Churches in India decry Kashmir court order targeting Christians

By Anto Akkara
Posted Jan 24, 2012

[Ecumenical News International] Churches in India have decried the verdict of an Islamic court in Kashmir that ordered the expulsion of Christians, including a Protestant pastor and a Dutch Catholic missionary, and recommended government control of Christian schools.

“This is totally unacceptable,” Samuel Jayakumar, a spokesperson for the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), told ENInews Jan. 23 from New Delhi. “India is a secular country and the personal law of a community should be confined to itself,” Jayakumar said. Shariah courts have no secular legal standing in India.

On Jan. 19, the Shariah court in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, where Muslims are in the majority, ordered the expulsion of Church of North India (CNI) pastor Chander Mani Khanna who was found “guilty” of conversions, and four other Christians.

“Khanna and his associates have been found guilty of spreading communal disaffection and were involved in immoral activities. They are ordered to be expelled from the state,” deputy Grand Mufti of Jammu and Kashmir Nasir-ul-Islam said.

Khanna had been arrested in November by state police after Muslim groups pressed conversion charges against him for baptizing five Muslims and a Hindu. While the pastor was released on bail, the Shariah court went ahead with its own trial.

The court also named Dutch Catholic missionary Father Jim Borst, who has been based in Kashmir since 1963. A popular retreat preacher, Borst has been running the Good Shepherd School in the Kashmir valley.

“What surprises us is the silence of the government. Are we really living in a free country?” bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantroy, CNI bishop of Amritsar, told ENInews.

As for the Shariah court demanding government control of Christian schools, John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council, said that “the overwhelming majority of the students and even teachers in the Christian schools in Kashmir are Muslims.”