India Christians Call for Assistance

( [email protected] ) Feb 10, 2004 01:51 PM EST

NEW DELHI — As violence against the minority Christian community escalates in India, church leaders are calling for official action to prevent deliberate religious extremities.

“The situation is serious,” said Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, president of the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

“The violence in Jhabua would not seem to be accidental,” the Zenit news service reported Toppo as saying at a recent press conference in New Delhi. “It would appear to have been purposely planned by fundamentalists to keep tension high.”

Violence against Christians lashed out on Jan. 11, when Hindu extremists accused Roman Catholic nuns and the headmaster of a Catholic school in Jhabua of murdering a young tribal girl on school grounds. Following the report, Hindu extremists burned effigies of priests in public and held demonstrations in front of Jhabua’s Catholic cathedral.

In Northern India, 17 Christians were arrested amid violence from a crowd of Hindus armed with weapons in a Church of North India church and school complex near Alirajpur. CNI officials hired a top lawyer from Delhi to release the members on bail.

The 17 Christians, including a local pastor, have been charged with murder but the church insists they are innocent and says that the pastor was not even present at the church complex when the violence broke out.

In subsequent violence, all 20 Christian houses in the Alirajpur area were looted and burned down by Hindu mobs.

“But the police never acted against them [Hindus] even as they burned three Christian homes right in front of the [Alirajpur] police station,” said Suresh Carleton, treasurer of the CNI’s local Bhopal diocese.

Another CNI Bishop, Lawrence Maida of Bhopal, agreed: “It seems the government machinery is only aiming at the members of the Christian community.”