By BosNewsLife International Correspondents Rodney Drinnen and Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- There was renewed concern Friday, January 23, over the situation of Christians in India as several remained detained on charges of "forcible conversion" and others recovered from injuries after Hindu militants attacked homes and prayer services, Christian rights investigators said.
In one of the latest incidents, Pastor Yakobu, 37, was attacked Friday, January 16, at his home in Gumpula village in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh by six men who "beat him, cut him with a knife and shaved his head," rights group Voice Of the Martyrs Canada (VOMC) told BosNewsLife.
"They also set fire to his clothes and books and shouted that they didn't want any pastors in the village." The pastor and several fellow church leaders apparently complained to local police, but it was not clear whether any arrests had been made.
The attack came just days after police in the neighboring state of Karnataka reportedly disrupted a weekly prayer meeting held in the home of Pastor Iswar Albannavar, 30, and his wife, Renuka Iswar Albannavar, 26, in the village of Gangavadi. "The police confiscated Bibles and hymnals and took several believers to the police station, " apparently on charges of "forced conversions", VOMC said.
Although the Christians claimed they were not coerced into attending the meeting, Pastor Albannavar and another believer were charged with "promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion ... and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony," added VOMC, which closely monitored the case. "At last report, the two Christians remained in detention."
The detentions overshadowed reports that The Karnataka High Court reopened about a dozen churches that were closed down by the Deputy Commissioner of Davangere district in early September over alleged " forcible conversions."
Just days earlier police reportedly detained four Christians on similar charges in the state of the village of Kushalpura in Madhya Pradesh on January 5 after Hindu militants interrupted a prayer service.
Pastor Kantilal Bhuria, 35, was quoted as saying the incident happened at the home of a local Christian where 25 believers were gathered for prayer. "During the service, a mob of Hindu militants barged into the house and accused Pastor Bhuria of forcibly converting Hindus. The militants verbally abused those present and beat a Christian woman, "VOMC added .
It comes amid reports that Christians fleeing violence have few options in Orissa, which came to symbolize attacks against believers after dozens were killed there since last August. Authorities reportedly shut down relief camps in Orissa, India, forcing thousands of displaced Christians to seek shelter elsewhere.
Pressured by international community, including the European Union, Orissa's government has promised to fight extremism, however advocacy groups say Hindu extremists remain active in the area, despite stepped up security.
"Many of the believers were [even] threatened with violence while in the camps and fear further attacks if they return to their homes, many of which have not been rebuilt," following the violence against them last year.
The large scale anti-Christian attacks began in Orissa following the August 23 killing in the state of an influential Hindu religious leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, and four of his followers.
Maoist rebels claimed responsibility, but Hindu militants blamed Christians, sparking the riots. Orissa Home Secretary Aditya Prasad Padhi said that in response to the violence, some 3,800 security forces have been deployed in Kandhamal, the district where most of the clashes occurred.
Officials are reportedly providing some of the refugees with 10,000 rupees (about $200), but rights groups say that sum is inadequate to meet the believers' long-term needs. "It is unlikely that many will be able to secure employment, as local Hindus often refuse to hire Christians," VOMC explained.
Authorities have come under mounting pressure of Hindu groups to take legal steps against active Christians, amid concerns among militants over the spread of Christianity in the predominantly Hindu nation, especially in rural areas, Worthy News learned.
Several states have introduced 'anti conversion' laws which advoacy groups say are aimed at curtailing Christian activities, including churches and mission work. Christians comprise less than three percent of India's nearly 1.2 billion people, according to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, (CIA).