MUMBAI, India (UCAN) – Police in the western state of Maharashtra have released 11 people arrested for an attack on two pastors but are detaining the victims for "illegal conversions."
Those released on bail May 9 reportedly belong to two Hindu groups. They were arrested and charged in connection with the attack two days earlier on Pastors Ramesh Kopargol and Ajit Belavi, whom they accused of "deceitfully baptizing" families.
Television footage showed the attackers kicking, punching and beating the pastors. The two men, natives of neighboring Karnataka state, later were dragged to the police station, where police charged them with "unlawful religious conversions."
The incident occurred in Ichalkaranji, near the Karnataka border in Kolhapur district, 220 kilometers southeast of the state capital of Mumbai. Formerly known as Bombay, the port city of Mumbai is India's business capital, 1,400 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.
A local court has remanded the two pastors to police custody until May 11, while police investigate the Hindu activists' complaint that the pastors tried to coerce conversions.
According to reports, the bailed activists are members of Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout) and Shiv Sena (army of Shivaji, a Hindu king), and Hindu protests erupted in Ichalkaranji beginning on May 7.
Abraham Mathai, vice chairman of the state's Minorities Commission, led a delegation to meet with Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil on May 8. Following the meeting, Patil ordered a probe into the incident.
Mathai later told media the attack was "orchestrated in the presence of the electronic media," and therefore was "pre-planned." It was "sad," he said, that police booked the victims "based on charges made by the attackers."
Several Christian groups have accused the state of taking the issue lightly. "We are upset that the culprits are at large. Just because Christians don't retaliate, others take advantage of it," said Dolphy D'Souza, president of Bombay Catholic Sabha (council).
He told UCA News Christians are "disappointed" that the deputy chief minister has treated the incident as just another law-and-order problem.
Bombay Archdiocese spokesperson Father Tony Charanghat condemned the incident. He told UCA News the "(television) footage showed the utter failure of the government."
Calling the incident "shame on the authorities," Father Charanghat said Christian groups might appeal to the national Human Rights Commission. "The footage was enough to show how the two missionaries were assaulted and humiliated," he added.
Church of North India Bishop D.R. Tiwade of Kolhapur told UCA News that even if there were conversions, "no one should take the law into their own hands." He said he would call a meeting of pastors to decide a course of action.
The National Council of Churches in India, a union of Protestant and Orthodox Churches, condemned the incident. A council press release called the "repulsive" incident a "stage-managed" show of religious fanatics.
The council demanded immediate government intervention to punish the guilty. It also wants police action against those "responsible for fanning communal hatred and social tension." The release called secular-minded people to condemn the incident.
Meanwhile, Hindu groups continue to protest Christian missionary work in the state.
Shiv Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, addressing a rally in Pune on May 8, reportedly denounced people who convert others as exploiting economically and socially weak groups, and said his party supports those who fight conversions.
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News), the world's largest Asian church news agency (www.ucanews.com).