Mob sought to burn Alive Two Christian Families in Batala Church During Sangh Attack on 20 February 2010

PUNJAB, India – REPORT OF THE ALL INDIA CHRISTIAN COUNCIL FACT FINDING TEAM
ON INCIDENTS IN BATALA AND OTHER AREAS OF PUNJAB
18-21 FEBRUARY 2010

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY ISSUED ON MARCH 2, 2010

NOTE: The full fact finding report is available from aicc Delhi
office: aiccdelhi@gmail.com

Attempted Murders
The Punjab police are hiding the fact that Sangh Parivar-led hoodlums
in Batala, Punjab tried to burn five Christians alive. The Christians
were from two families who live in the Church of North India’s
historic Church of the Epiphany compound built in 1865. Batala is a
small business town in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district. On February 20th,
the CNI church was set on fire and all its furniture burnt. Attempts
were made to destroy a nearby Salvation Army church, raised in 1958,
where the pastor was seriously injured. “We pleaded with the police to
help, but they did not,” said the Pastor, Maj. Gurnam Singh.

Even as the larger group of attackers focused on burning the CNI
church, a group of men armed with sticks and rods, and came to the CNI
Deacon’s house. The deacon, Victor Gill, and his wife Parveen, hid
themselves under the bed. The assailants damaged the doors, tried to
enter the room forcibly, and told the couple they would be burnt alive
if they did not come out. Meanwhile, at a second CNI house, the group
overturned a scooter, took out the petrol, and doused teacher
Christopher Morris and his daughter Daisy with the fuel while the
mother, Usha, cringed in their home. They tried to set the two on
fire, but the matchbox had also been soaked in the petrol and despite
three attempts to strike a match, the matchsticks would not ignite
saving the family from being burnt alive. The police were watching.
The fire brigade came later but was blocked by a mob for quite some
time.

Police Bias
No police report has been filed on the attempted murders even as the
top police and administrative officers enforced a one sided “peace
accord” on the local Christian leadership. Christians were instructed
not to press for charges immediately so that a number of Christian
youth who were arrested – together with a few Hindu men – could be
released. The strategy of the assailants was eerily reminiscent of
what was practiced and perfected against churches in Orissa in 2008.
Police forcibly cleaned up the Church of the Epiphany. They removed
burnt furniture and made the presbyter whitewash the walls to remove
traces of fuel oil used in the blaze. This was done before a formal
enquiry could be conducted by the government.

Background on Violence
The Christians, all of them of Dalit origin, were trying to enforce a
closure or “bandh” in Batala markets to protest a blasphemous picture
of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer in one hand a lit cigarette in
another which appeared on roadside banners to celebrate the Hindu “Ram
Nauvmi” festival. The banners were sponsored by a coalition of local
political, media and business leaders, together with the trading
community which is almost entirely Hindu.

The Sangh Parivar reacted to the Christian protest by mobilising
shopkeepers and youth in attacks that left many injured, two churches
damaged, and clergy traumatised. We noted that local shopkeepers
routinely enforce closures e.g. a bandh during the last week of
February to protest the execution of two Sikhs by the Taliban in
Pakistan.

Timeline
16-17 February — people noticed Jesus Christ image on banners,
newspapers, posters
18 February — Jalandhar protests; two people arrested for printing
posters
19 February — road protests in various villages, violence in Majitha
20 February — Batala churches burnt; widespread violence
21 February — police firing on Christian protesters in Tibbar village
and others places; many arrested, injured; peace accord reached in
Batala
22 February — curfew partially lifted
23 February — curfew completely lifted

Police Reaction
The police force was outnumbered and looked on during the violence.
Despite intelligence reports of the Christian anger and the Hindutva
plans to counterattack, the sub-divisional magistrate of Batala, Mr.
Rahul Chaba, PCS, said he could not enforce a quick curfew until late
on 20 February 2010 because most of the police force were sent to the
Pakistani border nearby where Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram
inaugurated a defence outpost. By the time the police returned and a
curfew was imposed, violence had already occurred. The curfew was
relaxed on 22 February 2010.

Results of Violence and Political Reaction
On February 21st, protest rallies were held across the western
districts of Punjab and in Chandigarh against the desecration of the
churches. There were reports of police who broke up protest meetings
in villages with lathi charges and indiscriminate arrests. At present,
there are no Christians or Hindus in police custody barring the
printer and publisher of the banners.

On February 23rd, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Prakash Singh Badal
assured the aicc delegation’s head, Dr. John Dayal, aicc Secretary
General and member, National Integration Council, that he viewed the
matter seriously and has ordered officials to unravel the “entire
conspiracy”. Dr. Dayal demanded a judicial enquiry into the incidents
during the meeting.

Part of Larger Religious Discrimination in Punjab
At the last meeting of the National Integration Council in New Delhi
on 13 October 2008 chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Dr. Dayal
had personally briefed Mr. Badal on the tension brewing in the rural
districts of western Punjab where tens of thousands of Christians,
most of them of Dalit origin, live and are suffering from caste
oppression and attacks on their freedom of religion. Church meetings
are routinely denied permission, for example, and caste epithets are
used against the Christians. The chief minister had promised to have
the situation investigated and remedial action taken.

The recent incidents also exposed the utter lack of Christian
representation among the Punjab government. Less than half a dozen
Christian leaders, many of them related to each other, hold positions
in the Akali Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Indian
National Congress. They have little connection with the masses living
in villages, slums and poorly constructed ghettos outside some
villages. Most live in shadow of mansions owned by local Jat Sikhs
with relatives living abroad or the trading classes. Class and caste
barriers are clearly evident. In some villages, we were shocked to
find Dalit Christian working under bonded labour conditions with
family in brick kilns, and many employed in the fields during the
sowing or harvesting season where they compete with cheaper labour
from Bihar. The exception is Christians who have risen to high
positions in academics, the military, and the Church, with one
becoming a CNI bishop some years ago.

Punjab’s Christian population is around 300,000, about 1.2% of the
state population, mostly concentrated in Amritsar and villages in west
Punjab. The government is Akali-BJP coalition elected in February
2007.

Fact Finding Team Composition
The fact finding team included: Dr. John Dayal; Rev. Madhu Chandra,
aicc Regional Secretary, Delhi; M. Adeeb, Human Rights Law Network
lawyer; and Mr. Marang Hansda, aicc assistant. They visited Jalandhar,
Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Gurdaspur districts, including villages deep
in the rural hinterland from 22 to 25 February 2010, and Chandigarh.
—————–

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