(Photo: AP Photo / Altaf Qadri)
Four Christian pastors have been expelled from Kashmir, Northern India, after they were accused of trying to convert youths into Christianity by bribing them with money.
Religious tensions in the Muslim-dominated province have historically been high, with a court system actively in place barring any attempts by missionaries to turn people towards Christ through financial means. Many stories circle the region of pastors being accused of bribing Indians with money.
The four local pastors in question, CM Khanna, Gayoor Massi, Chandra Kanta and Jim Borst, who were convicted of bribery on Jan. 19 and told to leave the province for "luring" Muslims to Christianity, were apparently exposed by a video filmed last year that shows one of the pastors baptizing Kashmiri boys, OnIslam.com reported.
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference, a political front formed as an alliance of 26 political, social and religious organizations in Kashmir, said that simply expelling these four pastors does not solve the problem, and that it's the duty of every Muslim to protect members of the minority community.
"Muslims should protect their religion themselves; expelling somebody from Kashmir is no solution to the problem," Geelani urged.
"We need to set up educational institutions that will be based on Islam and where students could be given moral education. The schools must also offer modern education because we need doctors and engineers," he added.
According to the article, a dispute exists over how many Christians are living in Kashmir – sources say the number is as low as 400, but Muslims in the region have claimed that around 20,000 Kashmiris have been converted by Christians in the last two decades.
Some Christian missionary organizations, however, say that the accusations against pastors in the region are almost always false, and no one properly serving Christ would try to convert someone by using money.
"It is never acceptable to convert others by bribing them – if someone convinces a person to convert for material gain, then that person is not really a Christian," said Bob Finley, the Founder of Christian Aid. His evangelical organization is generally considered to be the first missionary agency to support and promote indigenous mission groups, and has provided more than $100 million in assistance to more than 800 evangelistic ministries based in 122 "mission field" countries overseas.
"But, in cases like in Kashmir, such accusations are false. The radical anti-Christian forces in Kashmir and throughout India frequently make false charges that the Christians are somehow bribing the lower-caste people to convert," he continued.
"This happens every day in India. These false lies against the native missionaries are told repeatedly. In many Indian states there are laws against forced conversions. In those laws, the definition of a false conversion often includes giving money, providing scholarships, and providing financial aid," he said.
"However, these laws are only enforced against Christians. If a Hindu forces others to convert, or if a Hindu gives money to low-caste people, then its ok. It's only when a Christian tries to help somebody that this charge is used," Finley explained.
He said that to his knowledge, there has never been a case like this proven in court. Furthermore, false accusations against missionary pastors is not a problem contained only in India – it is found throughout South Asia, from Sri Lanka, Burma, Bangladesh, Pakistan to even Nepal.
According to Finley, most of these accusations are done by a few anti-Christian groups in the country. He identified Arya Samaj (A Hindi reform movement,) The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other radical groups – including Muslim organizations that often target Christians.
"(The issue) is a historical thing. Christ commanded us to feed the poor and give aid to the sick. It is a religious obligation of any Christian to do good for other people. But the critics of Christ mistake this – they feel that somehow this is some kind of trick to convert poor people to Christianity. They are really convinced in that," the founder elaborated.
He shared that Christian Aid provides millions of dollars in aid in countries throughout the world, but none of that money is used to try and bribe anyone into converting.
"Many Christians have been killed (in Kashmir), there houses have been burned – because of this argument. It is a very serious false charge," Finley concluded.
A report by Pakistan Christian Post revealed that Muslims in the province enjoy special protection, while Christians are often targeted and receive little protection from the law or the military. It describes how Christians are facing the "fundamentalist wrath" of Muslims in the region, and alleges that some believers have been killed for their faith, while churches have been burned.