Beginning in late February, Hindu militants have besieged the headquarters of Emmanuel Mission International, the largest Christian charity in the north Indian state of Rajasthan. Militants accuse the mission, based in Kota, of publishing and distributing Haqeeqat (Reality), a book they claim defames Hindu deities.

EMI's founder, 71-year-old Archbishop M.A. Thomas and his son, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Thomas, went in hiding as the police hounded them. A prominent Hindu militant leader through local Hindi newspapers offered a bounty of $26,000 for the archbishop's "head on a plate."

On March 16 Rajasthan plainclothes policemen arrested Samuel Thomas, president of EMI. The officers stopped Thomas at gunpoint near New Delhi, India's capital. Thomas was on his way to apply for anticipatory bail for his father and himself. The archbishop is still underground.

EMI denies publishing the book. CT reached Samuel Thomas before his arrest. "The fight is not about the book," Thomas said. "The fight is to close down all the Christian work. [Hindu militants] want to take over all the mission property and declare it as a temple. But we know that God will not allow that to happen."

Christians in Rajasthan have come under increased persecution since the right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power there in December 2003. Hindu radicals reportedly have stoned and vandalized schools, orphanages, and churches run by EMI.

Led by BJP social welfare minister Madan Dilawar, the police have already arrested three EMI administrative officers and revoked the mission's charity licenses. Authorities sealed EMI's offices and froze their bank accounts.

The mission serves orphans, tribal peoples, dalits, and leprosy and HIV/AIDS patients. Archbishop Thomas holds immense influence with tribals and dalits. The Indian government honored him with the country's highest civilian award in 2001.

Church leaders see a Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) design behind the increasing violence. "The BJP feels threatened and insecure over the good response of dalits and tribals to the message of Christ and Christian faith," Joseph D'souza, president of All India Christian Council (AICC) told CT. "They have declared that they would make tribal areas of Rajasthan Christian-free and are working hard on it."

Kota's Christians blame Dilawar for fueling the trouble and accuse him of leading the BJP's Hindutva agenda. The state government recently announced they would pursue an anti-conversion law. Local Hindi newspapers reported that Dilawar has pledged that he should be stoned to death if his government's effort to take over EMI's properties fails.

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"[Emmanuel officials] are anti-nationals and are fraudulently converting people," Dilawar told CT. "You can't make a mockery of the Hindu religion and the country and get away with it. We will bring the anti-conversion law. Not the ministers alone, but the whole of Rajasthan supports it."

Though troubled by the government pressure, Samuel Thomas said he sees God's hand in it. "Both me and my father are openly threatened. We both are not afraid to die for the sake of our Savior," Thomas said. "We will not give up, look back, or let up from God's calling upon our lives. I would like to tell the Christians that one day soon, Rajasthan will be one of the greatest harvest for Christian work."

Related Elsewhere:

News coverage of the Emmanuel Mission attacks includes:

Under siege | Hindu extremists lash out at a Christian ministry that challenges caste system (World, Mar. 17)
Publisher of book 'Haqeequat' arrested | Samuel Thomas, allegedly involved in a conspiracy to publish a controversial book 'Haqeequat' which has certain references against Hindu and Jain deities, was today arrested in NOIDA on the outskirts of Delhi by Rajasthan police (Outlook India, PTI)
Debate on Christian centre attack forces Indian parliament stoppage | The Indian parliament has been forced into an unscheduled adjournment for due to exchanges between legislators debating attacks on an evangelical mission centre in western Rajasthan state. (ENI, March 15)
Government says it will help Christian mission in Rajasthan | The central government Monday indicated it would take steps to revive the bank accounts of a Christian mission that were frozen by the Rajasthan government. (NewKerala, March 13)
Forward Bloc accuses Raje of 'provoking fanatics' | The Forward Bloc today accused the Vasundhara Raje-led government in Rajasthan of "provoking fanatics to damage Christian institutions". (NewKerala, Mar 13)
Oppn kicks up row over 'anti-Hindu' book | BJP and Shiv Sena members brought the Lok Sabha to a standstill on Thursday morning over a book, Haqeeqat, published in Rajasthan that reportedly denigrated Hindu deities. (Express News Service, March 10)
LS breaks into a row over Christian book | The Lok Sabha was adjourned abruptly on Thursday over a book allegedly published by a Christian missionary group that contained "insulting remarks" against Hindu gods and goddesses. (Times of India, March 9)
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Rajasthan plans to ban conversions | Expected to target Christian missionaries (The Hindu, Feb. 28)
Christian mission targeted again | Alleged sale of book containing "derogatory" references to Hinduism (The Hindu, Feb. 23)

News coverage of the publishing of the Haqeeqat includes:

BJP demands ban on Christian publication | Equating the derogatory remarks against Hindu deities in a domestic Christian publication with the controversial caricatures of Prophet Mohammad, the Opposition BJP today demanded a ban on the book and immediate arrest of its author and publisher. (Zee News, March 9)
BJP wants ban on book | The Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded that the book Haqeeqat be banned and withdrawn immediately. It also demanded that the Padma Shri given to its publisher three years ago by the Vajpayee Government be "taken back." (The Hindu, Feb. 10)