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Radical Hindus step up attacks on Christians (chicagotribune.com)

Posted by jytmkh on September 29, 2008

The Tribune’s Kim Barker writes that India, a nation of many religions, struggles to overcome sectarian strife

MANGALORE, India — On their fifth day of silent prayer, the nuns of the Adoration Monastery heard the pounding in the public chapel next door, the sounds of glass shattering and the statue of Jesus being broken. After the sacrament crashed to the floor, the nuns found their voices. They screamed and called for Jesus.

The attack was one of many by radical Hindus against Christians over the past six weeks in India, a nation striving for religious tolerance but wrestling with bouts of sectarian strife that seem at odds with its drive to become a modern world power.

In the eastern state of Orissa, the country’s worst clashes, sparked by the slaying of a prominent Hindu priest, have paralyzed the state and killed at least 20 people. In the past two weeks, the violence has spread to six other states, including southwestern Karnataka and the coastal town of Mangalore.

The clashes have polarized many Christians and Hindus nationwide. Radical Hindu groups accuse Christians of killing the priest and converting Hindus, especially those from lower castes.

Christians say they have become the victims of anti-minority campaigns designed to win votes for the Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, the pro-Hindu main opposition political party, in national elections next year. The party just won control of Karnataka four months ago.

“It is very inhuman, what is going on,” said Mother Superior Mary Carmel, 57, of the Adoration Monastery, a convent where the 10 nuns leave only to vote or for medical care. “What we find is the government is totally against us. Instead of helping us, the police are victimizing us.”

Many religions converge
In many ways, India is a multireligious marvel, with a Sikh prime minister, a Hindu president and a Roman Catholic ruling-party leader. Indian coins proclaim “national integration,” and TV commercials celebrate harmony between religions. But since India gained independence from the British in 1947, violence has flared every decade or so between the Hindu majority and Muslims, Christians or Sikhs.

Now, as India sets its sights on becoming a world economic power, such violence is a major embarrassment. Many moderates here question whether the country will ever accept a person’s right to religious freedom, guaranteed by the constitution.

The central government has been blamed for allowing the violence to continue. This month, New Delhi officials warned the Orissa and Karnataka governments to stop attacks on Christians or face dismissal. Still, more churches have been ransacked.

Hindu fundamentalists say converts from Hinduism are somehow less Indian than Hindus. Seven states, including Orissa, ban conversion.

“The converted Christians, the converted Muslims, become cruel,” said M.B. Puranik, an official with the radical Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or VHP, and in charge of the party in the Mangalore area. “Their nationhood, their loyalty, is not to the nation. Their loyalty is to the Vatican. Their loyalty is to Allah. Conversion is the enemy of the nation.”

Catholic officials deny actively recruiting. Evangelical groups, especially in the south, have been very active trying to find converts, in one case setting up an illegal Christian orphanage after the tsunami for Hindu orphans. But Alwyn Colaco, a pastor with the Full Gospel Pentecostal Church in Mangalore, denied that anyone is forced into Christianity.

“That is a No. 1 lie, the No. 1 biggest lie,” he said. “Everyone’s free to propagate their religion. People are given enough time to evaluate and choose what they want.”

About 2.3 percent of Indians are Christian, compared with 80.4 percent Hindus, according to the 2001 census. In the 1961 census, 2.4 percent of Indians were Christian.

Violence may worsen

Anti-Christian violence could worsen in the run-up to parliamentary elections next year, analysts say, citing past experience. The BJP grew from a minor party to the major opposition party 16 years ago, largely through pro-Hindu policies that sparked riots. The party has been accused of being complicit in violence against both Muslims and Christians to win votes.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, the national BJP spokesman, said riots were unfortunate but blamed clashes on the conversion efforts and the death of the Hindu priest. He accused Christians in Karnataka of handing out pamphlets insulting Hindu gods. He denied that the BJP used communal divisions to manipulate voters.

“That is wholly wrong, a motivated campaign, patently false,” Prasad said.

V.S. Acharya, home minister of Karnataka, told journalists last week that the central government crackdown on the violence was an “overreaction.” As home minister, he is in charge of police in the state. Acharya also met with Hindu priests demanding the state ban conversion.

Ashit Mohan Prasad, the police official who oversees Mangalore and three districts of Karnataka hit by the anti-Christian violence, said police were independent and doing everything possible to prevent future clashes.

But nationwide, police and government officials have hardly been proactive. In Orissa, mobs rioted for weeks and sectarian violence raged on in spots late last week.

In Mangalore, Hindu activists first started beating anyone suspected of killing cows, considered holy, and any non-Hindu man caught talking to a Hindu woman. Then they planted yellow flags, a pro-Hindu symbol, on Cross Hill, amid 14 Christian crosses.

On Sept. 14, 20 churches and prayer halls were attacked at the same time in three districts. The leader of the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP, called a news conference to claim responsibility. He was not arrested for more than five days—and only after the national government issued its warning.

Though the vandals hit one Catholic church—the Holy Adoration—and focused mainly on evangelical prayer halls, Catholics across Mangalore clashed with police for two days.

Three nuns ended up in the hospital. One had stitches over her left eye after being hit with a rock or a tear gas canister while standing on the steps of a church. Two, more than 60 years old, said they were beaten by police while inside Catholic schools. Police are investigating claims of brutality.

Many Christians urged forgiveness and calm, but others said they had suffered enough. Church member Celine Lawrance, 76, said she had received many miracles praying at Holy Adoration. She wanted one more.

“God has to punish them,” she said. “This is my prayer.”

kbarker@tribune.com

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One Response to “Radical Hindus step up attacks on Christians (chicagotribune.com)”

  1. Partha Dash said

    Yes indeed god is punishing the evil after long 65 year of Azadi….Why to close school and college when Christian dies .. why Hindus are not ur brother and sisters … when a hindu die in Delhi or Mumbai bomb balst ur so call great missionaries school dose not close there buisness … why they dont give free education to a poor hindu child …. why so double standard …

    I am from Orissa .. and i know the state of tribals in Orissa than any other F c k in this world .. We the ppl of orissa are peace loving ppl, with so much poverty and social problem we never raised our voice …. now when we are reacting then ppl have got problem ….. After converting so many tribals to Christianity, still there state is same poor, uneducated, socialy backward…. noting has change. Now we hindu have got money have got a political party who support us and now getting organised to counter ur evil missionaries and there desire …..

    This will continue till we re convert ever Christian in orissa to hinduism… This is Hindustan not British raj India

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