By BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent Santosh Digal
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian preacher of one of India’s oldest mission organizations has been held in a prison in India’s volatile Orissa state since December over allegations that he has links with a militant group, evangelical leaders said Friday, March 26.
The worker of Indian Missionary Society, who was not identified apparently for security reasons, has been held in Malkangiri District Jail following his trip to a jungle area where he tried to avoid violence between local Konya people and the militant People’s War Group (PWG), said Pastor A. K Samuel in published remarks.
PWG is fighting against India’s government for its alleged capitalist ideology and has become part of the Communist Party of India (Maoist).
The Christian preacher reportedly tried to convince PWG however not to attack the local population. He met the group after Hindu extremists “falsely informed” the militants that the Koya people are “convertingto Christianity and that they are planning to identify [the PWG] to police,” Pastor Samuel said.
The preacher was later detained on charges of having links with PWG, added the Evangelical Fellowshipof India, which represents evangelical churches and groups across India. Authorities have not yet commented on the sensitive case, but Christians made clear they were trying to get the Christian worker released.
The detention of its worker comes a set-back for the 107-year old Indian Missionary Society, which claims to be active in 20 Indian states with over 650 missionaries.
The group says it is working in 3900 villages and has established 255 churches, 741 house churches, five schools, 24 hostels and 18 medical and rehabilitation centers “for rendering medical” and other support “to poor people.”
Details of the worker’s detention, which BosNewsLife obtained Friday, March 26, came a month after EFI said Orissa police also detained Reverend Anant Prasad Samantray for allegedly “delivering derogatory remarks” against Hinduism in the town of Bhabanipatna in Orissa’s Kalahandi District.
A former Hindu priest “who decided to follow Jesus Christ”, Samantray told an audience at a recently organized evangelical “revival meeting” that he discovered that “Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life,” EFI explained.
“After hearing his speech, some Hindu hardliners stopped him and dragged him to the police station and fileda complaint against him of speaking ill against Hinduism.”The revival meeting was reportedly attended by Christians only but “some Hindu extremists happened to hear the message through a loudspeaker,” EFI said, citing an eyewitness.
Local Christian leaders said they are “taking steps to get the pastor out of jail”. He has been held in Kalahani District Jail since February 20, according to EFI investigators.
Tensions remain high in Orissa, where over 100 people are believed to have died and tens of thousands of peopleforced to flee their homes in anti-Christian violence since 2007.
Last week, nine people were convicted and sentenced to fouryears in jail for their role in the 2008 riots in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, where most people died.One man was acquitted due to lack of evidence, Indian media reported.
“Nine people were convicted and sentenced to a four-year jail term and fined 5,500 Rupees each in a case of arson during Kandhamal riots. One man named Hrushi Pradhan has been acquitted in the absence of evidence,” P.K. Patra, the public prosecutor,was quoted as saying by the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS).
The Fast Track Court-II Judge C.R. Das reportedly convicted the nine people of Salesaru village on March 16 for torching the house of Balusan Digal and other villagers in August 2008.
That violence broke out after the killing of Hindu leader leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides on August23, 2008. Although Maoist rebels reportedly claimed responsibility for the attacks, Hindu militants blamed Christians.
Despite the convictions, Christian groups have complained that dozens of suspects in the Orissa clashes have been freed in fast-track court procedures that were set up by the local government. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos)