By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Police in India’s southern state Karnataka detained a pastor for “forcing” Hindus “to convert” to Christianity, while Hindu extremists exhumed a Christian’s dead body saying it “contaminated” a cemetery’s soil, evangelical leaders confirmed Friday, March 19.
Pastor M. S. Valsalan of the Bethesda Assembly of God Church was taken into police custody near the port city of Mangalore, under pressure of dozens of Hindu militants and the hard-line Bharatiya Janata Party, said the influential Christian umbrella group Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
Some thirty Hindu militants accusing Valsalan of “forceful conversions” had stormed a church member’s house visited by the pastor and his family, before turning him over to police, according to local Christians.
“Police arrived on the spot and took the pastor to the station for questioning and later arrested him under Sections 295 (A) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code”, EFI General Secretary Richard Howell told BosNewsLife.”The pastor was sent to the central jail in Mangalore.”
It was not immediately clear if and when the pastor would be released on bail, pending trial. The advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said on its affiliated Website persecution.in it was “in touch with the police officials to get the pastor released as early as possible.”
Several states in India have implemented anti-conversion policies, but human rights groups say they have been misused to target minority Christians and to settle personal disputes.
The detention came as elsewhere in Karnataka, some “150 Hindu extremists” were seen digging out the dead body of a Christian and dumped it Wednesday, March 17, about three kilometers (two miles) away from the cemetery in the town of Arsikere, said Walter Maben, chairman of mission group Karnataka Mission Network.
It happened soon after the funeral procession of 50-year-old Isaac, a member of St. Thomas Church, he explained.
“The Hindu radicals forcefully entered into the cemetery, exhumed the body, and tossed it into a tractor while reprimanding the Christians to carry the dead body instead to Rome or America. They said the dead body of a Christian may contaminate the soil,” Maben added.
Mourners apparently pleaded with the extremists “to spare the dead body” and ran after the truck. The Christians managed to take hold of the body and reported the matter to police, Maben told BosNewsLife.
“However, police advised the Christians to remain silent about the incident and to bury the dead body in another cemetery, to avoid further attacks from the extremists. The body was buried in the Church of South India cemetery at midnight, one kilometer away from the [original] St. Thomas cemetery,” he added.
The latest incidents in Karnataka come amid concerns among law enforcement officials that Hindu militants may prepare more violence against Christians in southern India.
In a related development in the southern state of Orrisa police on Friday, March 18, detained the leader of the nationalist group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, Praveen Togadia, for attempting to enter riot-hit Kandhamal district.
Authorities and church leaders said there was concern his visit could spark new violence in the area, where over 100 people died in anti-Christian violence since December 2007.
Most bloodshed happened in the region in August, 2008, when Hindu mobs in Orissa’s Kandhamal District attacked churches and Christian homes. The violence broke out after the killing of a Hindu leader. Although Maoist fighters reportedly claimed responsibility, Hindus blamed Christians.
Togadia was released Saturday, March 19, but VHP said it would plan massive strikes and protests this weekend against the brief detention.
The tensions come at a time when Hindu groups are increasingly vocal against what they view as attempts by active Christians, including church leaders and missionaries, to convert people to Christianity in this predominantly Hindu nation of over one billion people.
Church groups say there is growing interest in Christianity among India’s Dalits, the ‘lowest’ caste in the country’s ancient system of Hinduism. There are believed to be about 170 million Dalits, roughly Brazil’s population. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Ajay Kumar Singh from India. Editing by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).