21 November 2006
By BosNewsLife News Center
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– A prominent Christian leader of the influential advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) was shot and killed Tuesday, November 21, by suspected Islamic militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir, an official said.
GCIC's Kashmir Coordinator Bashir Tantray was shot dead this morning at 10 am [local time]by Islamic militants," said GCIC National President Sajan K. George in a statement monitored by BosNewsLife.
George said 50-year-old Tantray, a former Muslim, died when he was hit by "three bullets…just in front of his father's house," in a village in Kashmir's district of Baramulla, near the regional summer capital Srinagar.
The attack in Mamoosa village, reportedly carried out by at least two gunmen, happened after Tantray left his home in Srinagar to visit his "aging parents," George explained. Tantray was one of the first known Kashmiri Christians, and worked with indigenous Christian churches in Kashmir, George added.
Besides his ministry for GCIC, he was active as a Christian social worker and government employee. George said the assassination happened after Tantray "received several death threats by radical Muslims" who recently warned him "to stop his humanitarian activities." Islamic militants were apparently also angry that he converted from Islam to Christianity, at least six years ago.
The army and the police buried the body of Tantray, but "without a proper investigation," George alleged. Indian officials were not immediately available for comment. Tantray is survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons.
The killing came as a major set-back for the GCIC, which had been operating as an association of those concerned about what it calls "trends of intolerance triggered by religious fundamentalists in the Indian society."
GCIC was established "for the advocacy of freedom of faith" and says it continues to lobby agencies and authorities "to uphold and implement constitutional guarantees and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." The GCIC is a registered nonprofit organization with headquarters in Bangalore, India and its international Offices in Delaware, USA.
"We were just outside our house. Two young boys passed by us. One of them asked about the timing of the bus. Another took out a pistol from his jacket and fired three rounds on Bashir Ahmad," India's Hindustan Times news paper quoted Ghulam Rasool Tantray, a cousin of the slain Christian, as saying.
It came amid growing religious tensions in the region, part of India's only Muslim-majority state, known as Jammu and Kashmir. Muslim militants object to Christian missionaries in the area, where the Hindustan Times said about 15000 Muslims embraced Christianity in recent years. It was difficult to independently verify those claims.
The killing of Tantray added to the ongoing bloodshed in Kashmir, where officials say at least 45,000 people have been killed since a separatist insurgency broke out there 1989, although separatist groups claim the toll is at least twice that number. Over 200,000 people have been displaced.
Peace talks between India and Pakistan over the disputed Himalayan region were originally set for July but were put off by New Delhi after the Mumbai blasts earlier this year.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over Kashmir and the dispute has overshadowed their relations since independence from Britain in 1947. (With BosNewsLife' s Stefan J. Bos and other reports from the region).