AP Photo/Manish Swarup
A Catholic and
two Hindu visitors with leprosy in Karnataka state were freed on bail
on June 14, two days after they were beaten by suspected Hindu
extremists and arrested on charges of forcible conversion.
Police arrested the Catholic, retired Indian Army Cpl. Henry Baptist
Robey, and two guests from Tamil Nadu state, Ram Moorthy and another
identified only as Mani, from Robey’s house on Hennur-Bellary Road in
the state capital of Bangalore while they and others were celebrating
Pentecost on June 12.
“I was arrested under
Section 295(A) of the Indian Penal Code after a few men lodged a
complaint that I was converting leprosy patients,” Robey told Compass by
Violation of Section 295(A), “deliberate and
malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings” of others, is
punishable with imprisonment of up to three years and/or a fine.
Robey said about 80 leprosy patients from neighboring Tamil Nadu state
came to his house after he invited them to a special Pentecost prayer
“All the leprosy patients who had come for the
prayer function told the police that they were Hindu, and that they were
not being converted, but the police still registered a complaint
against us,” Robey said. “Police should have arrested the complainants,
who forcibly came into my house and searched every room and beat some of
the leprosy patients as the police looked on.”
Circle Inspector Hanumantharayappa acknowledged to Compass that two of the accused were Hindus.
“They brought others from Tamil Nadu state to Bangalore not just for
food [but to be converted],” the inspector said. “They [the two Hindus]
were paid for that, that’s what the complainants said.”
He denied that the two arrested visitors were leprosy patients.
Asked why the leprosy patients said they were not being converted and
that they had come voluntarily—and asked who were the real victims in
the case—the official said he would share “each and every detail”
after a preliminary investigation.
Dr. Sajan K. George of
the Karnataka-based Global Council of Indian Christians, who reported
the incident, said he had petitioned the National Human Rights
Commission against the filing of charges against Robey.
tragedy of the whole thing is that, though the very leprosy patients
repeatedly told the police that they visit and receive their gifts every
year and that there are no conversions as had been alleged, the police
did not pay any heed,” George said. “Perhaps in the days to come, giving
alms from the window of your house will be construed as an attempt to
convert if you are a Christian and the receiver a Hindu leprosy
Some of the visitors from Tamil Nadu were sitting on the veranda as they ate lunch, Robey said.
“I was told by some of them that cameramen had come from the media to
take pictures,” Robey said. “I didn’t pay much attention. But then I
heard some noise and found out that a crowd of men had gathered around
my house. They alleged I had brought the leprosy patients for
conversion. I explained I am just interested in taking care of them as
fellow human beings and not interested in their conversion. But they
were not willing to listen.”
The crowd soon swelled to over
100. While Robey could not say with certainty who the men were, some
local residents later told him that they belonged to the Hindu extremist
Jai Karnataka group, said to have close ties with the ruling Hindu
nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
arrived and took Robey and all his guests to the police post. All were
released two hours later except Robey and the two Hindu lepers. That
night they were taken to the Hennur police station and officially
On the morning of June 13, police took them to
court, and they were sent in judicial custody to Bangalore Central Jail.
Their plea for bail was initially rejected, but the next day they were
Leprosy patients, believed to be religiously
impure and physically contagious—though the disease is hardly
infectious after treatment—live in isolated hamlets in India. Robey
has been going to a village in Tamil Nadu state twice a year to provide
them clothing, medicines and ration.
“Some of them said they really wanted to come for the prayer, and I invited them,” he said. “What’s wrong with that?”
He said he was charged with a victimless crime.
Karnataka recorded the highest number of anti-Christian attacks among
all Indian states in 2009 and 2010. Of the at least 149 anti-Christian
incidents recorded nationally in 2010, 56 were from Karnataka, according
to the Evangelical Fellowship of India. In 2009, Karnataka witnessed at
least 48 attacks. The year 2008 was even worse, with at least 28
attacks reported in less than two months in August and September.
Attacks on Christians increased in the state after the BJP came to
sole power in May 2008. Prior to that, it ruled in alliance with a local
party for 20 months.
Christians complain that the state
government is not only doing little to protect them but also supporting
the attackers, mostly extremist Hindu nationalists. A government panel
in February blamed anti-Christian violence on conversions, rubbing salt
into their wound (see www.compassdirect.org, “Report in India Blames
Attacks on Conversions to Christianity,” Feb. 8).