Attacks on Christians in India on the Rise

Violence by Hindu Extremists a Way of Life Under the Ruling BJP

NEW DELHI, India, DEC. 1, 2001 ( Christians continue to face frequent harassment and hostility in India, a country that is 81% Hindu and only 2.3% Christian.

Many international human rights organizations have expressed their concern about the lack of respect for Christians in India. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2001, noted that attacks against Christians have increased significantly since the Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) came to power in March 1998.

In the first half of last year, over 35 anti-Christian attacks had been reported throughout the country, with the states of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh — both under BJP control — particularly hard hit.

In October, International Christian Concern reported that Christians continue to be persecuted by radical Hindu groups, who accuse them of converting people through bribes and coercion.

The group gave details on some extremist organizations behind the anti-Christian hostilities.

–Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) — the “National Volunteer Corp”: a nationalist Hindu party which espouses a return to Hindu values and cultural norms. The group was responsible for the murder of Mahatma Ghandi.

–Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP): a Hindu religious organization affiliated with the RSS. On Sept. 30, 1998, the secretary of the VHP warned Christian missionaries to get out of India. In December 1998 the VHP announced that it would launch a campaign to stop missionaries from converting Hindus to Christianity.

–Bajrang Dal: a militant Hindu youth organization which boasts about half a million members, many of whom receive military training.

–Sangh Parivar: the extreme fanatical group that murdered missionary Graham Staines and his sons. It controls much of Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh states.

There have been some attempts to resolve the differences between Christians and Hindus. On Sept. 1 the Times of India reported on encounters that have taken place between the RSS and the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of India. The two met in Nagpur on Aug. 22, and further talks were scheduled.

Opinion is divided over whether the meetings will produce any positive results. The president of the Ecumenical Study and Dialogue Center, Bishop Thomas Mar Athanasius, and the president of Dr. Paulose Mar Paulose Memorial Trust, Ninan Koshy, said the church leaders would be deceiving themselves if they thought that the RSS will change its ideology.

Bishop Mar Thoma Mathew II, Catholicos of the East, and Bishop Sam Matthew, chairman of the Kerala Council of Churches, have assured their support for the talks.

But attempts to lessen tensions between Christians and the RSS took a turn for the worse when RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan called on Muslims and Christians to reinterpret their scriptures and change their leadership.

The Catholic bishops´ conference expressed “shock and surprise” at the statement made by Sudarshan in Nagpur, according to the Oct. 31 online edition of The Hindu.

The Church was also offended by Sudarshan´s observation that the leadership of the Christian and Muslim communities has remained in the hands of “conflict-mongers.” In the opinion of the bishops´ conference secretary-general, Archbishop Oswald Gracias, these observations only strengthen the hands of forces opposed to dialogue.

The bishops´ conference has also expressed its apprehension over Sudarshan´s reported call to RSS cadres to “arm themselves against any threats.”

Police complicity

A Hindustan Times report published Nov. 1 quoted a source from the Indian Minorities Commission on the situation concerning attacks against Christians.

Figures provided to the Minorities Commission by various state police departments indicate that the number of officially recorded attacks on Christians and Christian institutions rose sharply from 27 in 1997 to 86 the following year, 120 in 1999 and 216 in 2000. During the first three months of this year, 37 incidents were reported.

During 1997 and 1998, five individuals died on account of such incidents. The number of fatalities went up to 12 and 13, respectively, in the next two years. The number of those injured rose from 45 in 1998, to 91 and 132 in the next two years.

One recent attack took place in Puthkel, in the Bijapur district of the newly created state of Chhattisgarh. Leftist extremists killed a priest who participated in a mass awareness program against them, Reuters reported Oct. 13.

Another attack took place when around 100 activists of a Hindu fundamentalist group attacked the Philadelphia Church in Tichakiya village in Madhya Pradesh on Oct. 29 and demolished it, according to a SAR news report Nov. 17.

Samson Christian, a National Executive member of the All India Christian Council, wrote a letter to the president of India after the incident in which he reported that police authorities had refused to register a complaint against the attackers. He said that Pastor Bachubhai Vikabhai Bhuria, who works with about 150 Christian families of the village, approached the police, but they instead supported the Hindu attackers.

Secret surveys

Christians are also concerned about surveys being conducted by the police in the state of Gujarat. According to the Hindustan Times on Nov. 24, the police have again begun a clandestine survey of Christians, their assets and their funds.

In 1999 the High Court admonished the police over a similar move, so this time the orders for the survey were issued orally to the police stations. The Christian community became aware of the activity by authorities after the police went to various churches and sought information on priests and other details. Local Christian leaders told all churches and institutions not to divulge any information.

“The motive behind the survey could be to prepare a database on Christians and hand it over to Hindu fundamentalists,” said All India Christian Council National Executive member Samson Christian.

Police sources insisted the survey was undertaken to provide security to the community during the Christmas festivities. Yet other communities were not required to furnish such information, Christians note.

Suspicions about the government´s religious bias were confirmed in August when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee made anti-Christian remarks to a meeting of Hindu extremists.

The prime minister presided a book release Aug. 15 in honor of the late Lakshman Madhav Inamdar, a distinguished volunteer of the RSS, according to the Christian agency Compass Direct in its September bulletin. The author of the book, Narendra Modi, is the ruling BJP´s general secretary.

“There is a conversion motive behind the welfare activities being carried out by some Christian missionaries in the country´s backward areas and it is not proper, though conversion is permissible under the law,” Prime Minister Vajpayee said.

It is not surprising, noted Compass Direct, that the last 10 days of August saw unprecedented and unprovoked violence against Christian workers, even against helpless nuns in RSS-dominated areas.

The president of the country´s Catholic bishops´ conference, Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselius, said the prime minister´s recent remarks “might have been borne out of his fear that Christianity posed a threat to Indian culture.”

The archbishop added: “Christianity, especially Catholicism, posed no challenge or threat to Indian culture or ethos. On the contrary, it is an enriching factor. Over centuries, the Church has shown that it can coexist harmoniously with the Indian culture.” Whether that coexistence continues remains to be seen.

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