Indian Christians Express Concern Following Rash of Violence

A principal Christian body in India expressed ''deep concern'' Sunday at what it said was a rash of violence against the minority community in several states
( [email protected] ) Oct 11, 2004 05:11 PM EDT

A principal Christian body in India expressed “deep concern” Sunday at what it said was a rash of violence against the minority community in several states following the April-May general election.

In a statement issued by the All India Catholic Union (AICU), the group said even states with little record of communal violence like the southern state of Kerala has seen the desecration of churches, attacks on workers from the Missionaries of Charity, and the murder of a Catholic priest, in addition to numerous smaller incidents of violence against Catholic and Protestant churches.

"In all cases, the suspects were identified as belonging to fundamentalist groups of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) family," John Dayal, the AICU national president, said in the statement.

"Even more dangerous were developments in states ruled by the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and its allies, including Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh and Jharkhand.

"Since the general election, there has been a systematic effort in all these states to dismantle many safety apparatuses that had been set in place by the previous governments," the statement said.

The Indo-Asian News Service, which released the statement on Sunday, said Dayal had pointed out that in Rajasthan, the distribution of trishuls, or tridents, had been legalized and was being "officially encouraged". Dayal also said that in several states, there was "aggressive coercion" to reconvert those who had embraced Christianity.

"There is rapid communalization of the educational system. The tribal area has practically been handed over to the Sangh Parivar which has launched a whole scale hate campaign against Muslims and Christians," the president said.

Referring to the revelations about declining literacy percentages and economic status of Christians as revealed in the recent census report, the AICU leadership said it exposed the hollowness of claims of development of minority communities since independence.

"It was time now to go beyond paying lip service to the cause of the Dalits, especially Christians of Dalit origin, and the poor," Dayal said.

"The church has to take concrete measures including working for social safety nets, universal health insurance and entrepreneurship programs. Dalits and landless peasantry must be assured free education. The government must ensure adequate funds towards this."

Prior to the April-May elections, the central Government was led by a coalition called the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The leading party in the coalition was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a Hindu nationalist party with links to Hindu extremist groups that have been implicated in violent acts against Christians and Muslims. Human rights groups and others also suggested that the Government’s inadequate response to acts of violence against religious minorities was due at least in part to links between extremist groups and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP was also head of state governments in Goa, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Chhattisgarh.

According to the latest government estimates, Hindus constitute 82 percent of the population, Muslims 12 percent, Christians 2.3 percent, Sikhs 2.0 percent, and others, including Buddhists, Jains, Parsis (Zoroastrians), Jews, and Baha'is, less than 2 percent.