By Elizabeth Kendal
Kashmiri Christians are coming under increased pressure to return to Islam since Kashmir's Islamic clerics and scholars decided to crack down hard on fitna (anything that could shake the faith of a Muslim) and put an end to apostasy in the semi-autonomous province.
The clerics established the Majlis Tahaffuz-e-Imaan (Council for Protection of Faith) after video footage emerged of seven young Kashmiri men being baptised in All Saints Church, Srinagar.
Background: Eliminating fitna in Indian-administered Kashmir
By Elizabeth Kendal, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 22 Jan 2012
According to Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), the atmosphere in Srinagar is increasingly tense. "The situation is precarious and unstable. Islamic fundamentalists have threatened to seize all the properties of the families of the converts in order to have them go back to Islam. Intimidations have had their effect, at least partly. Three of the seven converts have decided to abjure Christianity."
On 29 January, Kashmir Watch (a Europe-based news portal of Kashmir International Research Centre) posted an article entitled: "Over 20,000 converted to Christianity since 1990 in Kashmir". The article gives further insight into the pressure Kashmiri Christians are facing.
After detailing the Christian missionary "operation", which allegedly is advanced by means of "close coordination under a well-thought out strategy", the writer reports:
"A north Kashmir religious Madrassa is presently working on 115 Kashmiri Christian converts to bring them back to Islamic fold. A functionary of the Madrassa involved the job told the Honour [the writer] that the Madrassa has already brought back 150 converts over the past some months. He said that there are reports of scores of other people who have converted to Christianity. 'We are collecting details. We would try to catch them all and persuade them to revert to Islam', he said. (emphasis mine)
"Details also revealed that the conversions are voluntary, and are done for material benefits. One of the eight (sic) converts, whose video was posted on YouTube recently, is reported to have converted for a paltry sum of Rs.5000. He is a poor labourer who changed religion in the hope of getting some financial aid from the Christian Missionary to pay off bank loan his father had taken."
The writer goes on to lament that "ritual press statements, street protests, in-house meetings, seminars and routine condemnations was all that came up from the religious leadership. Mufti Bashiruddin did not move beyond asking for expulsion of Pastors." The writer would like to see the religious leadership sleeping less and acting more, so they might actually become "the embodiment of what they say" in their sermons.
The writer did not elaborate on what this would mean in practice.
In an article entitled "Kashmir zealots push Christians into valley of fear" (23 Jan 2012, Times of India), Randeep Singh Nandal comments that the recent conversions have opened the door "for further pressure on the 400-odd Christians in the Valley. The two missionary schools in Srinagar are now facing calls to include Islamic prayers as part of the curriculum and prove they do not promote Christianity.
"The few foreign nationals who live here are harassed," Nandal writes, quoting one foreigner who told him: "I got a call around midnight, and this man on the phone asked me how many Bibles I had, how my 'real motive' was known to him."
"Local converts are worse off," notes Nandal. "A few weeks ago, the mere rumour that a few boys in a Ganderbal village had converted led to a raids by five carloads of men led by a maulvi from a madrassa. Their homes were ransacked."
Into this already incendiary climate came a highly inflamatory and no doubt slanderous feature article. Published 20 January 2012 on greaterkashmir.com , it alleges to be the confession of a repentant convert.
See: "Apostasy Unveiled!"
When teenager converted to be John Douglas
By M HYDERI, Greater Kashmir, 20 Jan 2012
As Randeep Singh Nandal (Times of India) notes, "the alleged first person account of one of the boys pastor Khanna had converted . . . reads like a film script".
The boy -- whose name is given as Imran -- claims he was trapped by Pastor Khanna who used a girl to entice him to drink alcohol. After filming Imran in a "boozy" state, the pastor then allegedly used the video recording to blackmail the boy. Imran claims that, on account of the pastor, he became "progressively addicted to alcohol, women, money, drugs, and the promise of weapons".
"At each stage," notes Nandal, "pastor Khanna's personal involvement is recorded."
For Nandal, this passage was the "highlight":
"And then came the Black Sunday. Imran says he was asked to attend a prayers at a place other than church. There were candles lit up all around and an empty glass was lying inside. As prayers went on someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. When Imran asked what it was, he was told it was swine blood which they all had to drink. 'For a moment I couldn't even think of touching but then in no time Khanna took some sips, next I drank it and after that many more including Khanna's daughter did the same.'"
According to Nandal, "This is the most talked about news in Srinagar - on twitter and facebook, in living rooms and cafes.'One comes to know the extent to which these people will go to convert,' read a facebook comment."
As Sudha Ramachandran writes for Asia Times online (1 Feb 2012): "The treatment meted out to clergy and threats to the Christian community and its institutions have triggered fears that they, like the Pandits before them, will have to flee the Valley."
Ramachandran explains how between January and March 1990, some 300,000 Hindu Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir Valley after the Hizbul Mujahideen ordered their expulsion.
Memory of this event still brings anxiety to the hearts of Kashmir's religious minorities.
"The past two decades has witnessed the rise of a doctrinaire Islam in Kashmir," writes Ramachandran. "Kashmiri Christians fear that they are now in the crosshairs of religious radicals."