Western Christian missionaries working hard to harvest souls in Assam – Jaideep Mazumdar

Missionary Visa

Jaideep MazumdarA huge number of tourists from Western countries have been visiting Assam regularly on tourist visas and preaching Christianity to lure gullible people and convert them to that religion. – Jaideep Mazumdar

A number of Christians from Western nations have been working silently under the radar in Assam for many years now to convert tribals and indigenous communities of the state to Christianty.

This has come to light in a dramatic fashion after it was discovered that many radical Islamist clerics from Bangladesh had been coming to Assam on tourist visas to preach Salafi Islam to the lakhs of Bangladesh-origin Muslim migrants in the state.

Chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma ordered an intense scrutiny of all foreign nationals who have come into Assam and their activities.

“While carrying out this scrutiny, we discovered that many Christian tourists from Western countries are visiting even remote areas in central and upper Assam which are not tourist destinations. That raised our suspicions and we started discreetly probing their movements and activities,” a top police officer who did not want to be named told Swarajya from Guwahati.

The first batch of such proselytisers who were engaging in preaching Christianity and converting tribals in the tea gardens and other indigenous communities were detected earlier this week.

The Assam police detained three Swedish nationals Wednesday (26 October) while they were preaching at a church at Namrup in Dibrugarh district. The trio—identified as Marcus Arne Henrik Bloom, Hannah Mikaela Bloom and Susana Elisabeth Hakanason—were caught red-handed preaching at the church and urging locals gathered there to convert to Christianity.

“They had come to Assam on tourist visas and indulging in religious activities was a blatant violation of their visa conditions. This is a serious violation of Section 14 of the Foreigners’ Act (read this) and they were fined (US $500 each) and then deported back to Sweden,” the officer said.

The three Swedish nationals had landed in India on 19 October and reached Assam on 24 October. Their trip to Assam had been sponsored by two Christian missionary bodies: United Churches Fellowship and Bless Assam Mission Network.

Dibrugarh district police chief Shwetank Mishra said that the police have collected video and photographic evidence of the “missionary activities” of the three Swedish nationals.

The three were found asking tribals who work in tea gardens and some members of an indigenous community of Assam to convert to Christianity and were promising them material and other benefits.

On Friday (8 October), the Assam police detained a group of seven German tourists who were found to have gone to various remote areas of the state to preach Christianity. The seven had gone to Tinsukia, Margherita and Karbi Anglong and delivered sermons to tribals in those areas.

They were scheduled to travel to Tezpur Saturday (29 October) to participate in another evangelical camp.

The seven, identified as Christian Reiser, Michael Erich Schaper, Merten Asmus, Cornelia Von Oneimb, Hinrich Luppen-Von Oneimb, Christa Olearius, and Lisa Aimee Bloem, had cleverly made a resort in Kaziranga their base.

“They had done that since Kaziranga is a prime tourist destination and they hoped that they would be able to pass themselves off as tourists while staying there,” said a district police officer.

The seven had been in Assam since 21 October. The police are gathering evidence of their evangelical activities.

The tip of the iceberg

What has been detected so far is but just the tip of the iceberg. A huge number of tourists from Western countries have been visiting Assam regularly on tourist visas and preaching Christianity to lure gullible people and convert them to that religion.

According to organisations representing indigenous faiths and communities of Assam, there has been a quantum leap in the arrival of such Western tourists to Assam since 2005.

That coincided with the advent of the UPA government at the Centre. A huge number of such ‘tourists’, mainly from the Scandinavian countries and also Germany and the USA, have been coming to Assam to preach Christianity and carry out conversions.

Their targets have been the tribal community in the tea gardens of the state and the other indigenous communities like Karbis, Dimasas, Bodos, Rabhas, Misings and Sonowals.

“These preachers are brought in by some church bodies. They preach in churches and among local communities, mostly very informally. Special camps are also organised regularly and tribals and members of indigenous communities invited. These ‘tourists’ propagate Christianity while running down indigenous faiths. They (the foreign missionaries) offer salvation and material benefits, including free education and medical care, to the gullible folks,” said Subhas Rabha, a lawyer who is in the forefront of a fledgling anti-conversion movement.

The reason European or white-skinned Christians are invited is because it is easy to dupe and lure away gullible tribals and other communities through such white-skinned people. “A sermon and an appeal to convert delivered by a white-skinned man or woman is much more powerful than a similar appeal by a person of any other ethnicity or colour,” explained Rabha.

Also, it is easier to get funds from cash-rich Christian missionary and evangelical bodies based in the West if the members of such bodies are involved in conversions.

There have been many instances of local religious and cultural organisations protesting the increasing activities of such preachers and proselytisers since 2004.

But such protests not only went unheeded, they were also suppressed, at times brutally, at the behest of the Sonia Gandhi-led UPA Government.

One such instance which was reported in this article published in Swarajya is exemplary.

In 2006, an evangelical camp was planned by Catholic missionaries from Nagaland to convert the local people of Majuli, the seat of Vaishnavite culture in Assam.

Many priests and even some Naga politicians had come down to Majuli.

Some satradhikars (heads of satras which are Vaishnavite institutions) petitioned the district administration, which disallowed the evangelical camp.

The Catholics tried to hold it forcibly, following which there was a mild lathi charge on them.

That night, the deputy commissioner—the administrative head of the district—received a call from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asking for an explanation and ordering him to grant permission to hold the camp.

The district administration held firm because of the strong backing of the influential xatradhikars and indigenous Assamese people and bodies.

Ultimately, the missionaries packed their bags and left. But the point is that the deputy commissioner received a call from the powerful PMO asking him to allow the camp.

Since 2014, when the BJP-led NDA came to power at the Centre, the Christian missionaries went silent but continued to work assiduously to harvest souls. The defeat of the Congress in Assam in 2016 and the BJP coming to power in the state dealt a further blow to them.

“But they have been working undeterred and very silently. They hold preaching camps and faith-healing camps very silently and mostly with permission from local authorities. But they do not disclose the involvement of foreign preachers in such proselytising activities,” said a leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which has been keeping a watch on the activities of Christian evangelical bodies.

Preachers and proselytisers on tourist visas

This is a comparatively new phenomenon and started since 2014 when the NDA came to power at the Centre.

The NDA government clamped down on foreign missionaries and brought their activities under the scanner. Many restrictions were also placed on flow of foreign funds to missionary bodies.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) under Amit Shah started discouraging the grant of missionary visas.

Under the current regulations, only pre-approved Christian bodies can get preachers from other countries to come to India on missionary visas for a specific period of time.

Also, the activities of such missionaries have to be disclosed in detail in advance and a strict watch is kept on them.

That is why, in order to avoid disclosure and close watch on their activities, Christian preachers and proselytisers from Western nations have been coming to Assam on tourist visas.

After the surreptitious and sinister activities of the Swedish and German preachers came to light this week, chief minister Sarma is learnt to have ordered a full-scale scrutiny of all foreigners who have come to Assam on tourist visas.

The state police have been asked to mount strict vigil on all such foreign ‘tourists’ and book anyone found to be indulging in non-tourist activities.

But, points out the VHP leader, such vigil has to be continuous and the state cannot afford to let its guard down.

“These proselytisers always lurk in the shadows like vultures and wait for the first opportunity to strike. They will wait for the current vigil to slacken with time and resume their nefarious activities,” he said.  – Swarajya, 29 October 2022

› Jaideep Mazumdar is a senior journalist who lives in Kolkata and writes on politics, society and other subjects from North, East and North East India as well as Nepal and Bangladesh.

See also

2 Responses

  1. Himanta Biswa Sarma

    Showing the door to real religious persecutors the Himanta Biswa Sarma way – Anoosha – Firstpost – November 01, 2022

    Has it ever happened in Bharat that foreign nationals have been taken to task for perpetrating religious crimes here in her soil? The law about regulating the visitations of foreigners quite clearly gives that in violation of Section 14 of The Foreigners Act, 1946, such perpetrating foreigners ought to be deported. How much action in this sphere have we seen taken, state-wise, until now? Very rare, once in a blue moon, only when some permutations and combinations do not work out well, religious crimes’ committing foreigners face legal irk.

    Indeed, the Modi-Shah duo have set an unprecedented example to show the citizenry that any untoward act, against this nation’s interests, be it in any form, even those of the nature of persecution of Hindus, shall not be tolerated even to an ounce. However, that has not manifested into different states taking any proactive measures to deal with such offences.

    Here comes Himanta Biswa Sarma, donning the cap of legal recourse in his ambit, swiftly addressing the Hindu religious persecution issues at the hands of foreign nationals, mostly at the behest of Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) fund gobbling NGOs.

    The details of the matter are out in the open showing how Swedish and German evangelists have been given the legal treatment that they rightly deserve. But, an aspect of this spring cleaning of the state of Assam being carried out by Himanta Biswa Sarma, the honourable chief minister of this state should not go unnoticed.

    It is totally another matter for central government to bring in laws, regulations and try and enforce it as best as possible, but to prudently make use of these enactments to safeguard the rights of the people residing within Assam’s territorial jurisdiction is political activism effectuated with legal reinforcements already in place which other states make seldom use of.

    To be elected as the chief minister of the state and then abide by his constitutional duties and constantly keep delivering to the persecuted people’s cause is something unheard of in the nation’s scenario, only Yogi Adityanath is another name that springs to the general conscience when naming those who have achieved constitutional privileges but still have been delivering honestly to their state’s people.

    As Amit Shah is considered an ‘iron wall’ that protects the nation’s interest, so is Himanta Biswa Sarma to be considered, for, implementing the laws has been mostly lost from political consciousness long ago. A silent gratitude from every Bharatiya to this gesture of Himanta Biswa Sarma is in order.

    Moving to the legal part of this issue, the Foreigners Act gives among other reasons for penalising foreign nationals visiting Bharat, under (b) of Section 14, that whoever does any act in violation of the conditions of the valid visa issued to him for his entry and stay in India or any part thereunder shall be liable to pay penalties for contravention of provisions of this Act.

    So, turning to the visa guidelines under ‘XVII – MISSIONARY VISA’ under ‘eligibility’ which states, “A Missionary visa is granted to a foreigner whose sole objective of visiting India is Missionary work not involving proselytization. Visa shall NOT be granted to preachers and evangelists who desire to come to India on propaganda campaigns, whether on their own or at the invitation of any organisation in India.”

    Most official websites of NGOs both within Bharat and parent/fraternal/ sister concerns of Indian NGOs operating from foreign lands vividly display the proselytization work carried by their foreign missionaries including within Bharat.

    Numerous handouts, pamphlets seeking donations for such foreign missionaries’ visit to Bharat are circulated prior to their visits to raise enough funds to make such proselytising visits a reality. Facebook and other social media posts run wild with photos of tribal and fringe community people being proselytised in wholesale quantities, that is the value attached to indigenous human lives of Bharat by them! Chuck the upliftment, social service providing motive out the window! This is the bitter truth of the matter as amply evident to some Bharatiyas at least now.

    Before catering to the cacophony of persecution of visiting foreigners (deportation for violations of grundnorm and laws that be in any visiting country by visiting foreigners is generally termed as persecution by proselytising foreign countries), persecution of indigenous and other fringe community people in the hands of such foreign evangelists needs to be heard and addressed.

    In this light, there arises a question as to amendment of the word ‘missionary visa’ itself for there is no detachment of ‘proselytization agenda’ from any missionary cause; it mostly is effectuated silently or displayed when conditions are favourable!

    So, it is not in the nation’s interest to be granting missionary visas or having such a provision in visa guidelines itself. For that matter, even visa guidelines stating ‘restriction on engaging in tabligh activities’ giving ‘foreign nationals, granted any type of visa and Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholders, shall not be permitted to engage themselves in tabligh work. There will be no restriction in visiting religious places and attending normal religious activities like attending religious discourses. However, preaching religious ideologies, making speeches in religious places, distribution of audio or visual display/ pamphlets pertaining to religious ideologies, spreading conversion, etc. will not be allowed,’ needs a relook as Islam too is not devoid of proselytisation, that being one of the basic principles on which the religion runs.

    When religious visits having terms like missionary are purged from Visa Guidelines, the monotheist religions which are fuelled basically by proselytization motive become toothless in their nefarious agenda mobilised by foreign nationals visiting Bharat on the pretext of religious visits.

    In general, suitable amendments to do away with ‘missionary visa’ seems necessary. That way, ambiguity regarding proselytisation gets expunged and even foreigners visiting for purported other purposes, if indulging in proselytising activities, can be dealt with easily.

    Also, we know sentinels like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Yogi Adityanath will answer this call of duty and reign in any untoward behaviours from such visiting foreigners. In my prolonged primary investigation of more than 700 FCRA NGOs now, although I have come across such foreign evangelists wreaking havoc by religiously persecuting indigenous faith people here, misusing their visiting visas, I have not come across any state governments addressing these issues suo moto; only time will tell if other states take this clarion call seriously!

    > The author is a Senior Legal Analyst & Researcher ICRR.


  2. 12 arrested for forceful religious conversions in Karnataka – Deccan Herald – IANS – Ramnagar, Karnataka – Nov 01, 2022

    Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/state/karnataka-districts/12-arrested-for-forceful-religious-conversions-in-karnataka-1158472.html

    FIR against nine people over allegations of religious conversion in Uttar Pradesh – Deccan Herald – PTI – Meerut, UP – Oct 29, 2022

    Read more at: https://www.deccanherald.com/national/north-and-central/fir-against-nine-people-over-allegations-of-religious-conversion-in-uttar-pradesh-1157650.html


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: