Hate Campaign against Christians in AP

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Silent Attacks: Hate Campaign against Christians in the State of Andhra Pradesh — R.Uma Maheshwari

Lost in the din
of the battle cries for and against Telangana State creation / AP bifurcation,
is a silent cry of fear of the Christians, especially converts from the dalit
castes. A very disturbing trend is lately becoming visible – of consciously
planned physical assaults on pastors and Christian believers. What seem like
unconnected one-off events in different places are actually part of a communal-hate
discourse consolidating itself through the joint attempts of the Sangh Parivar,
especially in the Telangana region. What is even more disturbing is the attempt
to pull into this vortex young members from the SC and BC communities. The
latest to hit the headlines was the physical assault on the pastor of Vikarabad
(few kilometers outside Hyderabad), Sanjivaiah, who later succumbed to the
injuries on 13th January, at a hospital in Hyderabad. Candlelight
protests were held for him. The attack was carried out by the fundamentalist
group, Hindu Vahini. Unfortunately, it was his death that brought the issue to
limelight. But similar (and earlier) attacks on Christian preachers in Nalgonda
district have largely gone unnoticed. The majority of Christians in this district
belong to the SC and BC communities – nearly all of them are agricultural
workers or involved in manual construction labour. Very few have small shops of
their own. And the attacks have also been carried out by members of either SC
or BC community.
On 29th
December, 2013, at around midnight, Pastor Nama Moses of the Baptist Church, Narketpally
in Nalgonda district, and his wife, Suvata, were attacked by several armed
youngsters by the Church compound outside his home. Pastor Moses, too, belongs
to the SC community. The young men who attacked Pastor Moses are now in custody
at the semi-open prison in Nalgonda, charged for attempt to murder (Section
307). They of course, deny being part of Hindu Vahini, VHP or Bajrang Dal. Following
the public outcry over the murder of Pastor Sanjivaiah of Vikarabad, the police
themselves arrested the attackers of Moses and slapped cases on a few others on
suspicion. After all the photo-ops by MLAs, political leaders at the Kamineni
hospital, Moses today lies on a bed at his sister’s home in Nalgonda, visibly
scared, mentally scarred and grievously injured. His wife and daughter are
nursing him. Showing the stab wounds on his back and wrists, he is barely able
to speak. But Suvata helps out – “It was after midnight, may be 12.30 or so,
when they attacked us. Some men knocked on the door of our house and asked me
to open the Church for them to pray. I asked them, ‘at this time in the night’?
They said it was urgent. I woke Pastor Moses up. Some men’s voices seemed
familiar, so I assumed they were members of our congregation. As soon as we
opened the door, they hit me hard on my head, and even as I fell, they started
stabbing him. He sustained 13 stab wounds. When he tried to protect himself,
they slit his wrists… I am unable to understand…I have grown up here; my
parents belong to Miryalguda….A neighbour, Yasin, immediately rushed us to the hospital…”
A similar
incident took place on 9th August, 2011. Pastor C.H.Jairaj, of the
Calvary Gospel Church in Narketpally. In this case, a FIR was filed at the police
station in Narketpally, and in 2012, the police closed the case. He was
attacked at 11.45 pm, with sticks. Though he did not know who they were, he
says, the police identified them as members of VHP.  Jairaj filed the FIR, but nobody was arrested
in that case. Jairaj says, “I have had no problems in this place, personally,
but the attack caught me by surprise. It was so sudden, without any warning. I
have lived here since the last 20 years; my own village, Mutyalammagudi, is a
few kilometers from here (in Nalgonda district). But I have noticed the attacks
on Christian believers started since the year 2009 in these parts.” Jairaj
shows his wounds, and some photographs taken in that time. He was hit on his
head and nose, and had to get a series of surgeries done; steel plates were
placed inside his nasal passage, and facial bone was smashed; similar steel
plates have been placed there. His tooth was smashed too. His left wrist was
injured badly. He remembered falling unconscious and finding himself in the
hospital next when he gained consciousness. He got an artificial tooth fixed
and had to undergo a second surgery on his nose a year after. He says, “It is
difficult to go stand in the bus stop alone, you never know.” The Calvary
church prayer hall now has a higher compound wall, to prevent future attacks.
Jairaj’s wife
filed the FIR (No. 145/2011, dated 10 August, 2011), at Narketpally police
station under the Sections IPC 147, 324, 149. In the FIR it states that the
“offence” occurred on “9th August’11, at 23.30 hours at Chruch
Colony, beside NH 9 road, Nalgonda.”
Pastor David,
who also preaches at Narketpally, says, “BJP has been doing a lot of groundwork
here among the youth. Every year here at an open ground adjacent to a college,
a martial arts event for youth is organised by the right-wing groups. When
Narendra Modi visited Hyderabad, two truck loads of young people went from
villages nearby, mainly from Nakkalapally, four kilometers from here. Gandikota
Raju, who is the local organiser in Narketpally mandal, for RSS, VHP, Hindu
Vahini branches, took the youth from here to attend the event in Hyderabad. He
is one of those who attacked Pastor Moses…”
At the Prison in
Nalgonda, I met (with due permissions) the group arrested under Section 307 (attempt
to murder) for the assault on Pastor Moses. Speaking to Gandikota Srinu and
Gandikota Raju and two others seemed like a disturbing confirmation of the
discourse that has been at work on a sustained basis for these many years in
these villages. BJP or the Sangh Parivar’s enmity does not begin and end with
the Muslims. The Christians of Nalgonda district are currently the targets.
Gandikota Srinu told me he attacked Pastor Moses, “to teach them a lesson so
that they do not convert any more people from our community or villages. We are
filled with pain (baadha) to see them
(the Christian preachers) come into our people’s homes and asking them to
convert. Hindus have 30,000 gods and goddesses (mukkoti devatala gala dharmam maadi), and the tell us, ‘leave all
these and accept only one Yesu! We are born into Hinduism, it is our dharmam; how will we feel if they ask us
to leave our own dharmam? If they ask
my mother to roam around without bottu in
front of my father, how am I supposed to feel? That is why we attacked them. So
that they stop doing this to other people. We have been feeling this pain and
hence we attacked. We are not part of any association or group.” Others with
Srinu, included a young BTech student, who also aired similar views on Hindu
religion and the conversion issue. There was not a sign of remorse in any of
their eyes, and in fact it seemed that, should they be released (even on bail)
anytime soon, they have set their sights clearly on the goal, so far as
‘protecting’ the ‘Hindu dharmam’ goes. That can include, perhaps, some more
physical assaults, some of which may perhaps, also lead to death, as it did,
with Pastor Sanjivaiah.
A news item – in
the Telugu daily Eenadu on March 4th 2012 – reporting the meeting of
VHP, in the presence of Ashok Singhal and G. Raghuva Reddy confirms the larger
plan behind these attacks. Raghuva Reddy is reported to have said that
conversions to Christianity in six districts of AP will be stopped. Every
Sunday satsangs are being conducted
with a young VHP person in charge. “In the next 2 or 3 years we will stop conversion
all over the state (of Andhra Pradesh).”

R.Uma Maheshwari is an independent scholar-journalist in Hyderabad.