The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sangh drags scandal into pastor attack

Thiruvananthapuram, Jan. 16: Three days after the attack on American evangelist Joseph W. Cooper, the Sangh parivar came up with an official reaction which combined a denial, a demand and an allegation.

First, the VHP asserted that it had no role in the attack on the missionary and his associates.

Second, it demanded an inquiry into the circumstances in which a US citizen, who had come to India on a “visit visa”, was allowed to speak at a religious convention to promote Christianity.

Third, it alleged that two of Cooper’s associates, Pastor Benson and his wife Sali, were the main accused in a recent police case relating to the sexual harassment of a girl at a Bible college in Thiruvananthapuram.

The official reaction came in the form of a statement from Kummanam Rajashekharan, the Kerala chief of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.

In another statement, P. Parameshwaran, the president of the Bharatiya Vichara Kendram, a ideological centre of the parivar, said that the way Cooper and his associates have been operating did raise doubts about a conspiracy to enforce mass religious conversions in Kerala and adjoining states.

Rajashekharan alleged that there was a calculated move to blame the RSS for the attack. He added that innocent RSS activists were being taken into custody for questioning while the real culprits were moving around scot-free.

Rajashekharan said the attack was motivated by other local factors relating to Benson and Sali. The VHP leader said the couple is the main accused in the sexual harassment case but police were unable to immediately ascertain the veracity of the claim.

“Cooper’s inflammatory speech defending Christianity and deriding other religions might also have raised passions,” Rajashekharan said.

Cooper, however, branded the allegations as “totally baseless”. He told The Telegraph over phone from a hospital where he is being treated for stabbing injuries suffered during the attack that he had not made an inflammatory speech at the convention.

The American asserted his right to speak about his convictions irrespective of the status of his visa. “As far as my understanding goes, the Indian Constitution does not prohibit the freedom of expression of a visiting foreigner,” he added.

Cooper said the attack was a rude shock to him, particularly because it had happened in Kerala. The skydiver-turned-Protestant-missionary had made eleven visits to India and during most of these visits, Kerala was a destination.

“Over the years, I had developed a special liking for Kerala and its people who are warm, friendly, industrious and progressive. I never thought that I would be a target of communal passions here,” Cooper said.

A known professional parachute jumper in his young days, 68-year-old Cooper joined missionary work in the early seventies. Since then, he has been actively involved in evangelisation in many countries.

Cooper was to leave for Visakhapatnam on Thursday, but the stab wound that was inflicted him on Monday night by suspected RSS activists would confine him to the hospital for at least two weeks.

Cooper expressed satisfaction over the manner in which the state government had responded to the attack.

Officials at the US consulate in Chennai called him up today. On the basis of the conversation, they have decided not to send a fact-finding delegation to Kerala as originally planned.

In Washington, the state department condemned the incident and “appreciated the prompt response of Indian police and authorities to capture the perpetrators”. The police have so far held five people, including two RSS leaders.

A string of political leaders today called the evangelist. They included state Congress president K. Muraleedharan, the ruling coalition’s convener Oommen Chandy and state CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan.

The Kerala Human Rights Commission has decided to seek a report from the police on the attack.

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