A Year of Violence Against India's Catholics
As Catholic believers across India gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus, many will carry physical or emotional scars as a result of attacks launched by Hindu extremists over the past year.
Many incidents of violence against both Catholics and Protestants went unreported, since the police often refused to record the victims' complaints, but by last June the number of violent attacks recorded by Christian organizations had reached over 200. This number was expected to double by year's end. Catholics, who make up about 29 percent of Christians in India according to Operation World, were often targeted in these attacks.
"This year Hindu extremists have beaten our priests, assaulted our nuns, broken crosses and urinated on sacred vessels," said Dr. John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union. "These acts of desecration show the true nature of the attackers."
Attacks were reported in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the states of tribal central India.
"We also have reports of attacks on Catholic clergy from West Bengal in the east to Andhra Pradesh in south central India," Dayal said.
Desecration of religious objects is common in such attacks. Police, however, often ignore the religious aspects of a complaint because of the legal implications.
"Indian law has specific provisions against actions that sow seeds of hatred between communities," Dayal explained. "We also have laws against violence directed at a specific religious or other minority group. Still other laws come into operation if the victims are Dalits."
In several cases of religiously-motivated violence this year, police have refused to record a "First Information Report," leaving the victims with no legal means to pursue their complaints. In other cases, desecration of religious objects is recorded only as petty crime or theft.
Rajasthan has the highest number of recorded incidents. In February, Rajasthan's state government announced plans to adopt anti-conversion legislation, echoing laws already in force in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh.
Gujarat state passed a similar law in March 2003, but the law has not yet been enforced.
The Rev. Dr. Babu Joseph, director of communications and spokesperson for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told Compass the total number of violent incidents reported had declined over the past year.
"This is partly due to the change of government in 2004, and its policies of inclusiveness ... which have given a better sense of security to those who suffered harassment," Joseph claimed.
Other Christian leaders rejected Joseph's claim of decreasing religious violence, but all agree that anti-Christian violence surged after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won federal elections held in 1998. The BJP government was ousted by a Congress Party-led coalition in new elections held in April 2004.
Joseph admitted that the situation is still far from ideal.
"As the spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, I ardently hope that the new year will see a positive change in the social scenario of India, [so that] people of all religions, cultures and castes can find an honorable place to live and develop as equal citizens of our beloved India."
For his part, Dayal has issued a call for all church groups to work together in combating violence.
"We must not accuse each other of attracting violence from extremist groups," he told Compass. "Instead we must teach our groups, both Catholics and Protestant, to be more culturally sensitive and to exercise common sense."
But once an attack has taken place, he said, it must be recognized as a crime that should be denounced and punished.
The most recent attack occurred on December 12, when Hindu extremists forced more than 40 Dalit Catholic families in Raipur district of Chattisgarh state to convert to Hinduism.
The villagers were threatened with loss of employment and Dalit social benefits if they refused.
Other examples of persecution of Catholic churches or individuals in 2005 include (alphabetically, by state):
In Assam state on September 2, armed assailants murdered Mgr. Nellickal, vicar-general of Tejpur diocese, on church premises.
In Delhi on May 23, vandals set fire to St. Mary's church complex in Sabhapur, 150 kilometers (about 93 miles) outside Delhi. They set fire to records in the director's office and destroyed 200 textbooks and 1,000 new diaries intended for students. "There was nothing left in the rooms except the tables," said one tribal sister who taught at the school.
In Jharkhand state on September 13, a tribal Catholic priest identified only as Father Agnos was murdered during a peaceful demonstration for tribal rights. A mob of some 40 Hindu extremists armed with knives, arrows and swords stormed the rally and attempted to disperse the 3,500 demonstrators. Fr. Agnos was stabbed in the back and bled to death.
In Kerala state on October 17, four unidentified men armed with wooden sticks attacked the home of Bishop Vincent Samuel in Neyyatinkara. Attackers had destroyed the windows and were about to break in when a police patrol arrived. A security guard was injured in the attack, and three vehicles were damaged.
In Maharashtra on January 23, armed extremists attacked the Teresian Carmelites Convent, which runs a home for the elderly in a suburb of Mumbai. The door and cross were smashed. Pamphlets left by the attackers encouraged the nuns to "Run away - or we will come back. This country is ours. Now it is the cross; the next time it will be your heads."
In Manipur on April 19, a mob of 200 extremists armed with sickles and torches set fire to a Catholic church in Lamding village.
In Rajasthan on June 9, mobs of extremists attacked two Catholic convents; on June 11, a mob attacked a third convent and held the nuns captive overnight; on June 12, extremists broke into the Holy Trinity Church in Jaipur, capital of Rajasthan, and threw rotten eggs and blue-colored water at a shrine dedicated to the infant Jesus.
October 16 in Rajasthan state, members of the Hindu extremist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) accused Catholics holding a procession of planning forced conversions among tribal people in Udaipur district. Bishop Joseph Pathalil's car was pelted with stones as he left the procession, but he escaped unharmed.
Also in Udaipur district, on October 25 five nuns waiting at a bus stop were beaten with sticks.
In West Bengal on February 12, police arrested 81-year-old Father. Luciano Colussi, vicar-general of Krishnagar, giving no reason or explanation for his arrest.
Air ban on Indian holy man's staff sparks violence
07 Dec 2005
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Indian police have used canes to beat back hundreds of angry followers of a Hindu seer when they took to the streets of two cities after the guru was barred from carrying his staff on board a commercial flight.
Police used canes, or lathis, to break up a protest outside Mumbai airport on Tuesday night and again at the airport in the nearby city of Aurangabad on Wednesday, an official said.
At least 30 people, including reporters and other passengers, were hurt in the Mumbai incident, local media reported. TV showed some people with thick red welts on their backs after being hit.
Narendra Maharaj, a little-known holy man was barred from taking his staff on a flight from Lucknow to Mumbai on Tuesday because of security rules, an officer of the Central Industrial Security Force, which is charged with protecting airports, said.
"When he arrived in Mumbai, the officials tried to pacify him and requested him to talk to his supporters but he refused," he said. About 500 of the guru's supporters protested.
"The unruly mob refused to let passengers in or out of the building. The security personnel tried to pacify them but they didn't listen."
The seer, clad in saffron robes, was shown on television demanding the sacking of the policemen who caned his supporters.
On Wednesday, a similar mob rallied at the Aurangabad airport, near Mumbai, believed to be his base. By early afternoon, another crowd had begun gathering at Mumbai airport.
Hindu Vandals send
out a message of violence on V Day eve
FEBRUARY 14, 2006
Hardline Hindu activists burned Valentine’s Day cards on the eve of the year’s
most romantic day and warned couples across India against getting too amorous
over a ‘foreign’ festival that corrupts traditional values.
Saint Valentine’s Day has become increasingly popular in India in recent years, a trend led by retailers who do healthy business selling heart-shaped balloons and fluffy teddy bears.
But the growing popularity of the day has also sparked protests, which have sometimes turned violent.On Monday, dozens of sword-wielding Hindu activists used loudspeakers in the central city of Bhopal to ask couples to stay indoors on V-Day.
In Mumbai activists of the Shiv Sena, on Sunday, vandalised a gift shop and set fire to bundles of cards in a warning to shop owners and young lovers, a police official said.
The activists said that they would also target hotels and restaurants that offered special romantic deals on the occasion of Valentine’s Day. In Jharkhand, Hindu radicals have announced that they would patrol the streets of the capital, and force any couple found cozying up in public to get married.
Groups like the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena have in the past stopped screening of some controversial films, saying they denigrated India’s ancient traditions.
India riot police dispatched to prevent violence to Christians
AHMEDABAD, India – The federal government has decided to deploy paramilitary forces in western India after Church groups charged that an upcoming Hindu "religious fair" targets Christian tribal people.
Hindu groups plan to hold the fair Feb. 11-13 in Gujarat state's Dangs district, about 1,500 kilometers (about 930 miles) southwest of New Delhi.
Christian leaders and secular groups in India say the fair threatens peace in the region, since its leaders previously announced the goal of "reconverting" Christian tribal people to Hinduism.
Gujarat state Home Secretary Shivanad Jha, in a Feb. 6 statement, said the administration plans to deploy the Rapid Action Force and several teams of the state Reserve Police in the fair area to tackle potential sectarian violence. Members of the Rapid Action Force, India's riot police, are expected to reach the fair site by Feb. 10 at the latest.
Christian and secular leaders have petitioned federal agencies to act, and human rights groups have accused the Hindu groups of conducting a hate campaign against Christians. Dangs was the site of anti-Christian violence in 1998, when Hindu activists burned churches and bibles, and attacked schools, nuns and priests.
Complaints against the fair led the Supreme Court as well as the Federal National Human Rights Commission to ask the fair organizers to clarify their motives for holding the fair.
Suresh Raolji, head of the fair's organizing committee, denied they had planned a reconversion campaign. Speaking with UCA News, the Hindu leader dismissed the reconversion program as a media creation. "This is a holy occasion and some vested interests are hell-bent on maligning it," he said.
It is billed as a religious gathering "towards awakening the Hindus in general and the 'vanavasi' (tribal) Hindus in the Dang region of Gujarat in particular," according to the Hindu fair organizers' Web site.
Father Ishwan Gamit, superior of the Jesuits working in Dangs district, says pressure from the media and international agencies has forced the Hindu groups to backtrack on their reconversion campaign.
Father Gamit, a tribal priest, told UCA News the Hindu groups planned the fair in the area with the sole aim of converting tribal Christians. "Otherwise, why should they have it here? This is not a Hindu holy place," he remarked.
Some state government officials clarified that state support is purely "administrative." However, following the Supreme Court notice, the government redrafted its permission for holding the fair, according to media reports. A clause was added in the permission saying the event should not be construed as a Hindu rite of reconversion. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian people's party) rules the state now.
Jesuit Father Xavier Manjooran, a lawyer, maintains that the state government is involved in the hate campaign as well as in organizing the fair. The priest directs a free legal aid center in central Gujarat's tribal area.
Pankaj Kumar, additional principal secretary in the chief minister's office, says the administration has "arranged everything for the smooth running of the fair but also for the safety and security of those who fear they might be targeted."
Kumar told UCA News that the administration decided to station riot police there to make the Christian minority feel secure. The state government has also arranged communication systems and crowd control vehicles to help people in the forest area, he added.
Catholics and Christians of at least 16 other Churches and denominations live in Dangs district, forming about 15 percent of its 186,000 people.
Motilal Gaikwad, a tribal resident and former village head, said right-wing Hindu activists equipped with walkie-talkies now roam the area despite government assurances.
Press conference on anti-Christian violence disrupted by Hindu activists
A group of men forced their way into the conference room shouting and thrashing the place. The two women raped on May 28 for not abjuring Christianity were present at the press conference.
by Nirmala Carvalho
7 June, 2006
Bhopal (AsiaNews) – A group of Hindu activists stormed their way into the room where the Madhya Pradesh Christian Association (MPCA) had organised a press conference. The two women raped a few days ago for not abjuring Christianity were also present.
The incident began when the head of the MPCA, Indira Iyengar, was presenting an analysis of the role religion plays in Indian society as well as describing the suffering Christians have to endure. She was interrupted by a group of Hindu activists from the Bajrang Dal who stormed their way into press conference shouting that attempts to discredit their religion should stop. “I will not allow anyone to sully the name of Hindu nationalist organisations,” the group’s leader, Devendra Singh Rawat, was heard saying out loud. Ms Iyenger who tried to reply was prevented from saying or doing anything when the activists began thrashing the place.
When the police later arrived, both activists and Ms Iyenger were told to leave the premises.
Madhya Pradesh state government issued a press release expressing its disapproval of the conduct of the group of Hindu activists. “Nobody has the right to disturb the press meet if such an incident took place”, Public Relations Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters. “Such incident should not have happened”, he said.
“They are favoured by the state,” Fr Anand Muttungal told AsiaNews. “They behave with arrogance and it is really bad that they dared stop a press conference organised by Christians,” said the clergyman, who is also spokesman for the state Bishops’ Conference.
“They want to intimidate me, get me to give up,” Ms Iyengar told AsiaNews. “They are really serious in their attitude. They shouted at me in public. It is not only a lack of respect towards Christians but also towards the basic rights of every woman.”
John Dayal, head of the All India Catholic Union, issued a press release also touching on religious intolerance and violence against women.
“We call on the government,” the statement said, “not to close its eyes but to arrest those who commit acts of violence. We call on the police to hear complaints and investigate violent acts against the Christian community.”
On May 28, two Madhya Pradesh women raped for refusing to abjure Christianity tried to press charges at a police station but local officers refused to hear them since the accusations involved men powerful in state politics and close to the current state government. Only after higher authorities such as the political superintendent intervened did local police allow the victims to formally file charges.
“Women are the weakest segment of our society,” Mr Dayal’s statement reads. “Conviction in case of violence [against them] should be clear.”
“Official data show that in India a woman is raped every 30 minutes, murdered every 75. In most cases, women are burnt for failing to bring enough dowry money,” he noted. “What is more, the number of female feticide has doubled since 2004 according to Police National Crime Records Bureau.”
“The capital New Delhi is the least safe place for women in the country with one third of all rape cases. Some of the women are Christian but religion does not play any significant role in a majority of cases. But the case of the two women in Madhya Pradesh is different. It is reminiscent of a similar case of gang violence against nuns in Jhabua some years ago.”
“The two women were singled out for brutal treatment,” Mr Dayal said. “The gang attacked the Christians at 10 pm on May 28, beat up the men, took away and raped their wives. Who did it is known. They are called Lulla, Nandla, Kalu, Rewal Singh, and Sakaram, and they are from the same village”.
For Mr Dayal this should be sufficient to get both state and Union (federal) authorities to adopt and implement laws that stop violence against religious minorities and protect them.
Women raped in Madhya Pradesh for converting to Christianity
Indira Iyengar, a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minority Commission, explains that the May 28 attack was the act by Hindu fanatics who wanted to punish Tribals from Nadia village, guilty in their eyes of leaving Hinduism for Christianity.
Bhopal (AsiaNews/ICNS) – Women from the village of Nadia “were raped as punishment for changing religion and converting to Christianity”. The authorities, “whether civil, police or the courts failed to listen to the women and give them justice,” said Indira Iyengar, a member of the Madhya Pradesh State Minority Commission.
In an interview she said that the “horrendous crime perpetrated against Christians in Nadia” started last May 28, around 10 pm, when a group of Hindu nationalist fanatics attacked five Christians—two women and three men—and held them for a whole day. The two women were raped and the three men suffered serious gunshot wounds.
The women, Baishi Pokharia and Rekha Gyarsiya, were able to identify their aggressors, Lulla, Nandla, Kalu, Rewal Singh and Sakaram, all of whom, like their victims, are from the same village.
Next morning local leaders from India’s largest party, the Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, a party that espouses a Hindu nationalist-fundamentalist ideology, reported alleged “mass conversions to Christianity” to the local police due to Christian missionaries coming from neighbouring Maharashtra state.
Even though no clergyman was named in the report, in the charges filed they claimed as proof of their allegations the names of the five who had been attacked the previous day. When the latter eventually made it to the Bhagwanpura police station to press charges against their aggressors they were arrested by Inspector Thakur.
“All this happened because they converted from Hinduism to Christianity,” said Ms Iyengar. “The attack should be punished because, in addition to the violence it entailed, it destroys a fundamental human right. But no one wants to listen to us”.
“We want Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister to know what is going on here. We want this inequality to end. We want to live in safety,” she said.
“We got justice no where,” lamented the five victims, who are from a local tribal community. For her part, one of the two women said that the “police told us that our charges were false. They refused to listen. Now, we have no where to go”.
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