Pittsburgh, PA
June 4, 2023
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Nation & World
Commercial Real Estate
Today^s front page
Flight 93
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Nation & World >  World News Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
World News
New Castle man attacked by Hindu mob expelled by India, on his way home

Friday, January 24, 2003

By Jack Kelly, Post-Gazette National Security Writer

A Christian missionary from New Castle, attacked by a mob in India and ordered out of the country for illegal preaching, is on his way home, the latest symbol of India's sometimes violent religious divides.

Joseph William Cooper, 67, and six Indian Christians were attacked last week by about 10 men wielding clubs and swords as they were leaving a church service on the outskirts of Trivandrum, capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala.

Cooper was hospitalized for treatment of cuts on his right hand, arm and torso. He was released from the hospital Tuesday and ordered out of the country. Some of the others were also treated and released.

Police have arrested 10 men, all members of the Rashtriya Swayamevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group that objects to Christian activities aimed at converting Hindus. R. Santhosh, an RSS leader in Trivandrum, denied his organization had anything to do with the attack, but said Cooper had invited violence by insulting Hindus.

Cooper, a bishop in the New Jerusalem Universal Church, a Pentecostalist fellowship based in Marietta, Ohio, entered India on a tourist visa, as he had on 10 previous trips over the last decade. The Foreigners Act of 1956 forbids tourists from speaking at religious meetings.

An account making the rounds of Hindu nationalist websites alleges that Cooper was the accidental victim of an attack directed at a companion, Benson Sam, and that Sam was attacked not for his religious beliefs, but because he had allegedly molested a local girl.

This account has not been supported by the local police, international news services or major Indian newspapers. Cooper suffered the most serious injuries, and he told his wife that he was the target of the attack and that Sam was injured mainly because he tried to protect Cooper.

The attack on Cooper has been front page news in two English language newspapers in India, the Times of India and the Hindu. In an editorial last Friday, the Hindu criticized Hindu nationalists for "indulging in campaigns intended to conjure up images of the Hindu faith being in danger and thus whipping up communal passions."

Violence against Christians has soared since the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took control of the national government in March, 1998.

A cabinet officer in the national government said Cooper's case should be an "eye-opener." Ch. Vidyasagar Rao, Minister of State for Home, said this week that any foreigner could be deported for threatening public peace and that Cooper's explusion shows India will act against foreigners who violate the law.

"Attacks against Christians throughout the country have increased significantly since the BJP began its rule," said Human Rights Watch in a September, 1999 report. "They include the killings of priests, the raping of nuns, and the physical destruction of Christian institutions, schools, churches, colleges and cemeteries. Thousands of Christians have also been forced to convert to Hinduism."

Human Rights Watch said the RSS and two other Hindu nationalist groups were responsible for most of the attacks. All have ties to the governing BJP.

"There is no difference between the BJP and the RSS," said Mahesh Jha, a researcher at Nehru University in New Delhi. "The BJP is the body, the RSS is the soul."

"There is a definite pattern of attacks, and I think it is now clear there is a corollary between these attacks and the election of the BJP," C. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, told the Christian Science Monitor. Mohandas Gandhi, whose nonviolent protests led to India's independence from Britain, was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu extremist who thought Gandhi was too lenient toward religious minorities.

Smita Narula, who wrote the Human Rights Watch report, said violence against Christians has diminished somewhat since 1999, but is still much more prevalent than before the BJP won power.

"What is especially worrying about these attacks is that the police are not prosecuting the attackers, but are prosecuting their victims," Narula said. Cooper's deportation is just the most recent example, she said.

India's 1.1 billion people are about 81 percent Hindu, 12 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Christian, and 2 percent Sikh, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Cooper's wife, Ellie, said she doesn't hold Hindus responsible for the attack on her husband.

"I don't believe these are true Hindu believers," she said. "They have a radical agenda. They aren't practicing the Hindu faith when they knife somebody."

Ellie Cooper said she hadn't heard from her husband since he left the hospital, but was told yesterday that he would likely be home by today.

Cooper denies ever saying anything critical about Hinduism or any other religion. But many Hindus believe Christian missionaries insult their faith by claiming that Jesus Christ is the only road to salvation.

"Mr. Cooper not only preached about Jesus, something Hindus don't have a problem with because Hindus consider Jesus a divine incarnation," said Mihir Meghani, a doctor in Fremont, California. "He also preached that the only way to salvation is through Christ. Hindus do oppose this...If these Christian fanatics don't accept other faiths and paths to the same God we all have, then I'm afraid such violent confrontations may increase."

Laurence Glasco, a history professor at Pitt, said there may also be an economic motive for the assaults on Christians by Hindu extremists. Most Christians in India come from the lowest caste, the "Untouchables," who are now called Dalits.

"Now that apartheid has ended in South Africa, Dalits have the dubious distinction of being perhaps the world's largest extremely oppressed minority," Glasco said. "They suffer merciless exploitation...Their boys and girls constitute the bulk of India's child slave-laborers, their daughters the bulk of child prostitutes."

In the Hindu doctrine of reincarnation, the poor are poor chiefly because they are receiving divine punishment for having behaved badly in an earlier life.

Dalits are attracted to Christianity because it does not blame them for their condition in life, and offers them a way out of it, Glasco said.

"These efforts at physical uplift and religious conversion have caused anxiety and anger among upper castes, who focus on 'outside agitators' like Joseph Cooper and 'foreign religions' like Christianity to keep the Untouchables down and under the control of Hindu landlords and merchants," Glasco said.

Jack Kelly can be reached at jkelly@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1476.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections