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Kerala Police Crack Down On ´Faith Healers´


May 28 2008

Some Christian pastors in Kerala state, southern India, have been targets of raids by police looking into the wealth "faith healers" have amassed.

"We are not against any religion or spiritual leader. But we have received several complaints against many faith healers, who have mushroomed in the state," Kerala Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan told UCA News on May 27.

The minister, who ordered the crackdown, said the government wants to keep an eye on spiritual leaders who become "rich within a short period."

On May 25, the police raided the office and residence of Abraham Kuruvilla, who started Heavenly Feast Ministries in 1998 in Kottayam, 2,650 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The group claims about 100,000 members from various religions, and its website says 20,000 people attend its Sunday prayer services in Kottayam. Kuruvilla also conducts weekly programs on local television channels.

Mathew Polycarp, Kottayam district police superintendent, told UCA News the raid unearthed foreign currency worth 100,000 rupees (approximately US$2,300) from Kuruvilla´s house, documents related to more than half a dozen land deals and two passports. The police will hand over the case to related law-enforcement agencies for a detailed probe, he added.

Brother Tom, who looks after the Heavenly Feast Ministries headquarters, told UCA News they are "least bothered" about the police raid. "It´s all a media creation," he said. "If we have done anything wrong, let the law punish us. But the media is trying to tarnish our image among the public."

The police also raided the headquarters of Believer´s Church, a Pentecostal community headed by Archbishop K.P. Yohannan and based in Pathanamthitta district, 60 kilometers south of Kottayam. Started in 1979, the group has assets worth more than 50 billion rupees (US$1.16 billion).

Bishop Samuel Mathew, the group´s second-highest official, told UCA News on May 27 that Believer´s Church has 1.5 million followers in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal and Sri Lanka. In India alone it also has more than 200 staff, who manage a seminary, Bible colleges and daily programs for around 43,000 children in 400 locations. The annual budget of their Gospel for Asia program exceeds 30 million dollars, he added.

Bishop Mathew said his Church has nothing to hide, since its activities are all above board. They have cooperated with the investigations and submitted records of all donations received, he added.

The crackdown on "faith healers" began on May 13, when police arrested Santhosh Madhavan, whom some people consider a Hindu "godman," on charges of cheating an Indian woman working in Dubai. Police recovered a pornographic CD collection from his bank safe-deposit lockers and have registered five cases against him, including the rape of minor girls.

Several such self-proclaimed spiritual leaders have come under police scrutiny. Another Hindu godman tried to shoot at media people as the police raided his place.

Meanwhile, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (national volunteers corps), the national umbrella organization of right-wing Hindu groups, blocked local public meetings conducted by Heavenly Feast Ministries and demanded police action against Kuruvilla.

Kummanam Rajasekharan, leader of Hindu Aikyavedi (Hindu united forum), accused the police of sparing Christian faith healers, who he said have made millions by cheating people.

According to the Hindu leader, Kuruvilla made a lot of money in a short period. Even a medical officer has dismissed claims of Kuruvilla´s healing powers, he told UCA News.