In an interview with AsiaNews, the pastor of All Saints Anglican Church says he was “the victim of a conspiracy,” but holds “no grudge”. The rev. Khanna spent ten days in jail for having baptized seven Muslims.
Srinagar (AsiaNews) – “I was the victim of a serious conspiracy, but I’m not afraid to return to serve my church and community”, says Chander Mani Khanna, the pastor of All Saints Anglican Church of Kashmir arrested for having baptized seven Muslims, shortly after being released on the night of December 1st in an interview with AsiaNews. The pastor was held in police custody for ten days at Kothi Bagh police station (Srinagar), under to art. 153A (people who promote disharmony, enmity or hatred based on religion, race, residence, language or caste) and 295A (people who offend the religious feelings of any class, with deliberate and malicious acts). He was arrested following a complaint made by the Grand Mufti of Kashmir, who had summoned him before an Islamic court after seeing a video of baptisms on YouTube. Below, an interview with Rev. Khanna by AsiaNews.
Rev. Khanna, what was the outcome of your trial?
I was the victim of a conspiracy, no Srinagar lawyer would take my case, the same legal group in Kashmir threatened all of its members to boycott me (see AsiaNews, 30/11/2011, ” Kashmir: Anglican pastor who baptised seven Muslims to be released “). Twice, the judge had to postpone the hearing to determine my bail. Eventually, they released me only with a warning not to leave the state. At the time of liberation, outside the prison, there were protests, and on my return home, I had to change cars twice to avoid being followed.
Tell us about the events that led to your arrest
In Kashmir, we Christians are a very small community, just 200-250 people against the majority of Muslims, yet we serve through our schools and our apostolate. We never go around proselytizing, we never invite people to convert to Christianity. These seven young men came to our church for almost six months, they wanted to listen attentively to the Word of God, and with great respect sat among the community during services. After a few months, they spoke to me of their desire to receive communion and become Christians. So, they began to follow catechesis, after which they received baptism before the whole community. These seven people freely chose to be baptized.
Do you regret celebrating the baptism?
Absolutely not. The baptisms were celebrated in broad daylight, before the whole community. I had no ulterior motives, or other matters of money. I am an ordained minister of the Church of North India (Anglican, ed) and an Indian citizen living in a secular country. As a minister of the Church, we have our own evangelical mission. The scriptures tell us to go and proclaim the Word of God and baptise. This is the commandment given to the Church, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here in Kashmir we are a very small community, yet its like living in an Islamic state. A Koranic court summoned me and I went without any problems because I wanted to explain to them that I had done nothing illegal or unconstitutional.
Reverend, what would you like to say to the Muslims of Kashmir and those places where Christians are a minority?
I want to tell them that we are all sons of our father Abraham, who want to live together peacefully, and work to improve mutual understanding. There are many things that they do not understand about prayer. It is urgent that intellectuals and spiritual leaders sit down together and open a dialogue for the common good of all people. Giving communities more spiritual values, to help them understand and live together. The message of Christ is to spread love, not hate: that is why we want to express Christ’s love in our lives through our ministry.
Are you willing to return to your church, despite the threats?
Certainly. It is imperative that reconciliation takes place between the two communities, so we can understand and help each other. Both Islam and Christianity are religions of peace. I do not harbor a grudge against anyone, my prayer is that God can reveal the truth to them. There is no other power except that of the Good News of the Gospel, which in a free gift such as I have received, and I can bring people closer to God’s love.