Christian convert from Islam shot dead in Kashmir

world | Nov 23, 2006 | By UCA News

Suspected Islamic militants shot dead Nov. 21 a 50-year-old Christian convert from Islam who was helping with evangelical mission work in the Jammu and Kashmir, India's only Muslim-majority state (for related see: Christian convert killed by Islamic militants)

Bashir Ahmed Tantray, a native of the state, was shot in the head in his village of Mamoosa, Catholic and other missioners confirmed to UCA News. The village is near Baramulla, 590 kilometers north of New Delhi.

Father Mathew Kuzhikattil of Holy Family Church in Srinagar, told UCA News that the Christian community in the state is shocked and saddened, "because one of our Christian brethren was killed."

The Catholic priest declined to speculate on the motive. "We do not know whether it was a militant attack or something else," he said.

However, Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) officials in New Delhi blamed the attack on militants.

"According to our sources, he was killed by Islamic militants," Reverend Richard Howell, EFI secretary general, told UCA News on Nov. 22. He added that only a few Christians attended the funeral, held later on the day of the killing, with others keeping away in fear of further attacks.

The Indian Express daily newspaper reported that Tantray's relatives followed Muslim funeral rites and buried him in a Muslim graveyard in his village, fearing reprisals from villagers. In an extensive report on the killing, it said the murdered man is survived by his wife and four children.

Reverend Howell said Tantray was a government employee whose "Christian identity was well known in the area, and his name had been featured in numerous media reports in the region."

"The killing has caused widespread fear in the state. We mourn the death of Tantray and request prayers for the family in their time of grief," the Church official added.

Father Kuzhikattil asserted that Catholic missioners there are "not frightened" about the situation. "If we were, we would not be in Kashmir now."

India's northernmost state, which borders Pakistan, has been wracked by Muslim insurgency for the past 20 years. The insurgency, army responses to it and related violence have killed an estimated 70,000 to 80,000 people.

The Indian Express report said Tantray was an engineer with Jammu and Kashmir Power Development Department and worked with evangelical missionary groups.

"I am a Christian. I have the right to propagate my faith," he told the Express three years ago when he was confronted with allegations of conversion.

A press release from an ecumenical leader, John Dayal, a Catholic, says Tantray converted to Christianity about 10 years ago.

Tehmina Arora, secretary of EFI's legal department, told UCA News that Christian groups are "concerned about the growing number of incidents against Christians in the state." She cited numerous cases of Muslim militants beating and threatening pastors or Christian workers.

Reverend Howell said his organization would discuss the matter with the state administration.

Tantray's killing, he said, "has again brought to fore the debate over the role of Christian evangelists working in the valley, who are often charged with conversions." He said many among them feel the volatile atmosphere in the valley is not appropriate for evangelization.

Another Christian leader, Indian Missions Association secretary K. Rajendran, told UCA News he questions "the very ethos of the religion that allows killing because of conversion or any other issue."



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