Gujarati Christians celebrate Christmas week amidst tension of communal and religious violence

"We have strengthened security in four sensitive districts," said Gujarat's junior home minister
( [email protected] ) Dec 31, 2003 09:20 AM EST

Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India., Dec. 31 - Thousands of Christians in India attended Christmas morning mass and yuletide celebrations last Thursday, amidst tension and fear of violence raised by the spectre of anti-Christian pamphlets sent out last week in different parts of Gujarat - a western Indian state plagued by religious and communal violence over the past years.

In Gujarat state, where the pamphlets were distributed, thousands of security forces have been sent to areas where Christians live. Last year, Hindu-Muslim riots in Gujarat left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.

Christian homes sparkled with lights and homemade decorations, and people flocked to five-star hotels and clubs in major Indian cities to attend Christmas parties, complete with trees and Santas handing out gifts to children.

"I moved freely with my family. We are enjoying Christmas," said I. N. Natrajan, a Christian in Ahmadabad, Gujarat's industrial hub.

Earlier this week, thousands of anti-Christian pamphlets were slipped under the doors of Christian and Hindu homes in Gujarat.

The pamphlets accused Christians of forcibly converting poor Hindus - a charge Christian leaders deny. One pamphlet accused Christians of destroying 200 Hindu temples in western Goa state. Another pamphlet was titled: "A conspiracy to make India a Christian country."

It wasn't immediately clear who was behind the pamphlets. Similar pamphlets were distributed in 1998, days before attacks by Hindu nationalists on Christian prayer halls in southern Gujarat.

Responding to a court order to address concerns of possible anti-Christian violence, Amit Shah, Gujarat's junior home minister, said Thursday: "We have strengthened security in four sensitive districts where paramilitary forces have been put on alert."

Christians comprise only around 2 percent of India's more than 1.2 billion people.

Hindu nationalists have targeted Christians and their organizations in Gujarat and other states since they came to power in 1998. One of the most gruesome attacks was in 1999, when a Hindu mob torched the vehicle of an Australian missionary, burning him and his two young sons alive in eastern Orissa state.