As fanatics order pastor to leave Kashmir, putting Christians into Valley of fear; HC directs J&K govt to ensure their safety
Jammu: Following grave allegations from a Christian organisation that Muslim zealots pose an imminent threat to the lives and properties of Christians in Kashmir and are a threat to their existence, high court judge JP Singh has directed J&K Government to ensure their protection in the Valley. "J&K's home department and DGP are directed to ensure that requisite steps are taken by the law enforcing agency to ensure the protection of persons and properties of the members of Christian community living in Kashmir," he said in his order.
Justice Singh also issued them a notice for their response to the petition jointly filed by the Mumbai-based Catholic Christian Secular Forum (CCSF), which also has its office in J&K, and Iftikhar Ahmad Bazmi of Poonch's Kama Khan locality under section 103 of the J&K constitution through retired judge and advocate AK Shan. It has been alleged in the petition that Christians are being targeted in Kashmir on account of their belief and, are being denied their religious liberty.
CCSF also alleged that due to the fear of Muslim fanatics, Christians had been living in Kashmir under trepidation and anxiety, and were unable to step out of their houses, jeopardising their right to life and liberty. The things, however, took a turn for the worse when "Supreme Court of Islamic Shariet" ordered CM Khanna, chief pastor of All Saints Church, Srinagar, to forthwith flee Kashmir, or face the consequences for his alleged role in converting Muslims to Christanity.
The Shariet court also asked the Government to expel Khanna, pastor Jim Borst, Gayoor Masih, Chandra Kanta and Chandra as it had allegedly found them guilty of luring young Muslim boys and girls into Christanity by exploiting their poverty. In its letter addressed to Khanna in October last year, the Shariet court said, "We would like to inform you that we are in receipt of a complaint with sufficient proof of video clipping, confirming that you are taking active part in motivating Muslim youth to convert to Christanity which is of grave concern. You are fully aware that J&K is a Muslim dominated state, and in case your act gets publicity among the masses, there is every apprehension of eruption of law and order problem on a large scale. You are therefore asked to present yourself before the Shariet court in its office at Soura, Srinagar, on October 28, 2011 at 11 am positively. In case of your failure to do so, you shall be personally responsible for the consequences thereof." The copies of this letter were also addressed by the Shariet Court to Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, and Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar.
It has been stated in the petition that instead of acting against the "illegal and arbitrary action of the so-called Shariet supreme court, police failed to protect the persons who were coerced into presenting themselves before it". Khanna was again summoned by the Shariah court on November 17, 2011. During the proceedings, he was allegedly insulted.
The chief pastor alleged that he was arrested by police in Srinagar on November 19, i.e. two days after his appearance before the Shariet court, within 24 hours of the warning issued to him by the grand Mufti of Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Bashirudin. On the same day, the Shariet court issued fatwas against Khanna, Jim Borst, Gayur Masih, Chanderkanta and Chandra, directing all of them to leave the state, while asking the J&K Government to take over the management of missionary schools in the State, and introduce Islamic studies in the educational institutions managed by Christian organisations.
After the fatwas, the Kashmir bar of advocates was too alleged to have boycotted Khanna and his four companions. CCSF alleged that there was an effort by the local population in Kashmir to drive Christians out of the State as they were considered to be "infidels". "Despite all this, the State administration's response has been lackadaisical and it has failed to protect Christians from being harassed and targeted by the self-styled and unconstitutional courts," it added. This showed that there had been a complete breakdown of the law and order machinery in the State as a result of which its citizens did not have any access to justice, CCSF said in its petition.
"The Government's failure to perform its public duty has resulted in the contempt of rule of law," it said and added, "As some people have taken law in their own hands, the rule of law has seriously been impaired." "Even as the preamble of the J&K constitution envisages liberty of conscience, thought, expression, belief, faith and worship, Christian community has been denied all this," CCSF alleged, saying "J&K is governed by its constitution which lays special emphasis on the protection and well-being of the weaker sections of the society". It also alleged that the State Government had failed to act impartially and carry out its legal obligations and safeguard the lives and properties of its subjects.
"The constitution envisages a rule of law and not the rule of men," it said and added, "In a democratic set up, the Government is responsible for ensuring a fair trial, notwithstanding the nature of accusations. However, bending to the demands of extremists raises doubts about the secular credentials of the State," it alleged. It felt that the Kashmir Bar Association's call to boycott Khanna and refusal to assist him legally too amounted to the denial of free and fair trial, and access to justice.
While the Government was perturbed over the matter, a senior police officer, when contacted over phone for his comments, refused to get drawn into the controversy. (ET)