- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

NEW DELHI, Jan. 21 (UPI) — Indian authorities have ordered an American missionary to leave the country a week after suspected Hindu zealots attacked him for preaching religion.

Evangelist Joseph W. Cooper of the New Jerusalem church in Pennsylvania is charged with violating a visa rule that prohibits visitors from preaching at religious meetings.

Cooper, who is recuperating from stab wounds in a private hospital, has been asked to leave within seven days.

"We have served orders to Cooper to leave the country within seven days for preaching while on a tourist visa and thereby violating visa rules," police superintendent T.K. Vinod Kumar said.

Cooper, 67, an ordained bishop, was attacked on Jan. 13 when he, along with a team of local evangelists, was returning from a gospel convention organized by the Protestant "Friends of Bible" church at Tholikkuzhi Puliam in southern India.

Cooper was stabbed and a local pastor, his wife, two children and a singer were also injured in the attack. The armed gang attacked with swords, knives and iron bars.

Police have so far arrested nine Hindu nationalists from the organization, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, for the attack. The RSS has close ties to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that heads the federal coalition government.

Kumar said that Cooper had violated a 1995 central order, which restricts foreigners in India on tourist visas from preaching.

Cooper told The Telegraph newspaper by telephone that he had received the police order. He said he had been participating in missionary meetings regularly during his previous 11 visits to India.

Kummanam Rajashekharan, the chief of the World Hindu Council in Kerala province, said: "The government is letting Cooper off cheaply. The U.S. missionary should have been arrested and prosecuted according to Indian law."

Christian missionaries have worked in India for more than 150 years, building hospitals, schools and hospices and helping the poor and downtrodden in remote tribal areas.

Despite the good work done by India's national hero and Nobel prize-winning Roman Catholic nun Mother Teresa, Christian missionaries have often complained of harassment and hostility at the hands of Hindu zealots.

Australian missionary Graham Staines, 58, and his two sons, Philip, 10 and Timothy, 8, were killed in January 1999 when a mob set fire to the jeep in which they were sleeping after a religious discourse in a coastal village in Orissa state.

Several radical Hindu groups allege that the Christian missionaries are converting Hinduism's lowest "untouchable" caste people to Christianity. Some 12 million so-called "untouchables" have converted to avoid humiliation at the hands of India's upper-caste citizens.

However, Christian community leaders assert that the aim of missionaries has always been the spread of education and bringing health care to the poor and underprivileged.

They say that conversions do take place but deny resorting to inducements.

Christians comprise slightly more than 2 percent of India's nearly 1 billion people. Most of India's 23 million Christians live in south India, where religious conflicts are rare.

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