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Court in India rules against forced government religious survey

DELHI, India (BP)–The High Court in India’s Ghujarat state issued a desist notice May 29 to the state government and police officials who had been conducting a religious census among Christians, Compass Direct news service reported May 30.

The government of India’s Gujarat state had restarted gathering community-based information in villages in one of its northern districts, heightening concerns among local Christians, Compass reported.

The Christians’ concern: that census information will be used by militant Hindu organizations to stir up trouble in an area that suffered 443 major clashes between religious groups between 1970 and 2002.

A similar survey of Christians in Gujarat was carried out by the state government in March, and Christians saw it as a build-up to an anti-conversion bill later introduced in the state assembly and passed on March 26, stirring controversy across India.

On May 24, according to media reports, a team led by police inspector A.H. Jardosh in Gujarat’s Patan district arrived after midnight at a Catholic retreat center in the village of Dungripur. They awakened a 69-year-old priest who manages the center to ask questions, but he refused to cooperate without a written warrant.

The next morning, the police team visited the area again, this time in civilian dress, and conducted a survey at the retreat center and a branch of the Daughters of the Cross Education and Medical Society. Officers asked about the background of some students living in the center, the kind of food and facilities provided and whether any of the residents are converts from Hinduism.

The team also visited the homes of some 10 Christian families, asking them about their sources of income, why they kept pictures of Jesus Christ and when they had embraced Christianity.

A similar survey was carried out later in the neighboring Tankvasna, Odhava and Khalipur villages.

On May 26, police summoned the superintendent and the watchman of the Catholic retreat center to the police station in Taluk to cross-check the information the manager and a sister with the Daughters of the Cross had given them.

On being questioned by reporters, State Director-General of Police K. Chakravarthy denied that police commanders had issued any survey instructions. However, government officials later acknowledged that senior police officers had visited the area to “ascertain reports about conversion of 18 people to Christianity.”

The All India Christian Council filed a petition challenging the recent census. As a result, the Gujarat High Court on May 29 issued a desist notice to the state government, the director general of police, the Patan district superintendent of police and the police inspector of the Taluk police station.

The head of the Catholic retreat center, identified by Compass Direct as Father Gonsalves, told the news service that the police officials were “not interested in gathering genuine information, which we were furnishing them with. Rather, the officials plied domestic servants with peculiar questions about the functioning of Christian institutions in the region. Two of them were even asked if they have been converted to Christianity and if the institution forces villagers to convert.”

Community surveys were first initiated in 1999 in the wake of the violence against Christians in the Dangs district of Gujarat. Officials maintained they were gathering information in order to ensure the security of the Christian community.

However, the questions asked suggest a different story. Intimidating inquiries probe whether Christians receive foreign grant money, how much they received and from which countries. Christians are asked whether they have been involved in any legal problems and the type of license they have for keeping weapons.

This is the fourth attempt by the Gujarat government to gather information that is not even available to census officials or tax auditors from the Foreign Contribution Regulation Department of the Home Ministry. Despite three High Court orders and continual written complaints from Christians, the state government has continued the surveys in the name of carrying out an “investigation based on some reports of conversion.”
Used by permission of Compass Direct, a news service focusing on persecuted Christians and based in Santa Ana, Calif.

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  • Vishal Arora