Tuesday, July 22, 2014

RLPB 270. India: a test for India in Chhattisgarh

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 270 | Wed 23 Jul 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Located in north India's tribal belt, the Indian State of Chhattisgarh has long been a focus of Hindu nationalists' determined effort to secure the allegiance of tribal Indians. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is the 'cultural wing' of the Sangh Parivar, the Hindu nationalist umbrella body.  Along with organising Hindu festivals and facilitating the 'safronisation' of Indian media and education, the VHP also conducts Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) missionary work amongst the tribals. This missionary work includes the 'ghar vapsi' (home-coming) campaigns in which thousands of tribal Christians are coerced and even forced to convert to Hinduism.

[For background on Hindutva, see Religious Liberty Monitoring: 'Hindutva!' (23 July 2014).]

In early May Hindus in Sirisguda village in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region complained to the VHP that Christians had refused to donate money to the annual Hindu festival and had used 'derogatory language against the Hindu deities and customs'. The VHP pointed the Sirisguda Hindus to Section 129 (G) of the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act which facilitates rural self government by empowering 'gram sabhas' (village assemblies) to issue rulings for local implementation. Subsequently the Sirisguda gram sabha issued a ruling banning all non-Hindu religious practice in the village. Since then, more than 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region have followed suit and used the Act to ban non-Hindu practice. Even though the rulings are contrary to the Indian Constitution, the VHP has said it will lobby the Chief Minister Raman Singh and Governor Balramji Dass Tandon (both of whom are Hindu nationalists) to ensure the bans are imposed.

Effectively these gram sabha rulings legitimise communal hostility towards Christians; consequently serious persecution is escalating. There have been numerous reports of Christians being violently attacked, refused access to amenities (particularly water) and denied food rations. Sonuru Mandavi's family converted to Christianity in 2002. She told India's The Hindu that the Christians in her village have been unable to collect rations for over two months and when they tried to collect them they were physically attacked. The only alternative is to pay full price in retail stores, something these Christians cannot afford due to the systematic discrimination they have long suffered.

Economic interests might also play a role. Multi-national mining corporations have interests in mineral-rich Bastar and a community at war with itself cannot make a united stand against them or the [often corrupt] government bodies with which the corporations deal. Christian leaders are concerned that tribal Christians are being bullied out of their homes and off their lands by Hindu elites and petty criminals who have conspired to seize their property so they can claim the compensation when the multi-nationals acquire the land.

Denouncing the bans as 'illegal and unconstitutional', the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum (CCF) has called on the governor to intervene and uphold the law. Meanwhile, the Bastar district president of the VHP, Suresh Yadav,  insists that district administration must implement the gram sabha rulings, 'otherwise we will protest'. However, CCF president Arun Pannalal has denounced the bans as a blatant violation of fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution of India. 'This Act is ultra vires (beyond the powers) of the constitution of India, and the state government should scrap it,' he said, adding: 'We will go to court if the state government does not act on this issue.'

Numerous Christian leaders and religious liberty advocates are warning that if these ruling are allowed to stand and if impunity persists, then a new wave of Hindutva inspired, VHP incited, violent anti-Christian pogroms may be imminent. 

The danger is that the government will re-interpret the religious liberty provisions in the Constitution, so as to kill the spirit of the Constitution while retaining its words (thereby avoiding the need for a referendum). How this crisis is resolved will say much about the future direction, not only of Chhattisgarh, but of India under Hindu nationalist BJP rule.


* intervene in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region to protect and provide for poor tribal Christians who are being persecuted for their faith.

* sharpen the consciences of local Hindus, so they will resist the pressure to persecute their Christian neighbours.

* raise up voices for liberty, justice and harmony across India; may he magnify those voices, in the media, in the judiciary, in politics, in education, as they defend the spirit of the Indian Constitution and defend religious freedom.

* raise up voices outside India that will speak out for genuine religious freedom, security and justice inside India; may he magnify those voices,  in media, international politics, diplomacy, advocacy and in the Church worldwide, as they speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

'Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. ... Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.' (Psalm 146:3,5 ESV)


Since mid-May over 50 villages in Chhattisgarh's Bastar region have followed the advice of the Hindu nationalist VHP and used the Chhattisgarh Panchayat Raj Act to ban all non-Hindu religious practice. As Christian leaders note, these rulings are contrary to the Indian Constitution. Despite this, the VHP has said it will lobby the authorities to ensure the bans are imposed. Persecution has escalated, with numerous reports of violence and social boycotts whereby Christians are being denied access to water and food rations. The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has requested that the Panchayat Raj Act (which facilitates rural self-government) be scrapped and is threatening to take the authorities to court if they do not act. They fear that persecution could escalate into anti-Christian pogroms. Please pray for India and its Church.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today'
(Deror Books, Dec. 2012)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

RLPB 269. In Sudan, persecution; In South Sudan, misery

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 269 | Wed 16 Jul 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal


On 17 February 2014 Sudanese authorities demolished a Sudanese Church of Christ building in the Ombada area of Omdurman (near Khartoum) and confiscated the land, all without prior notice. According to Morning Star News (20 February) the only reason the government gave for the demolition was that the church was in a Muslim area and was not wanted there. The church's 300 or so members were mostly from the Nuba Mountains in Sudan's volatile 'new south'. The secretary-general of the Sudan Council of Churches, Rev Kori El Ramli, recently told the BBC that town planners are now forcibly relocating Christians out of the area, moving them to a district north of the city where there is no church. Back in April 2013, the Government of Sudan (GoS) decreed that no more building permits would be issued for Christian churches, meaning these believers will not be able to rebuild.

On Sunday 29 June authorities delivered a letter to the Sudanese Church of Christ at El Izba residential area in Khartoum North, warning them that their church building had been listed for demolition. About 10 am the next day, a force of about 70 uniformed and plain-clothed officers reduced the church (built in 1983) to rubble. The Sudan Council of Churches protested and on 12 July, a minister of Guidance and Endowments, Shalil Abdullah, responded saying that the remaining churches were enough for those Christians who had stayed in Sudan. Ramli disagrees: 'We are growing,' he said, 'we need more churches.' Many believe the persecution is part of a systematic campaign to drive Christians out of Sudan.

Meanwhile, Meriam Ibrahim [RLPB 261 (21 May 2014)], her husband Daniel and their two children, Martin and Maya are still in the US Embassy in Khartoum.  Meriam's Muslim relatives want to appeal the ruling which saw Meriam's sentence of death for apostasy overturned. Furthermore, Sudanese authorities have charged Meriam with falsifying documents, after she attempted to leave the country on South Sudanese papers. The US State Department says it is working to get the family out of the country, three years after Daniel (a US citizen) first started petitioning the US for a spousal visa for his Christian wife.


On 9 July 2014 South Sudan marked its third anniversary as an independent nation but there is little to celebrate. Progress stalled as corrupt political elites siphoned some four billion dollars from the public purse. Then after conflict erupted in December 2013 between soldiers from Vice-President Riek Machar's Nuer tribe against soldiers of President Salva Kiir's Dinka tribe, the new state quickly descended into chaos. [For background, see RLPB 242 (7 Jan 2014).]

Yida camp (2013) Samaritan's Purse
In seven months of civil war over 10,000 have been killed and some 1.5 million displaced. At least 4 million South Sudanese citizens are now facing the prospect of famine.

Doctors without Borders (MSF) warns that with severe malnutrition already widespread, the coming months will be dire. The rainy season has started, the roads are closed and because there was no planting (due to conflict) there will be no harvest. Displaced South Sudanese and Nuba refugees from Sudan living in massively overcrowded, unsanitary camps are dying of malaria, respiratory tract infections and other preventable diseases. 'The South Sudanese population is living on a knife-edge,' says MSF (14 July).
click here for full size map

According to Sudan's President Bashir, several Western countries are now secretly calling for Sudan's reunification. Whilst this is doubtless nothing more than propaganda, it does provide an ominous insight into the thinking in Khartoum.

My personal position (Elizabeth Kendal) has always been that secession was the wrong choice. I have always supported the 'New Sudan' vision of the late Dr John Garang which envisaged a united opposition securing liberty for all Sudanese. Everything that is happening now -- the Islamisation of the north, the ethnic cleansing of the 'new south', and the destabilisation of South Sudan -- was totally predictable (see: Turn Back the Battle - chapter 9, "Christian Security: not in a 'covenant with death'.")

The question is now: Where do we go from here?

'. . . let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith . . .' (from Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)


* have mercy on Sudan and South Sudan. 'The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.' (Psalm 145:8-9 ESV)

* intervene in Sudan to bring the rule of the racist, Islamist President Omar el Bashir, to an end. 'Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand ... call his wickedness to account . . .' (Pray Psalm 10)

* intervene in South Sudan to bring an end to the corruption and tribalism that has merely taken the place of Islamic jihad. May hope be restored; may the Church's suffering come to an end; may God be glorified.

* pour out his Spirit of wisdom on Christian leaders -- north and south of the border -- so they will be able to lead your long-suffering Church through these dark days; may their experience be: 'The Lord is my shepherd . . .' (Psalm 23)


South Sudan declared independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011. Three years on, Sudan is pursuing Islamisation and ethnic-religious cleansing, while South Sudan has descended into chaos and civil war. In Sudan, churches are being demolished as part of a systematic campaign of persecution aimed at driving Christians out of Sudan.  In South Sudan, progress has been crippled by corruption and conflict. Some 1.5 million South Sudanese are displaced, living along with Nuba refugees from Sudan in seriously over-crowded, disease-ridden camps. Some four million are facing famine. The rainy season has started, the roads are closed and because there was no planting there will be no harvest. Please remember the Church in Sudan and South Sudan, praying for wisdom for her leaders and that God the Redeemer will intervene.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today
(Deror Books, Dec 2012)