India Christian violence, India Christian hindu violence
Associated Press

India’s Government Under Fire for Anti-Christian Violence

September 25, 2008 11:48 AM
by Denis Cummings
The Indian government is being criticized by Western organizations for its failure to stop several incidents of anti-Christian violence over the last month.

Christians Attacked in Karnataka

The western state of Karnataka has been the scene of violence since Sept. 14, when 20 Christian churches were vandalized by radical Hindus. It is happening as violence in the eastern state of Orissa is still simmering after attacks in August drove thousands of Christians from their homes.

Radical Hindu group Bajrang Dal has taken credit for the attacks. Its leader in Karnataka, Mahendra Kumar, has been arrested, but many Christians believe the authorities have not done enough to protect them.

Bajrang Dal is the militant youth wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, both of which are part of the Sangh Parivar alliance of nationalist Hindu organizations, along with one of India’s most powerful parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party. Many inside and out of India believe that the BJP is encouraging the violence.

“The mobs devastated churches and homes, beat up nuns, and the police were nowhere to be seen,” said India’s National Commission for Minorities chairman Mohammed Shafi Qureshi about the violence in Karnataka. “The state government was responsible for this. If the BJP hadn’t come to power, this never would have happened.”

Christians in India are not the only ones criticizing the country’s government for its inability to stop the violence. President George W. Bush has been asked by the head of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Felice D. Gaer, to discuss the violence during a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Thursday in Washington, D.C.

“If India is to exercise global leadership as the largest and perhaps most pluralistic democracy in the world, Prime Minister Singh should demonstrate his government’s commitment to uphold the basic human rights obligations to which it has agreed, including the protection of religious minorities,” Gaer wrote in a letter to Bush. “Indian government’s response to the egregious violence in Orissa remains inadequate, the severity and extent of these attacks warrant a national-level investigation and response”
Other Western organizations are adding their voices as well. The Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America is planning a rally outside the White House during the meeting to draw attention to the violence. “It is shameful to allow such things to take place while India is on its way to becoming an economic power. This kind of behaviour needs to be discouraged if India must become a member of the civilised global society,” said FIACONA president Rev. Bernard Malik in a press release.

Singh is also scheduled to meet with the European Union Monday in Marseille. On Wednesday, the European Parliament agreed to raise the issue during the meeting. “It is high time for the government in New Delhi to hear some bitter words about the violation of freedom of religion in that country,” said Polish MP Konrad Szymanski.

Background: India’s religious violence

The violence is fueled in part by the perception that a large number of Hindus are converting to Christianity to gain access to Christian education and health care services. Radical Hindu leaders have accused Christian missionaries of bribing lower class Hindus to convert.

The anti-Christian sentiment has been exploited by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party—which is part of the Hindu nationalist Sangh Parivar organization—to win votes. “The trajectory of Sangh Parivar politics is: begin hate propaganda against minorities, plan violence, prepare a pretext, unleash violence, polarise the communities along religious lines and strengthen the hold on political power,” writes Ram Puniyani in The Economic Times.

Violence erupted in the eastern state of Orissa in August 2008, following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others. Though the attacks were carried out by Maoists, local VHP leaders blamed Christians, and Hindus carried out attacks on Christian churches and other institutions. More than 20 Christians were killed and thousands more were left homeless or living in camps.

Key Player: Manmohan Singh

Singh was named India’s first Sikh Prime Minister in 2004 by Sonia Gandhi, a fellow Congress Party member who turned down the post after being elected. Singh is an economist who helped to modernize India’s economy while serving as Finance Minister in the mid-90s. He is a quiet, measured leader, but he has been criticized for being weak; last year, the BJP called him the “weakest PM ever.”

Singh has spoken out against the attacks on Christians, calling the violence in Orissa a “shame on the nation.” However, his government has been unable to quell the violence, and many in the country say that he is too focused on a nuclear technology deal with the United States. He has been negotiating the deal since he took over and it will be the center of his talks with Bush on Thursday.

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