Tuesday, March 3, 2015

RLPB 299. INDIA: Supreme Court ruling a coup for Hindutva

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 299 | Wed 04 March 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

'Scheduled castes' and 'scheduled tribes' are those deemed to be backward, requiring affirmative action and government benefits. India declared Independence in 1947. In the 1950s the Nehru government passed a law limiting the definition of 'scheduled caste' to members of the Hindu faith. The theory behind the law was that upon leaving Hinduism, converts would escape the constraints of caste and be free to rise above it. In reality, caste in India is like a stain that never washes out -- it is inescapable. Consequently, scheduled caste Hindus who convert to Christianity still suffer caste discrimination, yet without access to benefits or reserved job or university places, leaving them truly impoverished. Unfortunately, as Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) ideologues rightly note, caste discrimination extends deep into the Church. Christians have been appealing through the courts for more than a decade for benefits and reservations to be allotted equitably: according to need, not religion [RLPB 276 (2 Nov 2014)].  Hindutva, however, promotes religious apartheid and strongly opposes equity.

In 1976 the court ruled that if a Christian born to scheduled caste (Hindu) converts-to-Christianity, wants to 'return' (i.e. convert) to Hinduism and receive scheduled caste benefits, he/she should be free to do so. The ruling thus set a limit of one generation: i.e. a Christian 'returning' to Hinduism could claim the caste status his/her parents had prior to their conversion. In 2006 the Kerala High Court ruled against KP Manu, a 'returnee' to Hinduism. Manu's scheduled caste (Hindu) grandparents were the first in his family to convert to Christianity. Born to Christian parents in 1960, Manu 'returned' to Hinduism in 1984, claimed the scheduled caste status of his grandparents, and got a reserved government job. However, the local Hindu community did not accept him, suspecting him to be a fraud, as he did not participate in Hindu rituals. The Hindu community complained, saying Manu was not entitled to a reserved job because his parents were Christians. With that, Manu's job was terminated and he was ordered to pay back the salary he had earned. When the Kerala High Court upheld the termination, Manu appealed to the Supreme Court.

On Thursday 26 February 2015 the Supreme Court (SC) ruled in Manu's favour, setting aside the High Court judgment. It also extended the 1976 ruling, removing the one generation limit so that now any Christian 'returning' to Hinduism is guaranteed the caste of their ancestors along with the benefits. To receive scheduled caste status, converts need only prove they have an ancestor who was a member of that scheduled caste and that the community will accept them.

The SC ruling has sent shockwaves through the Christian community which has been lobbying for equity. The ruling consolidates inequity and the religious apartheid of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism). Furthermore, the court ruling legitimises the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP's) ghar wapsi ('homecoming' / 're-conversion') campaign, just as the VHP is escalating its efforts across the country. The SC ruling essentially establishes an incentive for impoverished Christians to 'return' to Hinduism.

'Those who left the Hindu fold had made a mistake,' said BJP (Hindu nationalist) MP Yogi Adityanath. 'We are trying to rectify their mistake through ghar wapsi. Ghar wapsi shall continue until a law on religious conversion is brought in. ... If such a law was in place at the time of Independence,' he said, 'then the population of Christians would not have risen from a mere 0.7 per cent to seven per cent.' VHP president Pravin Togadia has expressed concerns that if Hindus [who comprise 72 percent] are not protected from 'forced conversion' they will become a 'minority in their own country'. He is calling for India to be made a Hindu Rastra (Hindu State) to 'protect Hindus from discrimination'. Meanwhile, Sadhvi Prachi Arya, a prominent VHP leader, has vowed that the ghar wapsi programme will continue until the 15 crore [150 million] people who, she claimed, have left the Hindu fold since Independence, are 'reconverted to Hinduism'. Nothing leaves impoverished Christians (the main targets of ghar wapsi) more vulnerable to 're-conversion' than the caste discrimination within the Church.


* pour out his Spirit of repentance, grace and courage upon the Church in India, eliminating caste discrimination within the Church, proliferating generous and sacrificial love for the Body of Christ.  '... for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' (From Galatians 3:23-29 ESV)

* raise up advocates who will 'speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.' (Proverbs 31:8-9 NIV); may India's gross inequity and religious apartheid be denounced and challenged at home and abroad.

* comfort, provide for and greatly bless all those Indians who choose to trust and follow Christ in spite of the cost being violent persecution and crippling poverty.

'For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.' (2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV)

ALSO - URGENT:  Please remember the more than 200 Assyrian Christians being held captive by IS in Syria and the 35 Copts being held captive by IS in Libya. Recently, the decapitated body of a Copt named Mansour Saad Awad was discovered on the outskirts of the town of Mechili, in Cyrenaica, eastern Libya. IS has issued threats against Copts in northern Sinai, ordering their expulsion from Wilayat Sinai (the IS province of Sinai). Some 30 Coptic families have fled their homes but between 200 and 300 Coptic families remain, having nowhere to go. Pray for the Christians of the Middle East.


Indian law mandates that only Hindus can be members of 'scheduled' castes who are eligible for government benefits and reserved jobs. On 26 February 2015 India's Supreme Court opened the way for Christians to convert to Hinduism and access scheduled caste benefits. Converts will need merely to prove they have an ancestor who was a member of a scheduled caste and that they have the support of the local Hindu community. For decades Christians have been fighting in the courts for equity: for government benefits to be available to the needy regardless of religion. The Supreme Court ruling consolidates the inequity and religious apartheid of Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) at a time when Hindutva forces are escalating their re-conversion efforts across the nation. Please pray for the Church in India.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

RLPB 298. Feb Update; Incl. Nigeria, Egypt, Laos, Pakistan, Philippines, Sudan

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 298 | Wed 25 Feb 2015

By Elizabeth Kendal

Hasseka Province in Syria's north-east is contiguous with Nineveh in northern Iraq and historically home to many Assyrian Christians. Since early 2012 the region has been heavily infiltrated by jihadists entering from Turkey (to fight the Kurds) and coming across from Mosul with a view to establishing a Caliphate. Presented with the options of conversion to Islam, subjugation with jizya (protection money), death or exile, most of Hasseka's Christians opted for exile and fled; only a remnant remained.

On Monday 23 February at about 4am Islamic State (IS) jihadists stormed 35 Assyrian Christian villages along a 40km stretch of the Khabour River south of Qomishli in Hasseka Province, forcing some 3000 Christians to flee for their lives. Churches were razed and at least 150 Christians are now captives of IS, which recently called for Christians to be killed (see RLPB 297). IS has reportedly demanded a prisoner exchange with Kurdish forces. If the Kurds do not release their captured jihadists, then the Christian captives will be killed -- and it will be awful. Pray for a miracle and that God's promised presence will be palpable as God dwells with his people. This is the 'sanctuary' (miqdas: place where God dwells) promised to the faithful in Isaiah 8:11-14a. [See footnote.]

FEB 2015 UPDATE -- During February we prayed concerning ...

* NIGERIA (RLPB 295), where elections -- now postponed to 28 March -- threaten to destabilise the nation further.

* NIGERIA (RLPB 296). When Boko Haram attacked Baga in Nigeria's far north-east on 3 January, it razed the town, seized the military base of the multi-national force stationed there and killed an estimated 2000 civilians. From Baga, Boko Haram moved against the Borno capital, Maiduguri, which they failed to infiltrate, though they did capture Monguno on 25 January, along with its large military base [RLPB 294, (27 Jan)]. It also launched attacks in northern Cameroon and south-east Niger. Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have agreed to assemble a regional joint force to tackle the problem and totally 'dismantle' Boko Haram.

UPDATE: On 11 February Boko Haram used two girls as suicide bombers in an attack on Diffa in south-east Niger, killing seven. On 16 February a female suicide bomber was used to attack a bus station in Damaturu, Yobe State. On 21 February the Nigerian Army liberated Baga, scoring a significant victory. There were many casualties and the jihadists were forced to abandon much weaponry. Mopping up continues. On Sunday 22 February a seven-year-old girl died along with seven others when Boko Haram attacked a market in the city of Potiskum, Yobe, using the seven-year-old girl as a suicide bomber. Terrorism continues. US military equipment to aid in the fight against Boko Haram has arrived in Cameroon. On Tues 24 February Chadian soldiers engaged Boko Haram fighters near Garambu in Nigeria's far north-east, reportedly killing 207 jihadists. May the Lord break through his enemies in northern Nigeria.

* In a separate incident gunmen stormed the Hope Academy compound in Emiworo, Kogi State, south of Abuja, on Monday night 23 February and kidnapped American Free Methodist Church missionary Rev Phyllis Sortor. Nothing else is known at present. Please pray.

* LIBYA-EGYPT (RLPB 297), where Copts are imperilled since IS called for a jihad against them on the false grounds that they persecute Muslim women. The beheading of 21 Copts on a Libyan beach -- an act IS described as 'a message signed with blood to the nation of the Cross' (i.e. for Christians everywhere) -- has shattered the Coptic community. However, mingled with the grief is a sense of honour [link includes moving video]. We can assume that in line with Sharia protocols, the Copts would have been given an opportunity to renounce Christ and convert to Islam to save their lives. Instead, they died proclaiming 'Yasouh, Yasouh, Jesus, Jesus'. As several commentators have noted, the Coptic martyrs had the victory that day, dying undefeated. Also, as Sam Solomon (a convert from Islam) notes, 'We know this was not the end of the story, according to the promise of our Lord in Revelation 2:10, "... Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown".' 

Art by Tony Rezk source
[Blog by Tony Rezk, "Loving Your Enemies"
Messages from the Bible Society of Egypt: (1) & (2)]

FEBRUARY 2015 ROUND-UP -- also this month ...


On 12 February the People's Court of Savannakhet Province ruled that five Christian leaders -- pastors (Mrs) Kaithong, Puphet, Muk and Hasadee, as well as lay-leader Tiang -- were guilty of a criminal offence causing death. They had been arrested in June 2014 as they gathered to mourn Mrs Chan's death after a long period of illness and hospitalisation [see RLPB 266 (25 June 2014)]. Because they had prayed with Mrs Chan, the Christians were deemed to have practised medicine without a licence, for which they were issued huge fines and sentenced to nine months in prison. The Christians were denied legal representation. This is gross injustice and abuse of power by authorities who just want to intimidate and persecute church leaders. Prison conditions in Laos are appalling and torture is routine. Please pray.


BACKGROUND: On 16 December 2014, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) stormed an army-run school in Peshawar (the capital of Pakistan's north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province), killing over 140 students and staff. Schools across the region were subsequently closed so security measures could be put in place. On 23 January 2015 some 300 Muslims protesting Charlie Hebdo magazine attacked a Christian school in Bannu, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, scaling the walls and forcing open the gates. Armed with iron bars and clubs, they smashed windows and demanded the school's closure; four students were wounded in the pogrom.

The Pakistan government has designated army-run and Christian-run schools to be A+ security risks, passing a law obliging them to implement expensive security measures. As Barnabas Fund (BF) reports: 'These include an eight-foot-high (2.4m) perimeter wall with two feet (0.6m) of barbed wire on top; CCTV cameras; metal detector walk-though gates; evacuation points; and records of staff and students.' Government funding is available, but only for government schools. According to BF, many Christian schools are not being permitted to reopen because they do not meet the new minimum security standards. Those that have opened face government fines and closure. Without a massive injection of funds many Christian schools will be forced to close. [Donate] Pray that the Lord of Hosts will shield his precious children and provide all their needs.


On Sunday 25 January a fire-fight erupted in Mamasapano in the southern region of Mindanao.  Philippines Special Action Forces (SAF) elite troops had been chasing a 'high-value target' believed to be behind recent bomb attacks in the south, when gunmen from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) opened fire on them. After an eleven-hour gun battle, at least 44 elite SAF commandos and eight civilians lay dead, with many more wounded. The clash comes at a delicate time, with MILF and the Philippines government entering the final stages of a 'peace deal' designed to place a large section of Mindanao under MILF control [to be known as the Bangsamoro Judicial Entity].
Many maintain it is unconstitutional and a betrayal of the Christian population [see RLPB 180 (9 Oct 2012)]. The 'Mamasapano Massacre' puts the peace deal in doubt, especially as MILF is refusing to hand over the killers (claiming the dead are simply 'casualties of war') and refusing to return the weapons it captured (deeming them 'war booty'). Pray for the Church in Mindanao and that the Philippines will know good governance.


Though the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum holds documents proving ownership, a Muslim businessman has been given permission to develop the church's land on the grounds that government agents, who infiltrated the church and established an illegitimate committee, sold the  property to him [see RLPB 288 (25 Nov 2014)]. Much of the church has been demolished and numerous believers arrested, including pastors. On 6 January a court ruled in favour of the legitimate church committee. However, the illegitimate committee appealed and the ruling was overturned in the Supreme Court. On 18 February the police issued the church with a court order to relinquish the property. The church's lawyers have lodged an appeal. According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Yein Reith have also been detained while Sudanese Intelligence is waging a campaign of intimidation, vilification and confiscation against Mr Rafat Samir Mussad Obid, the chairman of the Sudan Evangelical Presbyterian Church (SEPC) Council responsible for church buildings and land. This is all part of Khartoum's campaign of systematic intimidation and persecution of the Church and of South Sudanese residing in Sudan. Please pray.

Footnote: For more on God's promised presence and the Isaiah 8:11-14a text, see 'Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today', chapter 3: 'A Paradigm for Threatened Christians' . See also, 'The Promise Presence' (pdf).

Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).