By Inmaculada Álvarez
NEW DELHI, India, SEPT. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- An Indian cardinal is decrying a lack of respect among religious fundamentalists for minorities’ Constitutional rights.
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, president of the Indian episcopal conference, spoke out against a wave of attacks against Christians by Hindu fundamentalists, which began in the state of Orissa last month, but has now spread to other areas, according to the bishops’ conference.
The Indian state of Orissa had been the primary scene of a spate of anti-Christian violence that intensified at the end of August after a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmananada Saraswati, was killed.
India has long been plagued by Christian-Hindu tension, as Christian missionaries work with poor tribal peoples and Hindus accuse them of forcing or bribing conversions. Christians are only a little more than 2% of India’s population of 1.1 billion. Hindus are about 80%.
The cardinal said the recent attacks “are the manifestation of the growing intolerance of certain sectors of society, who unashamedly challenge the Constitutional rights of the citizens of this country.”
“We urge them to desist from provoking the Christian minorities and to follow the path of dialogue and dignity when it comes to addressing social, religious and political issues,” he added.
Among the many reports of violence, the bishops reported that last Sunday, several Christians and 13 churches, both Catholic and Protestant, were attacked in three cities of the state of Karnataka, allegedly at the hands of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu extremist group. Two Protestant pastors and a Catholic nun were wounded. Four of the churches were Catholic; the main focus of the attacks was Pentecostal worship centers, in retribution for their alleged promotion of conversions to Christianity.
Violence in Orissa also continued. According to Father Dibyasingh Parichha, spokesman of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Diocese, a dozen Christian homes were set on fire Sunday, while a Protestant pastor reported the burning of several churches. AsiaNews reported that a Christian was killed Monday.
The Catholic bishops condemned the attacks in a note issued by the episcopal conference and signed by spokesman Divine Word Father Babu Joseph. The prelates also called on authorities to do everything possible to stem the violence
The bishops stressed that the attacks are not provoked: “[T]he Christian community has behaved peacefully, including in situations of extreme provocation. This must not be understood as weakness, but as a preferential option for the principles of civilized coexistence.”
The bishops also rejected the accusations of proselytism, stressing that the Christian community “continues to offer its services to all sectors of Indian society without any discrimination whatsoever.”
“The unfounded accusations of fraudulent conversions are due to interest groups determined to polarize society according to its religious beliefs. As responsible citizens of India, we will not succumb to these tactics that seek division,” added the prelates.
In a note condemning the attacks, Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore appealed for Christian unity at this time: “The moment has arrived for Christians to unite and grow in strength.”