Missioners will neither stop nor be intimidated, said the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India after last Saturday’s attack on three priests and six nuns in Kerala. Bishop Percival Fernandez told the media that the attacks on Christians were the work of some fundamentalist groups, but do not reflect the ethos of the people of India.
“Indians are tolerant and loving people,” Fernandez told Italy-based AsiaNews.
More importantly, he insisted, “The violence will not frighten missioners,” adding that “they will renew their faith in the Spirit of Christ and shall suffer for Him.”
In Saturday’s assault against workers of Missionaries of Charity, the aggressors reportedly attacked two groups of workers as they were carrying food for impoverished people living in the slums of India. The first group was allegedly pulled out of the jeep and the crosses they wore around their necks were allegedly broken. The nuns managed to escape fortunately, after some of the locals intervened.
An hour later, another jeep belonging to Missionaries of Charity carrying Mother Superior Kusumam and six others, including a Kenyan missionary, arrived at the slum where they were allegedly surrounded and attacked by 40 people carrying iron rods.
Nine missionaries were admitted to a local hospital with head injuries. The assailants managed to escape after the attack.
Sources say local Hindus accused the nuns of “converting Dalits” –the lowest of India’s castes– from a local village to Christianity. But the missioners were not involved in conversions, Fernandez said. “Their only goal is to bring food and provisions to the poorest families. They treat them with dignity and love even if they are Hindu. I am certain that if their aggressors need help, they would do everything in their power to do so,” he added.
For Bishop Fernandez the violence against the Missionaries of Charity was a “shameful” act.
Meanwhile, Mother Superior Kusumam, who was admitted to the hospital with two cut wounds on her head, has refused to lodge a complaint against the assailants saying she did not want any harm to them.
She also denied the allegation that they were involved in conversion activities. "These charge are absolutely baseless. There are 53 inmates in our institution and they all belong to different castes. We have never asked them to convert into our religion," she said adding that she was concerned that a section of people were trying to destroy the secular credentials of Kerala.
Several ministers, leaders of political parties and women's organizations visited the nuns and the priests injured in the attack at the hospital. Health Minister K.K. Ramachandran Master and Public Works Minster Dr M.K. Muneer termed the incident unfortunate and promised stern action against the culprits.
For a long time, India’s Christians have been targets of Hindu fundamentalists. The violence against the Missionaries of Charity, which was founded by Mother Teresa, was but the latest in a series of violent episodes that have taken place in the last month.
On August 22, Fr John Sunderam, a parish priest in Kubbu (Lohardaga district in the eastern state of Jharkhand), was left comatose after a group of armed men attacked in his parish building. Another priest, Fr Albinus Tirkey, was also wounded.
On August 26, some 300 Hindu fundamentalists attacked Our Lady of Charity parish church in Raikia (Kandhamal district in the north-eastern state of Orissa). They entered the church, burnt Bibles and destroyed the tabernacle and statues of saints. The police was at the scene but did not intervene. Six people were injured in the incident.
The worst episode took place on August 28 when Fr Job Chittilappilly was killed in his parish of Our Lady of the Graces, in the city of Thuruthiparambu (Kerala). He was killed while reciting the rosary in his home. Circumstantial evidence showed no signs of robbery and threatening phone calls about his pastoral work suggest a possible premeditated murder. Thus far, the police did not find the culprits.
AsiaNews reported that India’s Christians have repeatedly asked for greater protection. “We want the situation of religious minorities to be added to the nation’s political agenda,” said John Dayal, vice president of the All India Catholic Union.
On several occasions the government promised that it would take measures to deal with the problem. In a recent meeting with the President of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Card Telesphore Toppo, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said: “Under my government violence against Christians shall be a thing of the past.”
However, this has yet to be seen.
Though the majority of the people are Hindu, India is a secular nation with constitutional freedoms of speech and religion and, generally speaking, the government works to protect those freedoms.
In recent years, however, there has been a deterioration of those freedoms and various states have passed legislation restricting religious conversion. Also, militant Hindu groups have increasingly influenced the federal government, causing concerns in the Christian communities.
Currently the population of India is made up of 81.3 percent Hindu, 12 percent, Muslim and 2.3 percent Christian.