The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat state has resumed the secret survey of Christian institutions it began eight years ago. Extremists have used such surveys to target religious minorities for violence.
In response to a petition filed by the All India Christian Council (AICC), the Gujarat High Court on July 2 took note of the survey, allegedly conducted by police in Zone 6 of Gujarat’s Ahmedabad city in April.
“This is the fifth time that the Gujarat government has gathered information about Christian institutions in the state,” petitioner Samson Christian, Gujarat state head and national executive member of the AICC, told Compass. “We fear that the data would be handed over to Hindu extremists for launching organized attacks against Christian institutions.”
Christian said police interrogated workers of several Christian institutions, including Operation Mobilisation (OM), Church of North India and Salvation Army, in Ahmedabad.
Raju Christie, Gujarat head of OM, confirmed that police interrogated his workers.
“Policemen came to our office in Behrampura area, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Kagra Peet police station, in my absence, and asked my staff objectionable questions like where the money comes from and how many people in the organization are converts,” he told Compass.
Ahmedabad Police Commissioner J. Mahapatra categorically denied to Compass that any such survey was underway in any part of the city.
But the head of Kagra Peet police station, R.K. Patel, admitted that officers visited Christian institutions in the area. “We did make a list of Christian institutions, as we were asked to do so to ensure peace and protection of ‘vital installations,’” he said. “But that was a few months ago.”
State governments designate certain structures, monuments and buildings of government institutions as “vital installations,” which police protect against possible terror attacks.
On July 2, the high court issued notices to federal minister Ram Vilas Paswan, federal home secretary and secretary general of the Lok Sabha (House of the People), in connection with the survey. A Dalit, Paswan is also president of the Lok Janshakti Party.
“The Gujarat government had earlier told the court that in 2003, Paswan asked all the states to gather information about Christian institutions as a basis for a national law against conversions,” AICC leader Christian explained. “This is why the court issued notices to Paswan and the federal government.”
Christian added that the BJP was trying to punish Paswan, known as a pro-minorities official, by making a false allegation against him.
At the next hearing, which took place yesterday, the federal government sought more time to file its reply. The court deferred the hearing, which is yet to be scheduled.
Community surveys in Gujarat first began in 1999, in the wake of the anti-Christian violence in the Dangs district. Officials maintained that they were gathering information in order to ensure the security of the Christian community.
A judge of the Gujarat High Court, M.R. Kella, took note of the survey on February 16, 1999, based on a report in the Asian Age newspaper.
In 2001, the government again started collecting data on Christians. The AICC filed a petition in the high court against it, resulting in an order to halt the survey.
The state government again carried out a similar survey – under the pretext of a criminal investigation – in March 2003. Christians saw it as a build-up to the anti-conversion bill later introduced in the state assembly.
The AICC again approached the state high court against the census. The Gujarat government again gave an assurance to the court that it would not conduct any such survey.
The Gujarat government, however, yet again resumed the survey in May 2003. The AICC again filed a petition challenging it. As a result, the Gujarat High Court on May 29, 2003 issued a desist notice.
“During the killing of hundreds of members of the Muslim minority community in various parts of Gujarat in 2002, the Hindu extremists, who came from outside the areas where they shed blood and vandalized property, knew well which houses or shops belonged to Muslims,” Christian said. “In the light of this, such a survey of Christians is nothing less than fearful.”
The state assembly election is expected to take place in Gujarat later in December.
There are only 284,092 Christians in Gujarat, which has a population of close to 50.7 million.
Source : Compass Direct News, Santa Ana, California/USA and Istanbul, Turkey. Compass Direct News is a partner agency of APD.