January 30, 2003
"People's Watch" (Tamil Nadu) and CHRO (Kerala) :
Joint Fact-Finding Probe on RSS attack on Christian Missionaries in Kerala
Following contradictory and divergent reports on the attack on Christian missionaries, including a U.S. citizen, Rev. Joseph W. Cooper, near Kilimanoor in Thiruvananthapuram district, on January 13, 2003, (Monday) night, a joint fact-finding team of Confederation of Human Rights Organisations (CHRO), Kerala, and People's Watch (PW) Tamil Nadu was constituted with the following members :
1) Ms. Maya Nair (PW, Tamil Nadu)
2) Ms. M. Rajakumari (PW, Tamil Nadu)
3) Dr. Abdul Salam (CHRO, Kerala)
4) Sr. Annie Punnoose (CHRO, Kerala)
5) K. S. Sreejith Kumar (CHRO, Kerala)
The team spent a whole day on January 20, 2003, to make spot visit at the affected areas near Kilimanoor, and took versions of local people including eye-witnesses of the incident, police personnel, and the injured convalescing at KIMS hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.
Apart from police personnel, versions of the following local people and victims of the attack helped us to make this report : Ms. Sarala (45, Christian), David (35, Christian), Rajan (non-Christian), Johnson (43, Christian), Rajendran (53, non-Christian and CPI-M supporter), Nalinakshan (non-Christian and Congress supporter), Rev. Cooper (67), and Pastor Benson Sam. Besides, versions of other local people, who do not want to be identified due to threat perception and fear-psychosis prevailing in the area, were collected and incorporated in this report.
Salient features like Findings and Recommendations of the lengthy report are given below.
(Note : Those who want to have the complete report, may contact the following : CHRO, Kerala : Phone : 0471-2476262 ; Mobile : 98473-20011 ; e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org ; People's Watch (Tamil Nadu) : Ph: 0452-532432 ; Fax : 0452-531874 ; e-mail : email@example.com )
Findings of the fact finding team:
1. The Friends of Bible Church had decided to organize Convention in the local Church. This Convention was scheduled to be from the 13.01.2003 to 15.01.2003. Although pamphlets were distributed, the word Convention does not refer to a very large gathering of people associated with such "Christian conventions" in South India.
2. On 13.01.2003 the members of the Church who had presided over the Convention, namely, Bishop Cooper, Pastor Benson Sam, the family members of Pastor Benson Sam and a few others were brutally attacked with the intent of killing them while they were on their way back after the end of the first days' convention along with some of the participants of the Convention.
3. The attackers were identified as RSS members of the local RSS Shakha. They initially threw bombs to scare the people and prevent them from coming near the scene of the attack. They then beat Bishop Cooper, Pastor Benson and the others who were along with them. As far as the other followers of the Church were concerned some of them after realizing as to what was happening got scared and went inside their homes while others rushed to help those who were being attacked. The RSS attackers in the meantime had beaten up Pastor Benson, Bishop Joseph Cooper and the other very badly. The injured people tried reaching the vehicle so that they could reach the hospital. But as the tyres of the vehicle had been deflated by the attackers the injured could not reach the hospital. Hence the injured somehow managed to call up the local Kilimanoor Police station and reported the matter and also asked for help. The police came at around 9:30 PM and took the injured to the Medical College Hospital.
4. Following the police action of arrests, there were attempts by RSS and Sangh Parivar to cajole the witnesses as well as to threaten them. They were approached by a batch of Sangh Parivar with promises of constructing latrine and providing them ration and other facilities from "Central Government". According to David, on the following days of the attack, RSS people used to come at night by blowing whistle and creating commotion which instilled fear which forced many of them not to sleep in their thatched huts. Nalinakshan said that the RSS activists also pelted stones at some of the houses of Vedars. The fear psychosis prevailing in the area was quite visible even one week after the attack since the local people, particularly the terrified Vedars, were unwilling to say anything. However, Vidhyadharan, father of the 13th accused Koppam Shaiju, along with a few others went to the house of Kunjumon, the prime witness and victim of the attack, on January 17 around 1.00 pm and threatened him with dire consequence if he dared to give evidence in the Court. Upon Kunjumon's complaint, a case was registered (Cr. No. 23/2003 u/s 481, 506(2), and 34 IPC on the same day against Vidhyadharan, one Unni and four others. Accordingly, Vidhyadharan was arrested on January 19.
5. From our fact-finding it is very clear that this is the first time that such an incident has taken place in this area which is not known for any communal tension so far. Prior to this no incident of communal disharmony have ever been reported from this area. Compared to North India, Kerala has a novel historical background to where both Christianity and Islam reached, peacefully without any violence, almost at the same time it spread respectively in Europe and Arab peninsula. Kerala's history also records the peaceful co-existence of Keralites with foreigners à whether Jews, Arabs or Europeans à who came here for trade and commerce. Keralites also have the inborn tendency to go anywhere in the world as well as to co-exist with the local populace there. A month before the RSS attack on Rev. Cooper, which led to his controversial expulsion from India, the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, inaugurated the 1950th anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas to Kerala. Given this background, the malicious campaign and unfounded allegations showered upon Rev. Cooper not only by Sangh Parivar, but also by responsible Union Ministers, shockingly evoked no protests from Kerala Government.
6. The murderous attack on Rev. Cooper and other Evangelist Missionaries on January 13 were a result of well-planned conspiracy hatched up at the RSS Sakha meeting on the same day morning. Deflating of the car tyres before launching the attack is a clear indication of this.
7. The fact finding team tried its best to identify whether there could be any other reason for this attack and finally has concluded that the only plausible reason for this attack had been to use the occasion of the "Convention" organized by the Friends of Bible Church in which it was earlier mentioned that Rev Cooper would be participating.
8. Following the attacks there were rumors that during the Convention the people who were presiding over the meeting had made provocative statements regarding Lord Krishna. Our finding clearly proves that this was not true. No such statements had ever been made by the members of the Friends of Bible Church at any point of time during the Convention. There was no truth in the propaganda that Cooper or others had made derogatory statements to hurt the religious feelings and sentiments of others. The very fact that, none from the colony within the hearing distance of the speech had participated in the attack is evident. On the other hand, that all the RSS attackers were mobilized from other areas and localities show that there was much advance preparation and a conspiracy to launch the attack even without hearing, or getting provoked by, the so-called derogatory speeches.
Further, the Judicial First Class Magistrate, Attingal Mr. Murali Gopala Pandala, had dismissed the criminal case filed against Rev Cooper due to the petitioner's failure to prove that Cooper's speech hurt religious sentiments. Pointing out the petitioner's inability to produce the cassette of the speech, the Court also said that the petitioner could not understand what Cooper spoke in English due to his ignorance of English language. This enables the fact finding team to strengthen its findings in this regard as well.
9. There also had been extensive rumors ( which the team witnessed in the local newspapers ) that the Prime Minister's Office had issued a notice that Bishop Cooper had made provocative statements regarding Lord Aiyyappan. These too were false as the Fact Finding team got cross checked with the PMO that they had never issued any such statement.
10. Local non-Christian respondents also denied all these allegations attributed to Rev. Cooper's speech. According to Rajan, there was nothing derogatory in Cooper's English speech translated into Malayalam by Pastor Benson. This was also concurred by Rajendran saying there was no provocative speech at the Convention. According to Pastor Benson, the main speaker of that day was Pastor Jaison while Rev. Cooper spoke only for 20 minutes about Jesus and not about any other religion. Rev. Cooper himself told this team members while convalescing at KIMS hospital: "I know only Jesus Christ and I talk only about Him. Also, I explain as to how I became a missionary. I also provide healing touch relief to the needy." Cooper said that he belongs to the Association of Pastors and not to any particular Christian denomination. He had been visiting India since 1979, mainly to Andhra and Kerala, and this was his 12th trip. He visits different countries as well upon invitation from his friends. But, this was the first time that he had to face such a physical assault.
11. The team also concludes that the intention of the members of the Friends Bible Church was never to coerce anyone to Convert to Christianity. In fact it can be easily said that no conversions or for that matter re-conversions had ever taken place in the area for quite some time and this is also public knowledge and acknowledged by members of other faiths as well in the area.
12. The Kerala State Government's action of serving the expulsion order to Rev. Cooper was a highly detrimental act against all basic norms and tenets of a democratic and secular society. Evidently, this action came after demands made by RSS leaders, from the State to the Central level, in an apparent attempt to satisfy them as well as to make a posture of "impartiality" or "equi-distance" between the attackers and the victims.
The ambiguity in visa rules is further illustrated in the rival Mujahid Conferences held at Kozhicode and Cochin in December 2002, in which a large number of foreign delegates, especially from Arab countries, addressed the gathering about their religion. Action similar to that initiated against Rev. Cooper by Thiruvananthauram Rural Superintendent of Police was not initiated against any of these foreign delegates. The team wonders whether it was because none of them were physically assaulted by an RSS gang? A more evident example is the presence of large number of foreigners, both male and female, remaining for longer years almost as permanent inmate-devotees at Mata Amrithananadamayi Ashram at Vallikkavu in Kollam district, who used to accompany the Mata and occupy the stage along with her as well as sing prayers wherever she goes. It is not known how many of them are on "religious visa". Astonishingly, no investigation is being held whenever such foreigners die under mysterious circumstances within that Ashram. A recent instance was of the suspicious death of a French national, Ms. Caroline Abitbole, who claimed to have committed suicide by jumping from the 8th floor on August 5, 2002, and her body was found with head severed. Although the CHRO initiated petitions seeking a probe, including to the French Ambassador at New Delhi, no inquiry was known to be held by them or the State Government.
Similarly, the Central Government owes an explanation as to how the "Hare Rama Hare Krishna" sect with Head Quarters at Kolkota and comprising mostly foreigners are holding open "Bhajan Yatras" in big major North Indian cities ever since its inception decades ago. Similarly, there was no ban imposed on Dalai Lama preaching his religion ever since India gave the Tibetans refuge in 1959, which earned repeated diplomatic protests from China as violation of the 1954 Bandung Declaration. Also, when Rev. Cooper was ordered to leave India upon Central directives, Dalai Lama, along with the Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorji, who heads another Buddhist sect, was leading the ten-day `Kalchakra Puja' festival and prayers at Bodh Gaya, Bihar, in which large number of Buddhists from different countries participated. There was also a move to confer India's highest civilian award, "Bharat Ratna", upon Dalai Lama which invoked protests from All India Monks Association led by Bhante Anand, who were also opposed to the holding of "Kalachakra" festival by Dalai Lama. Similar to Mata Amrithanandamayi Ashram in Kerala, a large number of foreign devotees remain as permanent inmates at Prashanthi Nilayam, the abode of Sai Baba at Puttapparthi in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, whose visa status are not made public.
The team would like to therefore conclude that in the context of all these contradictory stances of the Government, both State and Central, it is necessary to assert the provisions of the Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, namely, Freedom of Conscience and free profession practice and propagation of religion which states :-
"Subject to public order morality and health and to other provisions of this part, all persons are equally entitled to freedom of Conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion"
And the provisions of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which reads : "Every one has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom; either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
The provisions of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ( ICCPR) which reads :
1. "Every one shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
2. No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
3. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
4. The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respe3ct for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
And the provisions of Article 30 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which reads, "In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.
The application of the "special visa norms" in the case of Rev Cooper alone in such a hurry so as to ensure that the only person with the evidence of misuse of the provisions of the Foreigners Act points out to the arbitrariness of the use of any such legislation and indicates that there is no evidence that this has not been done with political interest. The team is further of the opinion that similar to the government's "special visa norms" in Kerala, the RSS has also got their own "special agenda" applicable only to Kerala.
13. Compared to North India, Kerala has a novel historical background to where both Christianity and Islam reached, peacefully without any violence, almost at the same time it spread respectively in Europe and Arab peninsula. Kerala's history also records the peaceful co-existence of the people of the State of Kerala with foreigners à whether Jews, Arabs or Europeans à who came here for trade and commerce. The people of Kerala also have the inborn tendency to go anywhere in the world as well as to co-exist with the local populace there. A month before the RSS attack on Rev. Cooper, which led to his controversial expulsion from India, the President of India, Dr. Abdul Kalam, inaugurated the 1950th anniversary of the arrival of St. Thomas to Kerala. Given this background, the malicious campaign and unfounded allegations showered upon Rev. Cooper not only by the RSS and the Sangh Parivar, but also by responsible Union Ministers, shockingly evoked no protests from the Kerala Government.
14. The fact finding team is of the opinion that the very provocative statements that have appeared in the RSS Malayalam journal, " Janmabhoomi" from the 15th January 2003 onwards is further indicative of the role of the RSS and hence the Sangh Parivar in the incidents that have been mentioned supra and the need therefore for every secular minded and anyone conscious about preserving the democratic polity and peace in the country to prevent the "Gujaratisation of Kerala", especially since the recent BJP State Council meeting at Kanjagad declared to pursue vigorous Hindutva agenda as its future goal in Kerala.
15. There is sufficient evidence in the form of press briefings and statements by Ministers of the Government of India, occupying responsible positions representing the BJP / NDA Ministry, where they have uttered baseless, untrue and hundred percent lies on the Cooper incident. These false allegations themselves could be responsible for fuelling communal tensions. It is worth mentioning the names of the following Ministers for the statements that have been attributed to them: i) Mr.Ch. Vidya Sagar Rao, Minister of State for Home, GOI ; and ii) Mr. O. Rajagopal, Minister of State for Urban Development, GOI;
For example, Mr. Rao has stated, "The action taken by the Kerala Police asking Mr. Cooper to leave the country within a week would send the right signal that the country would not be soft on foreigners who violated the laws of the land. All the States have the power to trace foreigners who overstayed and deport them. Any foreigner can be deported for carrying on activities prejudicial to the interest of the country, or affected social harmony or a threat to maintenance of public peace. The Centre is constantly sharing intelligence with the States, especially on visitors who overstayed or had entered the country illegally and indulged in such acts" ("The Hindu", January 22, 2003).
Mr.Rajagopal has stated, "The State Government should explain for its failure to take action against the US missionary. The missionaries were making despicable remarks on Hindu deities like Lord Krishna and Ayyappa. The missionaries are working in connivance with the State. The people will be forced to react if such actions go unchecked." Terming BJP's "landmark victory" in Gujarat as the "beginning of political changes in the country", he asked the Kerala Government to bring a legislation to ban religious conversion and said : "The Kilimanoor incident, in which an American missionary was assaulted, is an indication of how the people would react to religious conversions".
The team finds it pertinent to point out that there is no evidence that Rev Cooper or the others with him were carrying on activities prejudicial to the interest of the country, or affected social harmony or a threat to maintenance of public peace. While so, a statement from a Central Minister to this effect is grossly a mistake which calls for nothing short of an apology.
The statement of Mr. Rajagopal to the effect that missionaries were making despicable remarks on Hindu deities like Lord Krishna and Ayyappa, that missionaries are working in connivance with the State and that the people will be forced to react if such actions go unchecked only point out to the indication that even Central Ministers are indirectly supporting the acts of violence unleashed on Rev Cooper and the others by the RSS gang members in Kilimanoor. This also offers a clear indication of what the position of the Central Government is on the issue and how they themselves indirectly condone the violence.
16. The Chief Minister of Kerala, Mr. A. K. Anthony, a representative of the Congress party which professes to uphold secularism throughout the country as opposed to the BJP has stated "We have behaved in an impartial manner whether it is the attack on the missionary or the visa violation by the latter." The team holds that such a manner of governance on the part of the Chief Minister is not indicative of impartiality but on the contrary of the Government's total inability to tackle such serious threats to secularism . The Chief Minister has so easily given in to the directives of the Central Government resulting in the expulsion of Rev Cooper from Indian soil based on totally false allegations, without providing him an opportunity to weigh the evidence in his favour and ensuring whether there was any realistic threat to the freedom of religion that was involved.
17. The team is of the strong opinion that when a citizen of India owing allegiance to a particular faith has the right to go to the United States of America or any other country and establish places of worship and participate in public religious discourses, Rev Cooper who came to Kilimanoor only to bear a testimony and pray for the sick, has every right to do so since the same is protected by the universally accepted right to freedom of religion which is universal in nature.
I. To the Government of Kerala:
i. We demand that the Government of Kerala immediately initiate criminal action against RSS Malayalam organ Janmabhoomi for many of its false and baseless content with regard to "Cooper incident". These have been made with the sole intention of causing communal tension in highly literate state of Kerala.
ii. We demand that the case in crime No.19/2003 of Kilimanoor police station be handed over, for further investigation and filing of charge sheet, to a highly specialized investigation wing of Kerala police so that Junior police officers are not pressurized with the investigation of such a sensitive case involving Central Government.
iii. We demand that the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. A.K.Antony, who owes an allegiance to the Congress party, which publicly and nationally profess to uphold secularism as opposed to the BJP Government, to publicly make known the contents of the "Cooper expulsion order" issued to Rev. Cooper under provisions of the Foreigners Act. The highly literate secular public of Kerala and the rest of the country have a right to know the basis of this order, in order to appreciate the statement made by various Ministers both of the State Government of Kerala and Central Government.
iv. We demand that the accused No.1 in crime No.19/2003 of Kilimanoor police station Mr. Sunil Kumar and the rest of the accused be immediately arrested without any further delay whatsoever, as delaying in arrest will only lend support to the version that the Government of Kerala is hand in gloves with the Sangh Parivar's agenda of providing protection to the accused in Cooper's case.
v. We demand that the Government which hurriedly ensured the expulsion of Cooper should now take responsibility to ensure the presence of Cooper for the trial of the case in Crime No.19/2003 which should be completed expeditiously.
vi. We demand that the Government of Kerala immediately ensure that the people of Puliyam village in Thiruvananthapuram district are provided immediate security and ensured that they are not subjected to any further harassment from RSS and Sangh Parivar.
vii. We demand that the Government of Kerala provide public evidence of the fact of overstay of Rev Cooper who according to the team was on a valid 10 year multiple entry visa.
viii. We appeal that all political parties in Kerala, who stand by secular content of the preamble to our Constitution and who uphold Articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, to jointly bring a resolution in the Kerala State Assembly condemning the incident, condemning Central Ministers for the irresponsible, baseless statements about the incident and to demand immediate intervention of the State Human Rights Commission of the State of Kerala in this incident.
II. To the Central Government:
1. We demand an apology from Thiru Ch.Vidyasagar, Hon'ble State Minister for Home and Thiru O.Rajagopal, Hon'ble State Minister for Urban Development for their irresponsible, baseless and 100% bunch of lies issued in the form of press statement. Nothing short of an apology would suffice for such statements coming from persons to whom this country has entrusted important portfolios of governance.
2. We demand the Right to Information, which is now a fundamental right that the Government of India makes public the 1995 order which, it claims, restrains foreign citizens visiting India on tourist visas from preaching in religious meetings.
III. National Human Rights Commission / Kerala State Human Rights Commission:
1. We demand that the National Human Rights Commission take suo motu attention of the attack on Rev. Cooper and others as a human rights violation and deputes one of its Special Rapporteur to conduct investigation so that the right to freedom of religion which is one of the liberties guaranteed under the Constitution and which falls within the definition of human rights under Section 2 of the Human Rights Protection Act is safeguarded from being transgressed. We urge that the state of Kerala, within whose jurisdiction this gruesome attack has taken place threatening the life of Rev. Cooper and others immediately, order the State Government of Kerala through an interim order of the National Human Rights Commission, to meet all the medical expenses of all the injured including Rev. Cooper and later recover it from the accused who were responsible for the same.
IV. UN Special Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance:
We appeal to Mr. Abdelfattah AMOR, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to personally take note of this case as a very serious indication of the extent of religious intolerance prevailing in so called secular State of Kerala and urge him to address the Government of India on the same.
V. Civil Society:
We demand that all civil society organizations in the State of Kerala within India and abroad including NRI Community take very serious note of this incident and realize that it is only action for the protection of secularism that could prevent such communal forces from disrupting peace. No amount of silence or prayer will bring solutions to issues. It is protests, struggles, articles, statements, denouncements and such acts by several people, in the individual capacity and as belonging to different organizations, which will contribute to maintaining the thin fabric of secularism that still prevails in this country of India. It is such internal vigil by civil society organizations the world over which will protect the freedom of religion which is an universally acknowledged and granted human rights.
VI. The US Government :
We demand that the US Government, all its Senators and Congressmen who uphold the freedom of religion with so much sanctity in their country since the right to freedom of religion and religious beliefs is universally applicable, take this case of Rev Cooper as a serious violation on the part of the Government of India and raise the issue both diplomatically and publicly.
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