Christian Leader Accused Of Igniting Sectarian Hatred Is Arrested

2006-03-17 00:00:00

After a monthlong chase across India, police arrested the head of a neo-Christian sect on charges of spreading religious hatred through a book.

Samuel Thomas, chairperson of Emmanuel Mission International (EMI), was arrested March 16 outside his lawyer´s house in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi. His Protestant mission is based in Kota, a town in the northwestern state of Rajasthan, 500 kilometers southwest of New Delhi.

A seven-member police team from Rajasthan arrested Thomas, despite objections from people at the residence of Supreme Court lawyer R.K. Jain.

The Rajasthan police have registered cases against EMI officials for selling the controversial book, Haqeeqat (reality), which Hindu leaders say denigrates Hindu deities and Indian culture.

Samuel Thomas calls himself a bishop of EMI, founded by his father M.A. Thomas, who is known varyingly as Bishop or Archbishop Thomas.

The Rajasthan government banned the controversial book at the end of 2005, but Hindu groups in the state have continued a campaign against the EMI and its leaders. The book, written by M.G. Mathew, responds to A Bunch of Thoughts, authored by M.S. Golwalkar, a Hindu ideologue. Mathew´s book was distributed in Rajasthan through EMI outlets.

As the Hindu campaign intensified in February, the two EMI leaders were in the United States. Since their return they have been trying to arrange anticipatory bail. Their bail application is pending in the Rajasthan High Court. The senior Thomas has not yet been arrested.

Sanjay Agarwal, Kota police chief, told media March 16 that they started tracking the junior Thomas´ movements after they learned that he was in New Delhi.

Abraham Mathai, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, says the arrest was conducted "in violation of all established conventions of human rights and protocol accorded a religious leader." He said in a statement that Thomas was arrested at gunpoint and was treated like "a common criminal."

Mathai´s statement said the Thomases now face "state repression for a crime they never committed." He pointed out that the book was neither written nor published by the EMI leaders.

The book is "only an excuse to target these wonderful citizens who spent their life in service of orphans and leprosy patients of India," Mathai said. He also termed as "incredible" that the Rajasthan police arrested Thomas while those who vandalized Christian institutions "are roaming around freely to celebrate his arrest."

John Mathew, a senior EMI official, told UCA News "it was obvious" the Rajasthan government has been "working overtime" for this arrest. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people´s party) now rules the state.

The government networked with all state police agencies in other states and sent search teams to Kerala, the native state of the Thomases in southern India. The junior Thomas´ arrest indicates the "determination" of the Rajasthan government "to subjugate Christians," Mathew said.

Father Raymond Coelho, who heads the ecumenical Rajasthan Christian Fellowship, said the arrest targeting one institution seems to have been inspired by personal enmity.

Speaking with UCA News, the Catholic priest cited physical attacks on Church personnel and property in Rajasthan´s southern districts of Banswara, Dungarpur and Udaipur. Those incidents, he added, were part of a plan by radical Hindus to introduce a law against religious conversion in the state.

"Whatever the reason, the Christians in Rajasthan are at the receiving end. All the good works done in the past in education and health care and social work are being forgotten," Father Coelho regretted.

Sohan Lal Bhati, secretary of Confederation Rajasthan, told newspersons in Jaipur March 16 the government has taken no action against authors of similar books now being sold.


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