JHABUA, India, JAN. 23, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Recent incidents of Hindu fundamentalist violence against Christians in the Diocese of Jhabua were planned by extremists “to keep tension high,” says Cardinal Telesphore Toppo.
Hindu fundamentalists belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajragdal and Durga Vahini nationalist movements instigated riots in recent days in the state of Madhya Pradesh, say Catholic observers. They said the fundamentalists were looking for an excuse to attack Christian communities.
The fundamentalists had accused the women religious and headmaster of a Catholic school in Jhabua of being responsible for the death of a young tribal girl murdered on the school grounds Jan. 11. Police arrested a suspect within days, but not before extremists carried out acts of violence.
“The violence in Jhabua would not seem to be accidental,” said Cardinal Toppo, archbishop of Delhi and president of the bishops’ conference of India, in a press conference in New Delhi. “It would appear to have been purposely planned by fundamentalists to keep tension high. The situation is serious.”
Eyewitnesses said that most of the Hindu extremists involved were not local people; many seemed to be from the nearby state of Gujarat.
Meanwhile, Bishop Chancko Thottumarickal of Jhabua sent a letter to the Vatican agency Fides expressing deep concern over an ideological anti-Christian propaganda campaign in his diocese.
Two days after the death of the girl, Hindu fundamentalists organized protests in the city, distributing anti-Christian leaflets and posters. Rioting crowds attacked Catholic places of worship and institutions.
On Jan. 14 more than 1,000 people attacked Jhabua school while 10 priests, 10 women religious and 75 girls were inside.
On Jan. 15, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Uma Bharti, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party nationalist party, visited the district and called for calm. He called a number of meetings at which the bishop was also present.
Later that day the police said they had arrested a suspect in the murderer, Manoj Yadav, who works in an office near a Catholic church. But this did not stop the violence.
In Amkut village, 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Jhabua, a Hindu and two Christians died in clashes between Hindus and Lutherans. In Alirajpur, Salesian Father Stanny Ferreira was beaten by fundamentalists and suffered serious injuries.
Local sources report that for the moment the situation appears to have returned to normal.
“In the meantime the defamatory anti-Christian campaign continues,” Bishop Thottumarickal told Fides. “Shameful anti-Christian posters have been put on walls all over the city, throwing mud on the Church. There is a danger of fresh outbreaks of violence.”