrested and beaten by the police, who sought confessions that they had been paid to become Christians.  They have since fled the area in fear for their lives.

“We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding,” the report said, and “their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targeted by both the police and the Islamic groups.”

One of the converts said he “had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action.”

The report noted that the “most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions” as an “issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other.”

The report said that Islamist extremists were seeking to supplant the traditional Sufi Islam of the region and “were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots.”

“This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light,” the report said, noting the “writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley” and Islamic groups could “mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.”

The All India Christian Council called upon the police to drop all charges against Mr. Khanna and to “follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.”

They also urged the federal government to intervene and “show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity.”

At the same time, “in a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.”

Anglican Unscripted, December 5, 2011 December 5, 2011

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Kevin and George discuss the very latest news from the Province of Rwanda and its relationship with AMiA.  They also talk about interpreting Church Canons and the miracle from the Diocese of South Carolina.  Peter Ould discusses the dirty little secret of the Church of England — don’t worry, we have the same secret here in America.  And, finally AS Haley talks about another Bishop being deposed last week.

Kashmir priest arrested for baptising Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, November 25, 2011 p 7. November 26, 2011

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Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of Amritsar

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A priest has been arrested in the Indian state of Kashmir and charged with promoting religious enmity and outraging religious feelings after he baptised 15 Muslim young men who had converted to Christianity.

The Rev. Chander Mani Khanna, rector of All Saints Church in Srinigar in the Church of North India’s Diocese of Amritsar was jailed on 19 Nov 2011 by police following complaints laid against him by a local Muslim leader.

While India does not have a law forbidding religious conversions, a police official told the Hindustan Times Mr. Khanna had been booked for having violated laws against offering “allurements” to converts and for breaching the peace by having baptised the young Muslims.

The Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy denied claims lodged against Mr. Khanna.  The “allegations were fabricated and no material benefits were offered to anyone desirous of baptism,” he said, according to the website Christian Today.

“The Muslim youths were coming to Church for more than one year and they had voluntarily expressed their desire for baptism. The converts in detention have denied the allegation that they were forced to become Christians,” Bishop Samantaroy said.

The Christian Messenger reported that Mr. Khanna said he had not proselytized the young men, but would not turn away those who wanted to know more.  “It is my responsibility to preach God’s Word. I can’t refuse anyone. The house of God is open for all.”

According to Indian press accounts the 15 young men had been attending services at the church for some months.  When they asked to be permitted to receive Holy Communion, Mr. Khanna said that they would have to undergo a course of instruction and be baptized.  The young men agreed and were received into the church after they completed their catechetical training.

After a film of the baptism ceremony appeared on YouTube, the local Sharia court – which has no civil or criminal jurisdiction over non-Muslims – summoned Mr. Khanna to appear to answer charges that he had forcibly converted the young men.   According to AsiaNews, witnesses claim that police beat the converts to make them give evidence against the pastor.

The former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali stated that he knew Mr. Khanna “and he is a respected parish priest of the Church of North India who would never use underhand methods to evangelise.”

“I am astonished that such a person can be arrested by an India committed to religious freedom and democracy. I call not only for his immediate and unconditional release but also for protection for him and his family. Let us pray that freedom and justice will prevail in Kashmir for everyone: Muslim, Christian and Hindu,” Bishop Nazir-Ali said.

Priest murdered in India: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 21, 2011 October 24, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Anglican priest was murdered in his home last week in India’s strife torn Orissa state.  Indian newspaper reports state the Rev. Jiban Masi Munda (70) was sitting on the veranda of his home reading his Bible when he was killed by an arrow.

On 9 Oct 2011, Manamasi Tappo (35) attacked the priest in the village of Badaraxi in the Sundergarh District of India’s eastern Orissa state.  The assailant shot several arrows at the Church of North India clergyman, striking him with one.  After he had loosed his volley, Tappo fled the scene.  Alerted by the priest’s cries, villagers chased Tappo and caught him and bound him to a tree.  They then beat him to death.  The priest died shortly thereafter of his wounds.

The bodies of the dead men were taken to the district police office the following day.  Press accounts vary as to the killer’s motive with some reporting him as being insane, others claim the assailant bore a grudge against his victim, while a third source stated Tappo committed suicide.  They are also investigating claims the killer committed suicide.  The police investigation is on-going.

Sectarian violence has plagued Orissa in recent years.  In Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, and his two sons, were murdered by a Hindu fanatic on 22 Jan 1999.  In 2009 the state saw mass rioting and anti-Christian pogroms after Hindu fanatics blamed the death of a Swami on Christians.  Tens of thousands of Christians were driven from their homes by the violence at its height, and were forced to shelter in the jungle until the army restored order.

New Moderator for the CNI: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 12, 2011 October 14, 2011

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The new moderator of the Church of North India, Bishop Philip P. Marandih (left) and deputy moderator, Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy (right)

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Church of North India reports the Bishop in Patna has been elected to a three year term as moderator of the united church.

Meeting from 6-0 Oct 2011 at St. Thomas School in New Delhi, the 450 delegates and guests to the 14th meeting of synod gathered under the theme of “Arise and Build: Fear not, for I am With Your Always.”

A press statement from the gathering said “this triennial event in the life of the church draws its significance from the deliberations, sharing of ideas and vision for mission which is then entrusted to a new leadership for carrying them forward.”

Delegates elected the Rt. Rev. Philip P. Marandih, Bishop in Patna, the church’s outgoing deputy moderator as moderator in succession to the Rt. Rev Purely Lyndoh. The Rt. Rev. Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy, Bishop in Amritsar, was elected deputy moderator for the coming triennium.

“Please uphold these two Bishops in your prayer as the whole church looks up to them for their vibrant and earnest leaderships in fulfilling the motto – Unity, Witness and Service,” the press statement said.

The Church of North India has 27 dioceses in the northern half of the country and maintains 580 schools, 61 hospitals and 17 colleges including Delhi’s St Stephen’s College.

Christian Dalits rally in India: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 19, 2011 p 6. August 21, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Christians have joined forces to protest the Congress Party-led government’s refusal to include Christian and Muslim Dalits among those given favored treatment under India’s Scheduled Caste programme.

On Aug 10, Christians across India were encouraged to observe “Black Day” by wearing a black badge to protest government discrimination against Christians.

At a Black Day rally held at the Church of North India’s offices in Delhi, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Delhi Vincent said “this is a day of mourning as our fellow Christians have been suffering for the last six decades,” Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told the gathering.

Christians had always protested peacefully, he told the rally.  “We don’t burn buses or throw shoes at people,” he said, but “perhaps our protests are not forceful enough. But as Christians we have to adhere to our principles and hope for success”.

The General Secretary of the Church of North India Alwan Masih told the gathering Christians must come together to wield their political muscle to fight for equal rights.  “I am hopeful that justice will be done for Dalit Christians,” Mr. Masih said.

An amendment to India’s Constitution in 1950 set aside preferences in government jobs, schools and created welfare schemes for untouchables, or Dalits—the members of India’s lowest caste who traditionally had been the victims of caste discrimination.  The Scheduled Caste law has since been amended to allow Sikh and Buddhist Dalits to qualify for benefits, but has not been opened to Christians or Muslims.

Under the law, a Hindu Dalit who converts to Christianity loses his Scheduled Caste assistance.

On July 28 over a thousand Christians participated in a two-day hunger strike, followed by a march on parliament to protest the government’s refusal to open the Scheduled Castes to Christians.

“Ours is protest that has resulted from hunger for justice…hunger for human rights and for equality,” the Rev. Roger Gaikwad of the National Council of Churches India told the rally, according the UCA news.  “We will follow the path of great leaders like Gandhi” in pursuing non-violent confrontation with the government, he said.

Mr. Masih told the rally that Christians were being “pushed against the wall” by government instransigence.

“Our government believes in inclusive development, but its failure in being even-handed” shows this promise to be false, he said

Indian church leaders call for calm in the wake of terror attacks: The Church of England Newspaper, Aug 12, 2011 p 6. August 17, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India have condemned last month’s terror bombings in Bombay that killed 26 and injured 130 people.

On 13 July, three bombs exploded within 15 minutes of each other at the Zaveri Bazaar in South Bombay, the Opera House in the centre of the city, and near a bus stand in the Dadar district in the heart of Bombay. The blasts occurred two days after the fifth anniversary of the railway station blasts that killed 200 people and injured 700. In 2008 Islamist terrorists from Pakistan attacked a train station, hotel and other crowded areas killing 164 people.

“We strongly condemn the inhuman and dastardly attack,” said Alwan Masih, general secretary of the Church of North India (CNI). “It is highly unfortunate that we could not prevent the attack despite our vast resources. What is more painful is that this was a serial blast.”

“These forces engaged in inhuman actions must not divide and destroy our unity,” Mr Masih said. “They do not belong to any civil society. So it is very crucial that we react maturely.”

Since 1993, more than 700 people have been killed in terror attacks by foreign and domestic jihadi groups in Bombay, India’s commercial capital. Initial reports suggest the Indian Mujahideen (IM) may be behind last month’s attack. A home-grown terror group comprised of Indian Muslims, IM came to the notice of the security services in 2007 after it claimed responsibility for bombings in several Northern Indian cities.

Church property fight turns violent in India: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2011 July 29, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A battle for control over a church school in the Diocese of Lucknow turned violent last week after three bombs were tossed at the front gate of the Girls High School of Allahabad in North India.

The fight has prompted the Bishop in Lucknow, the Rt Rev Morris Dan to seek police protection against supporters of former headmaster CV Innes.

Founded by the East India Company in 1822 to educate British and Anglo-Indian children of the company’s servants, the Boys High School and Colleges (BHS) and Girls High School and Colleges (GHS) in Allahabad were established at their present site in 1861 and run by missionaries of the Church of England.

The dispute arose between the Bishop and the former headmaster after Mr Innes attempted to change the school’s bylaws to remove the Bishop as head of the schools. The dispute was brought to the courts and the Allahabad Supreme Court ruled last month the attempt to oust the Bishop was unlawful and confirmed the Bishop’s nominee, Mr David Luke, as the new headmaster.

On 5 July three bombs were tossed against the wall of the girl’s school, demolishing the gate and front entrance, while police reported that a crowd of approximately 200 people attempted to force their way into the school, allegedly to oust Mr Luke as headmaster.

The Indian Express reported that the situation was defused after senior police and administration officials responded to the riot with armed police.

Speaking to the press after the riot, Bishop Dan charged his predecessor, Bishop AR Stephen with colluding with Mr Innes to take control of the school. While the resort to violence in Allahabad was unusual, disputes over the control and ownership of church schools in India are common, as they provide a sizeable source of income for the Church.

Church schools also are a source of illegal income anti-corruption activists have charged, claiming that bribes are often paid for places in India’s premier private schools — of which the majority are affiliated with the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.

Court rejects bid to force the Indian government to reveal the Gandhis’ religion: The Church of England Newspaper, Dec 9, 2010 December 16, 2010

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Sonia Gandhi

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

An Indian court has held that the country’s 2005 Right to Information Act does not permit the disclosure of religious affiliation listed by an individual on their census form.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court on Nov 27 dismissed an application seeking the census data for Sonia Gandhi and her children.   According to a report printed in the Indian legal periodical Law et al News, the court held that Section 15 of the 1948 Census Act protects the confidentiality of census records, and trumps the Right to Information laws.

The court held that “it is apparent that the appellant is wanting to elicit information about the religion of such public persons. India being a socialist, democratic and secular democratic republic, the quest to obtain the information about the religion professed or not professed by a citizen cannot be in any event, be considered to be in public interest, which information is strictly confidential as per Section 15 the Census Act, 1948.”

Chief Justice Mukul Mudgal and Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the appellant’s argument that the “leaders of the nation and the information regarding their religion” should be disclosed as being in the “public interest.”

The standard bearer of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty and leader of the United Progressive Alliance Party and president of the Indian National Congress, the Italian-born Mrs. Gandhi is a Roman Catholic.  However, the religious faith of her son Rahul Gandhi is a matter of speculation, while her daughter Priyanka Gandhi is married to a Roman Catholic Anglo-Indian.

Rahul Gandhi is an MP and is tipped to take his mother’s place as the leader of Congress and the Prime Minister of the country if Congress emerges victorious in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.  Hindu nationalists have denounced as unacceptable the possibility of a Christian leading the world’s largest democracy.

Dr. Williams begins a tour of India: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 15, 2010 p 7. October 18, 2010

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Dr. Williams visiting a school operated by the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has begun a 16 day tour of India, arriving in Calcutta on Oct 9.  Over the next two weeks Dr Rowan Williams will tour the subcontinent, visiting Ranchi, Nagpur, New Delhi, Madras, Vellore, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapurum.

“I look forward greatly to being back in India once more. Family connections, many friendships and the memory of two inspiring earlier visits mean that India is a special place for me, and I am deeply grateful for the invitation to visit again,” Dr. Williams said upon his departure.

Dr. Williams’ hosts on his Indian adventure, the Church of North India, the Church of South India and the Mar Thoma Church have planned a grueling itinerary for the archbishop.

The first three days of his visit were spent in Calcutta, visiting church-affiliated schools and institutions.   Dr. Williams visited the tomb of Mother Teresa at the mother house of the Missionaries of Charities then toured a museum dedicated to her memory before visiting a school operated by the order.

“The joy that was evident there, I believe, is a response to something very deep in the whole life of this city, not only today but through the ages,” he told reporters.  “Calcutta is known as the City of Joy so it’s very moving to see that joy and love at work.”

Speaking at a dinner organized by the Diocese of Calcutta for local dignitaries, Dr. Williams said he had long “wished to visit Calcutta after having known of its history. As a student I remember being inspired by the work for the poor here.”

Reporters also questioned Dr. Williams during the stops on throughout his tour.  In response to a question about religious violence, he stated, he was “concerned about the attacks on Christians as I would have been about attacks on people of other communities.”

Commenting on the recent court ruling on the ownership of disputed land in Ayodhya claimed by Hindus and Muslims, Dr. Williams said he had followed the debates over the verdict “closely.”  He noted that in 1992 over 2000 people were killed in sectarian rioting over the disputed temple.  “I’m glad to see that the way it was received was very peaceful,” he remarked.

On the first Sunday of his trip, Dr. Williams preached at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Calcutta, marking the Global Day of Prayer for the Millennium Development Goals.

In his sermon the archbishop spoke about the need to conquer the self by “denying the pleasures of thinking of yourself as an isolated being with no real relations with those around; denying yourself the fantasy that you can organise the world to suit yourself; denying yourself the luxury of not noticing the suffering of your neighbour.”

“This is fasting that reconnects you with reality.  And in the context of the gospel, this is the fasting that the Holy Spirit makes possible for us, breaking through our self-satisfaction,” he explained.

On Oct 12, Dr Williams visited the Diocese of Chotanagpur in Ranchi, and was briefed on the work of Christian education in the diocese.  Christian schools in the diocese had grown rapidly over the past century and a half, educating 217 students in 1869 as compared to 40,000 today, the Dr. Williams’ host, Bishop BB Baske reported.  Oct 13 found Dr. Williams leading worship at St Paul’s Cathedral in the Bahubazar district of the city.

The pace of the archbishop’s tour is not scheduled to slacken.  In Nagpur he will join celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the Church of North India and in Thiruvananthapuram the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of South Kerala, Church of South India. In Thiruvananthapuram the Archbishop will also meet Metropolitan Joseph and other members of the Mar Thoma Church.

In New Delhi, Dr Williams will deliver the Chevening Lecture at the British Council entitled “Pluralism and the Dialogue of Religions” and on Oct 15 will lead a service commemorating the 300th anniversary of the Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK).

Headmaster arrested for caning student: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 15, 2010 p 7. October 18, 2010

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The headmaster of an Anglican school in Calcutta has been arrested for assault in the wake of the suicide of a 13-year old student under his charge, whom he had caned for flouting school rules.

On Oct 3, the headmaster of La Martiniere School for Boys, Mr. Sunirmal Chakrabarthy, was arrested and charged with assault for using corporal punishment on a student.  The La Martiniere case has attracted widespread media attention in India, highlighting a national debate over corporal punishment, and was topic of interest in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Calcutta press conference during his tour of India this week.

Rouvanjit Rawla took his own life on Feb 12, 2010, four days after he was beaten by the school’s headmaster.  Rawla’s father filed a civil lawsuit against the school and lodged a complaint with the Calcutta police, alleging assault.

On June 11 the school released a press statement saying “As a School, we deeply regret the loss of a young life. Attempts being made to hold the school entirely responsible are certainly misplaced.”

However, it defended caning recalcitrant students.  “There are times, when children need to be corrected and helped. The idea has always been to inculcate a sense of values amongst them. It is also important for the School to ensure that there is an environment conducive to learning and often corrective measures have to be taken to ensure this environment is not vitiated in the interest of the larger student community of the School,” the school said.

An inquiry by the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights—a quasi-governmental body—on June 9 found the headmaster and school guilty of misconduct and recommended their suspension.

Mr. Chakrabarthy stated that he had “apologised to the school board and for this I am ready to face the consequences.”

India’s private Anglican and Roman Catholic schools have reared the country’s elite for over a century, and the 175-year old La Martiniere School and its sister academy for girls have educated many of Calcutta’s and India’s government, business, military and social elite.

In 2007 the Church of North India banned its schools from using corporal punishment and announced that teachers who caned students would be dismissed.

“Incidents of a student being subjected to corporal punishment are rare in our schools,” Bishop PSP Raju of Calcutta told The Statesman in 2007.  “The recent decision was undertaken by the board of governors of the schools to handle the issue more strictly” and give firm guidance to teachers, he said.

However, the ban on corporal punishment was not instituted at La Martineire, and in May a diocesan spokesman told the Press Trust of India the death was an “eye opener for us.”

“Caning has been a traditional practice in this country, but things have changed with time. Now, we have to orient our teachers to win the confidence and respect of the children. In future, we can assure that there will be no such incident,” the Rev. Sukhen Biswas, a member of the diocesan executive council, said.

Asked his view of the La Martineire case, the Archbishop of Canterbury told reporters in Calcutta: “I would not like to say much about this particular case as it is sub judice. But like in India, corporal punishment is punishable by law in England.”

Anti-Christian riot in Bombay: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 3, 2010 p 6 September 10, 2010

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Church of North India reports that a mob of Hindu fanatics broke up a worship service at St. Emmanuel’s Church in Bombay, ransacking the building on Aug 1.  Several members of the congregation were injured in the attack during evening prayers, and two men were admitted to a local hospital.

Indian press accounts of the attack report that eight men belonging to a Hindu nationalist group burst into the church during the Sunday evening service, attacking the worshippers with iron rods and clubs.

Joseph Dias, the secretary of the Bombay chapter of the Catholic Secular Forum, an Indian Christian charitable organization, told the Times of India the men appeared to have been drunk when they assaulted the church.  The police have arrested two men in connection with the attack.

While sectarian motives are suspected to have sparked the attack, speculation within Church circles in Bombay centers round the belief that the local ‘land mafia’ is seeking to drive Christians out of the area and acquire their properties for commercial development.

Kashmir peace plea from the Church of North India: The Church of England Newspaper, July 9, 2010 p 6. July 15, 2010

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Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of Amritsar

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Bishop in Amritsar has written to supporters in the West urging prayer for the people of Kashmir following weeks of anti-government rioting that have left over a dozen dead.

Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy writes that the situation in the disputed Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir is grim.

A spokesman for the diocese’s John Bishop Memorial Hospital in Anantnag, the state’s second largest city, reports “the whole of Kashmir is burning. On 29th June two people were killed and two shops, buses, petrol stations were burnt. The situation here has become very serious. Non Kashmiri people have started leaving the valley.”

In Anantnag, hundreds of Muslims defied a police curfew to protest Indian rule over the disputed state, while in Srinagar a dusk to dawn curfew is being enforced by paramilitary police.  A general strike has been called by Muslim separatists, closing shops and businesses across the Kashmir valley.

The state’s chief minister Omar Abdullah on June 25 urged calm.  “We must work together to find a solution which can lead to lasting peace in Kashmir as per the aspirations of the people.”

At Independence in 1947 the majority Muslim state’s ruler opted to join India, prompting an invasion by Pakistani backed Pathan tribesmen.  The ensuing war left the state divided, with the sparsely populated north and west in Pakistani hands, the northeast under Chinese control and the Kashmir valley and neighboring Ladakh under Indian suzerainty .  Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died in the decades old insurgency that has led to two wars between India and Pakistan.

The tempo of protests and violence has increased in recent weeks, the diocese reports.  Indian government officials have blamed Pakistan for the unrest, saying its government is supporting the rebels’ bid to destabilize the state.

The valley’s minority Christians have come under the crossfire of both Muslim and Hindu extremists.  “Please pray that people, the mob should not turn against us or against our hospital,” the diocese writes.

Calcutta caning leads to calls for school reform: The Church of England Newspaper, June 25, 2010 p 8. July 4, 2010

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India are scrambling to control the media fallout sparked by the suicide of a 13 year old boy at one of the country’s premier church schools after he was caned by the headmaster.

On Feb 12, Rouvanjit Rawla took his own life, four days after he was caned by the headmaster of La Martiniere School for Boys in Calcutta.  Rawla’s father has filed a lawsuit against the school, while Calcutta police are investigating the circumstances of his death.

On June 14 the school released a press statement saying “As a School, we deeply regret the loss of a young life. Attempts being made to hold the school entirely responsible are certainly misplaced. There are times, when children need to be corrected and helped. The idea has always been to inculcate a sense of values amongst them. It is also important for the School to ensure that there is an environment conducive to learning and often corrective measures have to be taken to ensure this environment is not vitiated in the interest of the larger student community of the School.”

Headmaster Sunirmal Chakrabarthy stated that he had “apologised to the school board and for this I am ready to face the consequences.”

However, school authorities have stated they will not act against Mr. Chakranbarthy at this time.   “There is no question of sacking the principal. He is innocent unless proved guilty,” the secretary of the Board of Governors Supriyo Dhar said.

However, school authorities have stated they will not act against Mr. Chakranbarthy at this time.   “There is no question of sacking the principal. He is innocent unless proved guilty,” school secretary Supriyo Dhar told the Calcutta Telegraph.

India’s private Anglican and Roman Catholic schools have reared the country’s elite for over a century, and the 175-year old La Martiniere School and its sister academy for girls have educated many of Calcutta’s and India’s government, business, military and social elite.  However, only a minority of the students at these schools are Christian.  Hindu nationalists have attacked their influence and called for an end to their links to the church.

The death of Rouvanjit Rawla also comes in the wake of a February 2004 Calcutta High Court ruling that held that caning in state schools in West Bengal was unlawful and ordered a halt to its use.

In 2007 the Church of North India banned its schools from using corporal punishment and announced that teachers who caned students would be dismissed.

“Incidents of a student being subjected to corporal punishment are rare in our schools,” Bishop PSP Raju of Calcutta told The Statesman in 2007.  “The recent decision was undertaken by the board of governors of the schools to handle the issue more strictly” and give firm guidance to teachers, he said.

The rule does not appear to have been enforced at the church’s elite schools however.  On June 9 the National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights inspected La Martiniere and found that it continued to use corporal punishment to discipline students.

In May the new Bishop of Calcutta, the Rt. Rev. Ashok Biswas—who serves as chairman of the school’s board of governors—sacked board members Neil O’Brien and K.S. David after they called for the headmaster to be dismissed for caning the boy.

The Rev. Sukhen Biswas, a member of the diocesan executive council told the Press Trust of India the death was an “eye opener for us. We are priests and value every life. We are really shocked by what happened to a budding child.”

“Caning has been a traditional practice in this country, but things have changed with time. Now, we have to orient our teachers to win the confidence and respect of the children. In future, we can assure that there will be no such incident,” said Mr. Biswas.

The bishop was abroad, Mr. Biswas said, and had not had an opportunity to review the lawsuit or the charges made by school inspectors, however, the diocese would wait upon the final police report before it acted.  “Until the principal is found guilty, [the headmaster] should be given a fair trial. He should face the probe rather than go on leave or resign,” he said.

However, the diocese would act immediately to increase the number of school chaplains and seek to promote a stronger Christian ethos among the students and faculty, he said.

Church call for government action on Maoist terror in India: The Church of England Newspaper, June 4, 2010 p 6. June 15, 2010

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Naxalite guerrillas

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India have condemned last week’s terrorist attack on a Calcutta to Bombay express train that has left 148 dead.

On May 28 at 0130 hours, Maoist guerrillas derailed the Bombay bound Gyaneswari Express. Railway officials initially reported a bomb had been detonated under the tracks, but subsequent press reports state that a 1.5-foot section of track was missing. Railway spokesman Soumitra Majumdar said five coaches of the eastbound night train to Calcutta train jumped the track and were crushed by an on-coming goods train on the westbound track.

There were 13 carriages – including 10 sleeper coaches and a second-class coach – on the express, the Times of India reported.

Police have confirmed that 148 have died, approximately 150 are in hospital and 25 people are missing in the attack in the West Midnapore district of West Bengal, some 80 miles from Calcutta. Posters found near the scene, point to a guerrilla attack, government officials have reported.

The Rev Asir Ebenezer, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, urged the government to act. “In the last few weeks the country has seen a spate of unabated violence and bloodshed,” he said.

“While the leaders of the Maoist outfits and the state battle it out, the people bear the brunt of the attacks from both sides,” he said.

“We express our condolences for those who are killed. One should understand that by killing people nobody can achieve their goal,” the Rev Enos Das Pradhan, general secretary of the Church of North India, told UCA news, urging the government to safeguard civilians and restore order.

However, Maoist leaders have denied responsibility for the attack, telling the BBC they were not responsible for the derailment.

The Maoist or Naxalite uprising began in 1967 in the West Bengal village of Naxalbari. While the original peasant rising was crushed by police, the Maoist-inspired rebellion has spread across rural and jungle areas of Central and Eastern India’s Jharkand, West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh states, creating a “red corridor” controlled by the insurgents.

Over 6,000 people have died in the fighting over the past 45 years. Friday’s attack saw the single highest day’s death toll in the low-level war, topping the April 2010 ambush of a police patrol that killed 76 in the dense jungle of Central India’s Chhattisgarh state, and a 2007 attack on a police barracks that killed 55.

Naxalite leader Koteshwar Rao is believed to field a force of 10,000 to 20,000 guerrillas and they faced off against 50,000 federal paramilitary troops and tens of thousands of local policemen.

In 2008 the government conceded that the Naxalite rebellion was growing. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated the Maoists were “targeting all aspects of economic activity, [including] vital infrastructure so as to cripple transport and logistical capabilities and slow down any development. [India] cannot rest in peace until we have eliminated this virus,” he said.

The longevity of the rebellion, analysts note, lies in the support given to the guerrillas by India’s rural poor and hill tribesmen. The Maoists have pledged to over throw India’s semi-feudal land holding system, giving the poor control of land owned by absentee landlords.

Mr Ebenezer of the National Council of Churches urged the government to address the root causes of the rebellion and address the “issues and contexts that give rise to these conflicts.” Only by cutting off the oxygen of peasant support could the rebellion be put down, he said.

Church leaders divided over death penalty for convicted Bombay terrorist: The Church of England Newspaper, May 14, 2010 p 7. May 21, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Terrorism.
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Mohammad Ajmal Kasab entering the Bombay CST station on Nov 26, 2008

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The death sentence handed down to the lone surviving gunman from the November 2008 Bombay massacre has divided church leaders in India.

Anglican leaders have applauded the May 6 decision by Judge ML Tahiliyani that Mohammad Ajmal Kasab be hanged for his part in the terror attack on the city, while Catholic leaders have urged the court to sentence him to life in prison.

On Nov 26, 2008 Kasab and nine other gunmen launched a commando-style raid upon Bombay, killing at least 173 people and wounding over 300 over the course of three days. The 22-year-old Pakistani national was the lone gunman to survive the attack and was captured by the police on the first day of the assault.

On May 3 Judge Tahiliyani found Kasab guilty of multiple counts of murder and terrorism after a two-week trail.  Kasab was captured on video surveillance cameras killing 50 people at Bombay’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station.  During the trial, Indian television broadcast film footage presented by the prosecution of Kasab grinning as he fired an AK47 assault rifle into the packed train station.

Kasab had engaged in an act of “exceptional depravity” where “children were killed, women were killed,” the judge said.  The railway station attack was the single bloodiest episode in the 60-hour siege that saw attacks on two hotels, a Jewish prayer centre and a backpacker’s bar.

Kasab “should be hanged by the neck until dead,” Judge Tahaliyani ruled, as punishment for murder; abetting and conspiracy to murder; waging war against the State; and violating India’s unlawful activities laws.

Judge Tahaliyani dismissed the defence’s claim that Kasab has been brainwashed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the Pakistan-based Islamist terrorist group that planned the attack.  The defendant “voluntarily offered himself as a Mujahidin,” the judge said, and must suffer the consequences of his actions.

The General Secretary of the Church of North India, the Rev Enos Das Pradhan said: “We welcome the judgment. It is a message to everybody that the rule of law prevails.”

Without deterrence, there “will be no discipline, no rule of law,” he said.

However, a spokesman for the Roman Catholic Indian Bishops’ Commission for Justice Peace and Development, Capuchin Fr Nithiya Sagayam said the Roman Catholic Church was opposed to the death penalty.

Rather than be hanged, Kasab should “be guided and improved,” Fr Sagayam told the UCAN news agency.  “Capital punishment does not solve any problem. It will only make things worse,” and will not stop terrorism, he said.

However, SM Krishna, India’s Foreign Minister, said: “The sentence sends out a message to those who want to wage war against India,” while Home Minister P Chidambaram said the “judgment itself is a message to Pakistan that they should not export terrorism to India”.

Kasab’s sentence automatically goes to India’s Supreme Court for review.   If his sentence is upheld, he may petition the Indian president to grant him clemency.

Church-wide census begins in India: The Church of England Newspaper, April 16, 2010 p 8. April 22, 2010

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Indian President Pratibha Patil

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Church of North India has initiated a church-wide census, conducting the first formal count of communicants and members in its 40 year history.

The church’s census, which began on Feb 15 and is scheduled to conclude on Oct 15, with the results released in time for the church’s anniversary celebrations on Nov 29, is being conducted alongside India’s national census.

On April 1 Indian President Pratibha Patil completed the first national census form.  The Union Government has hired 2.5 million officials who are tasked with visiting every household in the country of 1.2 billion people.  The census will be conducted in two parts.

The first round will gather data on each household, and the second round will collect individual demographic information on age, sex, place of birth, marital status, education, family history, language, religion, literacy, and employment.

Christian leaders have expressed concerns over the reliability of past census results.  In 2001 the government’s census reported there were over 24 million Christians in India.  However, that same year the Roman Catholic Church claimed 17 million members, while the National Council of Churches in India, an association of the country’s 29 mainline Protestant and Orthodox Church groups, claimed 13 million members.

Church leaders believe that many Dalit Christians will tell the government that they are Hindus.   The Indian Constitution allows quotas in educational institutions and government jobs for members of castes once considered “untouchable,” to support their social and economic advancement.  According to the 1950 Presidential Order however, scheduled caste privileges are meant only for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, but not Christians or Muslims.

The majority of Indian Christians come from the scheduled castes, and church officials fear the current laws give an incentive for underreporting the strength of Christianity in India.  The 2001 census found that Hindus comprise 80.5 per cent of the Indian population, Muslims 13.4 per cent, Christians 2.3 per cent, Sikhs 1.9 per cent, Buddhists 0.8 per cent and Jains 0.4 per cent.

“The first phase of the census covers only the household questions,” the General Secretary of the CNI synod the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan told UCA news, adding that church leaders were concerned with how the second stage of the census would be conducted.

Each of the CNI’s 27 dioceses is responsible for collecting data and forwarding it to the synod offices in New Delhi for the CNI’s census.  “Through this exercise, we will come to know what kind of people we have,” Mr. Das Pradhan said, adding that “we want to know about our size and situation in the 40th year of our journey.”

Having hard numbers of its own membership will also assist the church in pressing the claims of Dalit Christians for equal treatment under the government’s scheduled caste programmes, Indian sources tell The Church of England Newspaper.

Archbishop’s Indian tour announced: The Church of England Newspaper, March 12, 2010 p 8. March 25, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Church of South India.
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The Hindu mother goddess, Durga. Dr. Williams will travel to Calcutta during the Durga Puja festival this October.

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Plans for the Archbishop of Canterbury to tour India were made public last week by the Church of North India. On March 3 the Bishop of Calcutta, the Rt. Rev. Ashoke Biswas told the Calcutta Metro Dr. Williams will spend two weeks in a mixed private and public visit to the country.

“I met the archbishop at the Lambeth Palace last month and he said that he would visit our city soon. He seemed interested in Bishop’s College, the oldest ex-Anglican college in India, and also in the social action programmes of the church here,” Bishop Biswas said.

The archbishop’s tour is scheduled for early October and will take in Calcutta, Patna, Ranchi, Delhi, Chennai, and Bangalore, as well as Thiruvananthapuram, the place the archbishop’s wife Jane Williams was born.

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace declined to confirm the report from the Bishop of Calcutta as the arrangements were not yet finalized.

The archbishop’s visit to Calcutta will coincide with the annual Durga Puja festival, দুর্গা পূজা, one of the principal Hindu festivals celebrating the goddess Durga, as well as a major Bengali cultural celebration.

New diocese created in North India: CEN 3.05.10 p 8. March 15, 2010

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The General Synod of the Church of North India has approved the creation of the Diocese of Chhattisgarh. The new diocese’s boundaries will follow the political borders of the state of Chhattisgarh in central India and will be carved out of the southeast Chhattisgarhi-speaking portion of the Diocese of Jabalpur.

The growth of the church in central India coupled with the demands of a geographically large diocese overseen by the Bishop of Jabalpur, Dr. P.C. Singh, and a petition from church leaders in the prospective diocese prompted the creation of the new diocese, a member of synod told The Church of England Newspaper.

Last month the General Synod Executive Committee appointed the Bishop of Cuttack, the Rt. Rev. Samson Dass to serve as commissary for the diocese pending the appointment of a bishop in April. On Feb 1 Bishop Dass opened the diocesan offices at St. Matthew’s Church in Raipur and met with lay and clergy leaders to begin the work of building the new diocese.

The Diocese of Chhattisgarh will be the Church of North India’s 27 diocese.

‘Yobbo’ Jesus cartoons sparks riot: CEN 2.26.10 p 6. March 5, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Free Speech.
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Cartoons portraying Jesus as a beer drinking cigarette smoking yobbo have sparked communal rioting in India, and have led to the burning of a Church of North India (CNI) church and Salvation Army meeting hall in the Punjab.

On Feb 20, Christians in the town of Batala took to the streets to protest the publication of a cartoon from a school textbook that portrayed Jesus raising a can of beer in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other.

“In most of the places the protest was peaceful,” the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) reported, but in Batala the “situation took a turn for the worst,” when Christian youths demanded Hindu merchants close up shop in solidarity with the protest.

“Resistance on the part of these shopkeepers led to clashes between the two communities. The violence gradually spread to the entire city when [Hindu extremists] came out on the roads with weapons and indulged in arson, looting and violence.”

Fighting broke out and ten people were injured and numerous shops and the two churches were burned, with the priests “brutally thrashed” and their houses ransacked, EFI reported.

The chief minister of the Punjab Parkash Singh Badal declared martial law in Batala and imposed a curfew, and promised to respond with an “iron fist” to anyone who “foments sectarian hatred,” the Indian press reported. The IANS news service reported that the deputy chief minister of the Punjab stated that the “culprits behind the blasphemous act of showing disrespect to the image of Lord Jesus have been arrested by the special team of Punjab police.”

The Punjabi riot followed protests by Christians in the northeastern Indian state of Meghalaya, who protested the distribution of a handwriting book that published the yobbo Jesus cartoon, where it was used to illustrate the letter “I” for the word “Idol.”

The education minister of Meghalaya, India’s only majority-Christian state, Ampareen Lyngdoh said the government “strongly condemn[s] such a blasphemous act. Legal action has been initiated against the publisher.”

“We are deeply shocked and hurt at the objectionable portrayal of Jesus Christ in the school book. We condemn the total lack of respect for religions by the publisher,” the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Shillong Dominic Jala told AFP.

The Shillong Times said the Delhi-based publisher had apologised for “hurting people’s religious sentiments,” and had recalled the offending textbook.

Indian Government blocks church sales: CEN 11.27.09 November 27, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Corruption.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Government of India’s Maharashtra state has ordered the halt of all sales of Anglican Church property, pending an investigation into insider dealing and corrupt practices in the administration of church lands in the Diocese of Bombay.

Last week Maharashtra charity commissioner NV Deshmukh rejected the application of the Bombay Diocesan Trusts Association (BDTA) to sell two churches to developers. Under Indian law the “property was allotted for the specific purpose of religious worship of the established Church of England and for no other purpose,” Deshmukh stated, noting that if the property is used for any other purpose, trusteeship passes from the church to the Indian government.

Indian Government blocks church sales

The decision follows an interim report released in April by the state’s charity commission that accuses the former Bishop of Bombay, the Rt Rev Baiju Gavit of defrauding the church by illegally transferring title of church property to developers.

While Anglican attention has focused on the 60 US church property lawsuits, the DNA India news service reports that over 5,000 church property lawsuits are making their way through the Indian courts.

Ownership of India’s Anglican churches has seen several imperfect attempts at consolidation. In 1927 Parliament passed the Indian Church Act and Indian Church Measure, which created an autonomous Church of India, Burma and Ceylon (CIBC) out of the Church of England in India. Under the terms of the Act trusteeship of properties held by the viceroy passed to the CIBC.

However title to the majority of India’s Anglican properties were not held by the government, but by local trusts, mission agencies and dioceses, while garrison churches and other church properties on government land remained under state control.

Upon independence in 1948, the government of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru decreed that title to property held in trust for the church by the government would pass to the state. Local church trusts and associations would administer the properties, and if the church became dormant the land would pass back to the government.

Local laws have also hindered the consolidation of property ownership. When the Church of North India was formed in 1970, the BDTA — owner of over 4,000 church properties, declined to turn over title to its properties, citing the Bombay Public Trust Act, which forbad the transfer of ownership of church properties to entities based outside of the state of Maharashtra.

An investigation by the government found there was an ongoing pattern of fraud in the sale of church lands. In a report dated April 18, 2009, VR Patil, the Maharashtra law and judiciary department’s legal adviser, found that a “bogus” corporation entitled the Bombay Diocesan Trust Association (BDTA) Pvt Ltd had been created to “grab the properties of genuine Christian trusts” — the BDTA Ltd and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in the Dioceses of Bombay.

“The bogus trustees indulged in many illegal activities to grab the property of BDTA Ltd and SPG by taking advantage of the similarity in name of the bogus trust with the complainant’s trust,” the Patil’s report said. Among the “bogus trustees” was Bishop Gavit and a number of clergy and synod officers, DNA India said.

The April inquiry found 20 past and 18 pending property deals involving the “bogus” trust and recommended a criminal investigation.

Last week’s decision to block the sale of BDTA properties held by the lawful trust, appears unrelated to the alleged scam, however, the charity commission is seeking a full accounting of all church lands. Sandeep Gaikwad, president of the CNI’s Synod All-India Legal Committee told Bombay’s Daily News & Analysis “these salaried bishops and priests were indulging in disgusting, shameful activities” in defrauding the Christian community.

However, “the community will see to it that these people are prosecuted and punished by the government,” he said.

Hindu converts to Christianity to keep Caste status: CEN 9.25.09 p8. September 29, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Politics.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Church leaders in India have welcomed the call by the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly for India’s federal government to allow Hindu Dalits who convert to Christianity to keep their protected status as members of a Scheduled Caste (SC).

On Aug 25 the legislature of the southeastern Indian state passed a resolution presented by the state’s chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy that petitions the national government to amend the Constitution to confer SC status on Dalit Christians.

Hindu converts to Christianity to keep Caste status

The Indian Constitution allows quotas in educational institutions and government jobs for members of castes once considered “untouchable,” to support their social and economic advancement. According to the 1950 Presidential Order however, SC privileges are meant only for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, but not Christians.

Members of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, opposed the resolution saying it would lead Dalits to convert to Christianity. But the governing Congress Party with the support of the rest of the legislature’s members, save for a single deputy, backed the resolution. The chief minister told the assembly that Dalit Christians faced the same levels of discrimination as Hindu Dalits and needed government assistance.

Granting Christian Dalits SC status was only just, Fr Anthoni Raj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, said as the 1950 Presidential Order had been amended in the past to extend SC status benefits to Dalit Sikhs and Dalit Buddhists.

The All India Christian Council on Aug 27 hailed the resolution as an “undoing of a historical error on the Dalits and on their freedom of choice and conscience.”

Last week the Church of North India said it welcomed “the decision of the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly in taking the first step towards removing the 50-year-old deprivation of the Dalit Christians and Muslims.”

Christian Dalits “have been facing discrimination like other Dalits” the CNI said, and the vote recognized the “gravity of genuineness in the struggle for justice of Dalit Christians.”

Court to rule on Indian religious row: CEN 8.07.09 August 7, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Church of South India, Property Litigation.
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A trial date has been set in the High Court of Delhi to determine the rightful successor to the Church of England in India.

On July 27 Justice Ravinder Bhat consolidated three petitions lodged by the Church of North India (CNI), the Anglican Church of India (ACI), and the Church of India seeking control over churches, schools and hospitals established by the Church of England during the Raj.

Trusteeship of church lands in India and Pakistan has been the subject of on-going litigation since independence in 1948, with over 200 trusts, foundations, dioceses and bishops asserting ownership. The Indian news service DNAIndia estimates that over 5,000 lawsuits have been filed over the ownership of church lands.

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Court to rule on Indian religious row

Church leaders welcome review of India’s anti-conversion laws: CEN 7.10.09 p 6. July 20, 2009

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Church leaders in India have welcomed the pledge by leaders of the country’s coalition government to review anti-conversion laws.

Last week federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram said the government, led by the Indian National Congress Party, would examine state laws that criminalize conversion, or performing a conversion or baptismal rite without first informing the government.

The Rt Rev Dhirendra Kumar Sahu, the retired Bishop of the Church of North India’s Diocese of the Eastern Himalayas and current general secretary of the National Council of Churches of India, welcomed the government initiative.

“The anti-conversion laws curtail the freedom of the common people. These laws are often misused,” Bishop Sahu told the UCA News.

CNI General Secretary Dr. Enos Das Pradhan stated the review was a positive step for religious freedom. It permitted “people to practice and profess their religion in their own way,” he said.

Hindu militant groups have targeted Christian churches, claiming that many converts had been enticed into leaving Hinduism by fraud, financial inducements or threats.

Christian social services agencies have come under fire from Hindu militant groups, who claim the health, education and economic assistance programmes offered by churches are stalking horses for conversion programmes. The BJP Hindu nationalist party has also proposed laws in some states where it controls the legislature that would redraft the conversion laws, criminalizing the conversion of Hindus to Christianity while permitting the conversion of Christians to Hinduism.

Cyclone claims 275 lives: CEN 6.12.09 p 6. June 12, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Church of Bangladesh, Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Disaster Relief.
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Tropical Cyclone Aila, the first major storm of the 2009 monsoon season in South Asia, has come ashore in the Bay of Bengal, drowning at least 275 people and leaving millions homeless.

The Church of North India’s Bishop of Durgapur, Bishop Probal Kanto Dutta reports the situation in the aftermath of the storm is “grave and countless people have lost their lives.”

The cyclone came struck West Bengal and Bangladesh on May 25, triggering tidal surges and widespread flooding. In West Bengal at least 5.1 million people were displaced, with more than one million people stranded in the Sundarban islands alone, most of them without any food or water, government press handouts report. Approximately 100 confirmed deaths have been reported in India and 175 in Bangladesh.

“The tidal surges and floods triggered by Aila have washed away roads, damaged bridges and submerged fields,” said John Gomes, communications officer for World Vision in Bangladesh. “Some areas are just totally inaccessible as they are underwater and there are simply not enough boats to get relief out to these people who are sleeping out in the open with no shelter.”

Writing to supporters in the UK, the Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, Bishop Paul Sarker reported that “I am sorry to inform you that the storm was not at all a light one [as] I thought yesterday. From yesterday evening it has become very strong cyclone and gone through from the South-West coastal area to the north. The sea water came up to 7-8 feet high and washed away many houses and crops in the coastal area.”

Bishop Dutta wrote that his diocese “has two districts which have been hit by this cyclone. We are yet to take stock of the losses. No vehicles or transports are moving now.”

We request all friends and well wishers of the Diocese of Durgapur to prayer for us,” he said.

Anglican leaders unite to denounce Mumbai attacks: CEN 12.05.08 p 5. December 8, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Terrorism.
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Anglican leaders in the UK have denounced the terror killings by Islamist militants of almost 200 people in Mumbai as a moral “evil.” The Archbishops of Canterbury, Armagh, Dublin and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church joined church leaders in India and across the world in condemning last weekend’s attacks in Mumbai and pledging their prayers and support for India.

On the first day of the terrorist attack, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams wrote India’s High Commissioner in London, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee expressing his shock at the “appalling atrocities in Mumbai.”

He told Mr. Mukherjee the prayers of the members of the Anglican Communion were with the people of India. “People everywhere”, Dr. Williams said, “stand in solidarity with the innocent and in condemnation of those who would destroy innocent lives out of evil and misguided motives.”

The Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Dr Alan Harper and Dr. John Neill on Nov 28 released a statement saying the attacks were “deeply shocking … morally indefensible and represent unquestionable evil.”

“Our hearts go out to all innocent people from all nations and faiths caught up in the carnage whilst going about their daily lives,” they said.

Writing from Glasgow the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Dr. Idris Jones said his prayers were with all those “affected by the appalling violence and terror in Mumbai – for those who are injured and for the families of those whose lives have been lost.”

He also prayed for the leaders of the West and the Indian government to find the “courage and wisdom” that would “bring an end to this terror.”

The Irish primates applauded the Indian government’s measured response. “The Indian authorities have been faced with unprecedented brutality and are to be commended for their attempts to respond in defense of the victims and to uphold the rule of law in one of the world’s greatest democracies,” they said.

The General Secretary of the Church of North India, the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan, denounced the targeting of foreigners in the terror attacks. “It is a national shame that tourists from other countries, who, having been fascinated by the rich heritage and cultures of India, visit our beautiful and diversified country, have been targeted.”

He appealed for all churches “to pray for peace and reconciliation”-a call echoed by Pope Benedict XVI and faith leaders from around the world.

Indian church leaders call for action on religious extremists: CEN 12.04.08 December 4, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Terrorism.
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The standing committee of the Church of North India (CNI) has called upon the Indian union government to crack down on religious extremists seeking to overturn India’s secular democracy.

Writing in the wake of the Mumbai massacres that left almost 200 dead in three days of fighting the church’s General Secretary the Rev Enos Das Pradhan said the CNI “strongly condemns the shootouts and appeals to the churches and religious communities to pray for peace and reconciliation.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Indian church leaders call for action on religious extremists

Anglican leaders pray for Mumbai victims: CEN 12.02.08 December 2, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Terrorism.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Anglican leaders in Britain have applauded the Indian government’s measured response to the terror attacks in Mumbai. The Archbishops of Canterbury, Armagh, Dublin and the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church last week added their voices to the chorus denouncing the killing of almost 200 people.

Church leaders in India and across the world have condemned the violence, while church schools and institutions in Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta and other urban areas have tightened security in fear of further violence.

Anglican leaders pray for Mumbai victims

India’s Christians have been caught between fanatical Islam — which sees native Christians as agents of the “crusader” forces of the West, while Hindu militants — who have driven tens of thousands of Christians from their homes in Eastern India’s Orissa state — view Christianity as an “un-Indian” faith and have mounted a campaign to stop its spread and stamp out its influence in the country.

St Thomas Cathedral in Bombay held the first of a score of funerals on Saturday for victims of the three-day terrorist attack upon India’s financial capital. While police commandos exchanged gunfire with the remaining Islamist terrorists trapped in the Taj Hotel, the cathedral hosted the funeral of the hotel’s executive chef Vijay Rao Banja.

Ten of the near 200 dead worked in the hotel’s kitchens. Dressed in their chef’s smocks and hotel livery, hundreds of Taj employees — Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Parsees — sang “Amazing Grace” in the city’s colonial-era Anglican Cathedral.

On the first day of the terrorist attack, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams wrote to India’s High Commissioner in London, Shiv Shankar Mukherjee, expressing his shock at the “appalling atrocities in Mumbai.”

He told Mr Mukherjee the prayers of the members of the Anglican Communion were with the people of India. “People everywhere”, Dr Williams said, “stand in solidarity with the innocent and in condemnation of those who would destroy innocent lives out of evil and misguided motives.”

The Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Dr Alan Harper and Dr John Neill on Nov 28 released a statement saying the attacks were “deeply shocking … morally indefensible and represent unquestionable evil.

“Our hearts go out to all innocent people from all nations and faiths caught up in the carnage whilst going about their daily lives,” they said. Writing from Glasgow the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, Dr Idris Jones said his prayers were with all those “affected by the appalling violence and terror in Mumbai – for those who are injured and for the families of those whose lives have been lost.”

He also prayed for the leaders of the West and the Indian government to find the “courage and wisdom” that would “bring an end to this terror.”

The Irish primates applauded the Indian government’s measured response. “The Indian authorities have been faced with unprecedented brutality and are to be commended for their attempts to respond in defence of the victims and to uphold the rule of law in one of the world’s greatest democracies,” they said.

Since 2004 over 4,000 people have been killed by Muslim and Hindu terrorists in India. In 2005 bombings by Muslim militants in Mumbai killed almost 200.

Attacks by Muslim militants this year in Jaipur and Bangalore, coupled with the persecution of Christians in Orissa by Hindu militants, places the country second only to Iraq in the number of fatalities incurred in the “war on terror.

On Friday the Bishop of Calcutta instructed all schools operated by the Church of North India (CNI) to conduct anti-terror drills. Bishop Ashoke Biswas asked each school to prepare evacuation plans and to conduct rehearsals for locking down the school and moving the children out of harm’s way in case of a terror attack or bombing.

The General Secretary of the CNI, the Rev Enos Das Pradhan, denounced the targeting of foreigners in the terror attacks. “It is a national shame that tourists from other countries, who, having been fascinated by the rich heritage and cultures of India, visit our beautiful and diversified country, have been targeted.”

He appealed for all churches “to pray for peace and reconciliation” — a call echoed by Pope Benedict XVI and faith leaders from around the world. India’s Muslim establishment also denounced the attacks. The All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, condemned the attacks “unconditionally”, IslamOnline said, while The Times of India reported the Mumbai Muslim Council had refused permission for any of the nine dead terrorists to be interred in their cemeteries — and urged all Muslim cemeteries in India to refuse their bodies for burial.

20 clergy had to flee from Orissa carnage: CEN 11.07.08 p 5. November 11, 2008

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India’s anti-Christian pogrom has caused 20 clergy and over four dozen lay catechists to flee for their lives from the Kandamal district in Orissa, the Bishop of Phulbani told the Church of North India’s General Synod last month.

Meeting in Pathankot in the Punjab from Oct 17-21, Bishop Bijay Kumar Nayak told the 400 delegates to the CNI’s General Synod that Hindu militants had been targeting the clergy so as to “strike at the foundations of Christian life” in the Eastern Indian state.

Almost all of the CNI’s churches in Kandamal had been destroyed the bishop said, while the dead included one member of the diocese’s executive committee. Bishop Nayak reported that Thomas Nayak, the superintendent of the CNI school in Gudrikia was murdered by a mob on Aug 27. The bishop urged the synod to pray for the Christians of Orissa and to champion their cause with the Indian union government and the outside world.

India’s recent outbreak of anti-Christian violence commanded centre stage at the General Synod, with several survivors of the mob violence sharing their stories with the delegates. The CNI’s General Secretary the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan denounced government inaction in the fact of the violence, and condemned the decision by several Indian states to enact anti-conversion laws, ostensively in the name of “religious freedom.”

Hinduism had been exempted from the dictates of the anti-conversion laws, he noted, as the government saw reconversion from Christianity, Buddhism or Islam to Hinduism as “returning home” to India’s indigenous faith.

The CNI synod called upon the “central and state governments to ensure that Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and other minority religious communities are not denied” their unfettered civil right “to ‘practice, preach and propagate’ their faiths.”

In other business, the synod elected the Bishop in the Diocese of North East India, the Rt. Rev. Purely Lyngdoh as moderator, or primate of the 26 diocese church that encompasses the northern two thirds of India.

Indian bishops appeal for aid following Orissa violence: CEN 10.15.08 October 15, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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The Church of North India’s bishop in Orissa state has sent out an urgent appeal for assistance following weeks of communal violence that have left dozens of Christians dead and thousands more driven from their homes.

The church is also hard at work, seeing that justice is done and that those behind the attacks are held accountable for their crimes, the Rt Rev Samson Dass, Bishop in Cuttack said.

Writing on Oct 9 to American, Canadian and English bishops he met at the Lambeth Conference, Bishop Dass reported that Orissa was “burning with the flames of communal violence.”

Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Indian bishops appeal for aid following Orissa violence

Indian government accused of ineffective action in Orissa: CEN 10.10.08 p 6. October 13, 2008

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The Indian government’s response to the campaign waged by Hindu nationalists to drive Christianity out of India has so far been ineffectual, the Church of North India has charged.

In a Sept 16 letter to Indian President Pratibha Patil, the General Secretary of the CNI, the Rev. Dr. Enos Das Pradhan denounced India’s national government for failing to curb the “political agenda” of a “few hooligans” bent on “destroying the secular fabric of our country.” The violence had left “thousands of my fellow brothers and sisters” in Orissa “homeless, traumatized, terrified and hungry,” he said, and so far left 40 dead.

Dr.Das Pradhan urged President Patil to “take appropriate action as the custodian of the Constitution of India” to stop the killing and mob violence directed towards Christians. However, the government response has so far been woefully inadequate such that “our expectations from your government and your high office are reducing each and every day.”

The CNI general secretary said the anti-Christian pogroms were being carried out by Hindu “fundamentalists” seeking “to establish monoculture of religion.” He added that the “flames of this antinational and anti-constitutional act have now spread to the South Indian States of Karnataka and Kerala.”

Dr. Das Pradhan had been invited to an Iftar dinner—a meal breaking the Ramadan fast—along with other Indian religious leaders by the president. However, Dr. Das Pradhan declined to accept the invitation writing “when your Government has failed to tackle forces of fanaticism and Talibanism, how as a representative of the suffering community can I celebrate Iftar with you?”

The presidential Iftar dinner, scheduled for Sept 19, was cancelled however, following the bomb blasts in New Delhi which killed 30.

The efforts of the Orissa state government to curtail the violence have so far been unsuccessful. On Oct 1 the Indian Home Ministry dispatched 10 additional companies of militarized police to the Kandhamal district of Orissa, the epicenter of the fighting.

Aid ban overturned in India: CEN 4.18.08 p 8 April 21, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution, Politics.
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India’s Supreme Court has overturned a state court ruling banning Christian aid agencies from assisting victims of the Christmas pogrom in Orissa.

“This is a big victory for the churches,” the Church of North India’s Bishop Samson Das of Cuttack said. “The people have suffered like anything during last few months.”

“We are happy that at last our right to help suffering people has been upheld,” said the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bhubaneswar, Msg. Raphael Cheenath, who observed the proceedings in the New Delhi courtroom.

A week of anti-Christian violence by Hindu militants left over 100 churches destroyed, hundreds of homes burned, and forced several thousand Christians into refugee camps and into the jungle for safety.

On Jan 11, the District Collector of Kandhamal, the administrative magistrate for the area torn by violence, issued an order banning Christian aid groups and NGOs from undertaking relief work, arguing this would further inflame sectarian tensions. The state supreme court upheld his order on Jan 28 following an appeal by the Human Rights Law Network and the Catholic Church.

On April 9 the Indian Supreme Court stayed the District Collector’s order, effectively opening the region to relief efforts.

Dr. John Dayal, the president of the All India Catholic Union charged the state government had been “strangely silent and utterly inactive on this issue. No rehabilitation or relief policy has been announced” and the government’s relief effort “appears to be at a standstill.”

He charged the District Collector and the Orissa state government with siding with the Hindu militants, whom he said were “roaming free” and continuing to terrorize Christian villagers.

“To say that some persons would be upset because victims of a communal riot were getting relief is quite irrational to say the least,” he charged. And if Hindu militants were “upset because relief is being provided to the victims it is the duty of the state government to keep such communal elements under control rather than use them to prevent relief reaching the victim community,” Dr. Dayal said.

Indian vow to block new anti-conversion laws: CEN 4.18.08 p 6. April 21, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution, Politics.
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President Patil of India

Indian president Pratibha Patil

The Church of North India has welcomed assurances from the governor of Rajasthan that he would block an anti-conversion bill passed by the state legislature.

Speaking at All Saints Cathedral in Ajmer, Gov. Shailendra Kumar Singh said India’s secular government respected “all religions equally.” Last month the Hindu nationalist BJP party, which controls the Rajasthan state assembly, passed a bill over the protests of the opposition Congress Party prohibiting conversions to Christianity by “use of force, allurement or fraudulent means.”

Those found guilty of procuring “fraudulent” conversions would be jailed for up to five years and face a fine of £600.

“Some religious and other institutions, bodies and individuals are found to the involved in unlawful conversion from one religion to another by allurement or by fraudulent means or forcibly which at times has caused annoyance in the community belonging to the other religion,” stated the bill. “In order to curb such illegal activities and to maintain harmony amongst persons of various religions, it has been considered expedient to enact a special law for the purpose.”

However social harmony between faiths “could be brought only through our good behavior and not by bills and legislation,” Gov. Singh told the Easter congregation.

Drawing from the Bhagavad Gita, Gov. Singh noted that the Hindu god Krishna had told Prince Arjuna that all are equal in society, and that one’s true “dharma,” or right way of living, is to fulfill one’s responsibilities.

The free practice of one’s faith “brings mutual confidence,” he noted, and would “create an atmosphere of love and brotherhood.”

The Bishop in Rajasthan, the Rt. Rev. Collin Theodore said the Governor’s words “came as a reassurance” as Christian leaders in the northwestern Indian state fear the new law would be used to persecute missionaries.

“We hope the governor means what he said. We have high hopes on him,” Bishop Theodore stated, according to Indian press accounts.

In 2006 the BJP controlled assembly passed an anti-conversion bill which was rejected by the then-Governor Pratibha Patil (pictured), who was elected President of India in 2007. Five Indian states: Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh have adopted anti-conversion bills at the behest of Hindu nationalist parties, who fear that a rising tide of Christian conversions could render Hinduism a minority religion in India.

“Problems of fanaticism, terrorism and secessionism have always arisen in the areas where Hindus were reduced to minority by large-scale conversions,” BJP legislator Nand Kishore Garg said in support of the Rajasthan bill.

India to compensate Orissa victims: CEN 2.08.08 p 6. February 9, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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cni-church-in-orissa.jpgThe Indian government has agreed to compensate Christians whose homes were destroyed by Hindu fanatics in that country’s worst anti-Christian pogrom since independence.

The Church of North India (CNI) reports that the Orissa state government will rebuild the homes of Christians burnt to the ground by Hindu fanatics during the Christmas week riots, will pay compensation to the families of those killed, and give grants of assistance to those whose homes were damaged.

Last month the Church accused the Orissa state government of collusion when it declined to put a stop to the violence. Subsequent investigations by the church and government investigators have determined the attacks were part of a “well planned conspiracy” organized by a “Hindu priest named Lakhana Nanda Saraswati who visited [the area] just before Christmas and provoked the local Hindus to drive away Christians from the village. Soon the news spread across Kandhamal and anti-Christian attacks were made”

“Although the violence first broke out at Brahmanigaon the worst of violence was seen at Barakhamba village where Christians were attacked and one believer was even chased to death. Fearing ghastly consequence of returning home many people are still hiding in forest without any access to food, water and clothing and daring the cold,” the CNI said.

The Barnabas Fund reports the rioters led by cadres from the Hindu nationalist party the Vishwa Hindu Panishad (VHP) “were at pains not just to destroy but also to desecrate. At a church in Bamunigaon, they carefully took out the communion cups and all associated materials and crushed them under their feet.”

“In Kutikia a small church was attacked and its minister and 12 church members taken to a field where their heads were shaved because they refused to deny Christ. Then they were ordered to eat raw rice mixed with goats’ blood so as to become Hindus,” it said.

When the police refused to come to the aid of Christians under attack, the Bishop of Phulbani, the Rt Rev Bijay Kumar Nayak sought the aid of other CNI bishops and Christian leaders.

He asked the CNI’s Bishop of Cuttack the Rt Rev Samson Das, Roman Catholic Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack and other church leaders to intercede with India’s Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and state leaders. The Christian leaders urged the government to use the army to restore law and order, launch an investigation to identify the ringleaders and causes of the riots, and pay compensation to the victims of the communal violence.

The CNI has issued a statement condemning “the attacks in strongest words.” While pleased with the steps taken towards rebuilding the destroyed homes, it has urged the national government to investigate the collapse in law and order in Orissa.
Read it all in The Church of England Newspaper.

Government blamed for violence: CEN 1.18.08 p 7. January 18, 2008

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Civil Rights, Persecution.
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The government of Orissa State is complicit in the Christmas week pogrom of Christians in Northeast India, the Church of North India has charged.

The government condoned, and in some cases supported the campaign of “bigotry, the ideology of hate and violence” that swept across the Diocese of Phulbani for five days beginning Dec 22, the General Secretary of the Church of North India, the Rev. Enos Das Pradhan said in a statement given to The Church of England Newspaper.

“The destruction and desecration of churches and burning of houses of the innocent people are outrageous and violates any norm of civic societies,” and was accompanied by the “utter collapse of the law and order machinery,” he said last week.

The violence against Christians was “premeditated, pre planned and the work of a well disciplined group to ensure simultaneous eruption across the Kandhamal district within hours of the first incident, and to sustain it for five days despite the presence of the highest police officers in the region,” Mr. Das Pradhan said.

Results of a fact finding mission led by the Bishop of Phulbani, the Rt. Rev. Bijay Kumar Nayak found that 16 churches in the CNI’s Balliguda and Udayagiri deaneries were destroyed. Over 3000 Christians are sheltering in relief camps, while “out of fear, some are in the jungle, some are out of the district and some are missing. The situation is still critical,” he said.

Of the 650,000 people living in Kandhamal district, about 100,000 are Christian.

An investigation by the All-India Christian Council (AICC) found that 95 churches were attacked and the homes of 730 Christian families destroyed by Hindu extremists affiliated with the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) during the five days of sectarian violence.

“We are saddened to acknowledge the violence in Orissa will go into the history books as an unprecedented attack on Christians in India. The tragedy is deepened by proof that the violence was avoidable if the authorities had enforced the rule of law,” said AICC President Dr Joseph D’Souza.

The CNI urged “the Union and the State Governments and the National Commission for Minorities to deploy adequate [security] Forces in the troubled areas of Kandhamal and Phulbani District as the people are living in anxiety and fear.”

Mr. Das Pradhan asked Anglicans in Britain to pray for Bishop Nayak and “the members of the Diocese of Phulbani that they may stand firm and remain true to their faith and keep witnessing through their lives at this hour of oppression and atrocities.”

Corporal punishment banned: CEN 12.14.07 p 6. December 14, 2007

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Education.
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The Church of North India has banned its schools from using corporal punishment. Teachers who cane students can now be dismissed under the new regulations announced this month.Corporal punishment in Indian schools is widespread and no national policy governs its use, with some states banning the practice outright, while others permit teachers to cane or use force to discipline students.

“Incidents of a student being subjected to corporal punishment are rare in our schools,” Bishop PSP Raju of Calcutta told The Statesman. “The recent decision was undertaken by the board of governors of the schools to handle the issue more strictly” and give firm guidance to teachers, he said.

In February 2004, the Calcutta High Court ruled that caning in state schools in West Bengal was unlawful and ordered a halt to its use, but permitted other forms of physical punishment.

In December 2000, the Delhi High Court ruled that provisions for corporal punishment in the Delhi School Education Act (1973) were inhumane and detrimental to the dignity of children. “Corporal punishment has no place in the education system,” the court held, but enforcement of the ruling in state schools has been lax.

Bishop Raju said that CNI schools had long discouraged the use of corporal punishment by teachers, but the new regulations and enhanced teacher training would make it mandatory.

CNI schools have also introduced school counseling system to address the underlying problems that had led to the use of corporal punishment. The proposed programme would see independent counselors visit the school, talking separately with students, staff and teachers in an effort to resolve disciplinary issues before they arise.