16 yrs on, wary cops keep vigil at churches in Dangs

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Dangs(Ahmedbad): The presence of police force in villages in and around churches reminds of the first ever anti-Christian riots 16 years ago in the tribal-dominated Dangs district around Christmas celebrations. In each village where there is a church, the police keep a tab to check law and order situation to thwart any untoward incident.

There are a total of 311 villages in the district and, according to locals, every village has at least a church which could be in a hut having symbols of cross and its denominations.

It is estimated that the Dangs has at least 20 denominations of Christianity, the majority being Protestants, belonging to Church of the Brethren and the Church of North India (CNI) among others.

In 1998, the district was hit by violence following a clash between a group of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal (BD) and Christians at Ahwa near Missionpada (the area where missionaries first settled). It was said to be the first ever riots to stop the conversion of tribals into Christianity and beginning of “ghar wapsi” (homecoming) by the saffron brigade led by Swami Aseemanand. The violence that triggered in Ahwa had widespread impact across the district.

Ahwa taluka, the district headquarters, alone has 125 villages where 70 police constables, 51 home guards and a platoon of Border Security Force (BSF) wing consisting of 50 personnel have been deployed to guard the churches across the taluka. According to Superintendent of Police Vinay Chaudhary, the deployment of force is a routine course which takes place during Christmas and all other festivals. He said that this deployment has been taking place after 1998 incidents. Chaudhary refused to meet saying he was busy not only in supervising the deployment but also to see the arrangements of Shramyogi Kalyan Mela happening in Saputara, the famous tourist place.

“We come here just to check if things are normal. We also take a note of happenings at the churches such as what activity do they organize. This the district police have been doing since 1998 to ensure peaceful Christmas,” said constable Shaktisinh who was checking a church located at Borkhal village, about 15 km away from Ahwa. Such deployment continues till the celebrations of New Year.

At neighbouring Vihiramba village, youths were found busy in cooking chicken in a big utensil as the children watched. Besides the temporary kitchen, a church made of asbestos top and mud wall was filled with women while a pastor was speaking loudly on a speaker in the local dialect about birth and message of ‘Ishu,’ ‘Jesus’. Suresh Thakare (39) said that following the cultural event the there will be a community feast where about 100 people would eat together. He said that the arrival of police on such occasion doesn’t spoil the atmosphere. “Their presence is required though there is no fear of saffron leaders. The villagers live in communal harmony,” Thakare said, continued…

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