India (MNN-GFA) — Gospel for Asia leaders in India have joined with the heads of other churches, ministries and Christian institutions in a five-day rally in New Delhi to protest the ongoing atrocities against Christians in Orissa and other Indian states, even as GFA President K.P. Yohannan reported new persecution against the beleaguered believers.
Called a dharna, the event is an Indian method of seeking justice, traditionally by sitting at the door of one's debtor or wrongdoer and fasting until justice is obtained. This dharna will continue until October 2, Mahatma Ghandis' birthday, when a peace march will end at the Raj Ghat, Ghandi's cremation site.
A one-day dharna was held at Raj Ghat last week to draw the attention of the government to the continuous violence against Christians. Representatives of other minorities joined with the Christians in this peaceful protest, and the decision was made to conduct the longer dharna this week.
Yohannan says church leaders are using this dharna. "The church leaders at large are petitioning the Central Government, asking them not only to step in, but also to ban the entities that are responsible for this brutal persecution."
"I believe the Lord is going to use this event," Dr. Yohannan said, "and I have instructed our leaders all over India to seek out other Christian leaders and meet with them and stand with them in this time of persecution."
GFA-related leaders participating in the dharna include Bishop Simon John, the Rev. Thomas Varghese, a number of senior staff members from GFA's Delhi office, and staff members from a local GFA Bible college.
"Bishop Simon John is one of the most visible Christian leaders in North India speaking out against the abuse of the Christians in Orissa and other states," Dr. Yohannan noted. And at the one-day dharna, he was joined by H. D. Deve Gowda, a former prime minister of India.
Gowda came to New Delhi and sat with the Christian leaders. He criticized what he called "the continuous inhuman acts of the Bajrang Dal," the so-called "Hindu warriors," and appealed to the central government to stop the atrocities against the Christians.
"But sadly," noted Dr. Yohannan, "even as the dharna is going on, the situation in Orissa continues to get worse. But little is being reported to the outside world now because the media is being kept out, even as entire villages are being destroyed."
In a telephone report from India, Dr. Yohannan shared some of what the radical anti-Christian groups are doing.
"The politicians in New Delhi need to know that even now, the radical Hindus are going through many districts, putting a Hindu flag on the Hindu houses to identify them," he explained. "Then they are going to the Christian homes and giving them so many days to convert, or they will destroy their houses. When the Christians refuse to renounce their faith, the Hindus go through and tear down their houses."
Even late last week, he said, an article on the front page of a leading newspaper called the situation "awful" and reported that the government of Orissa is still not taking action.
"I pray that this dharna, along with the prayers of Christians around the world, will have an effect on the government," Dr. Yohannan declared.
In the meantime, he said, things grow worse, even in the places where Christians are seeking refuge.
"One of the worst things I've heard is that the police are harassing the people in the refugee camps–some 15,000 Christians who fled for their lives–and trying to force them to go back to their villages, where the police know they will be attacked and possibly killed," Dr. Yohannan said. "I just have one thing to say to the Christians in the West: Keep on praying!"
This violence violates the constitutional rights of Christians, and Yohannan says it is having an impact on their work. "The freedom to move around and preach the Gospel is greatly hindered by this kind of abuse and persecution. We're just praying and encouraging our people to continue to witness and pay the price."
The dharna is expected to end at 2 p.m. Thursday with a peace march to Raj Ghat, where the Christian leaders will present a memorandum to top government officials calling for action to prevent further persecution of Christians and other minorities.