INDIA: 2007 MOST VIOLENT EVER FOR CHRISTIANS SINCE INDEPENDENCE
More than 1,000 attacks reported as Hindu extremist party grows in power.
NEW DELHI, January 9 (Compass Direct News) – With more than 800 attacks around Christmas time in Orissa state, the number of attacks on Christians in 2007 crossed 1,000 for the first time since India’s Independence in 1947.
At least 200 incidents of anti-Christian attacks, including four murders, had been recorded before violence erupted in Orissa’s Kandhamal district that killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches, according to a report of a fact-finding team released by Christian leaders yesterday (January 8).
The report, released by the All India Christian Council (AICC) in conjunction with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and the Christian Legal Association, says that while four Christians were confirmed dead, at least six were seriously injured and numerous others are missing who are presumed killed by Hindu extremists in the rampage that began in Kandhamal on Christmas Eve.
“It is a matter of serious concern to the country that violence has been widespread in different parts of the country in general and against the Christians in particular,” said Dr. Babu Joseph, the CBCI spokesperson.
The report notes that the violence could have been averted if authorities had enforced the law.
“In all the villages we have visited, people testify that the attacks, destruction and looting was done in the presence of the police,” the report says.
It states that Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) attacked members of the minority community with guns, knives, tridents, bombs and other weapons.
The AICC report charged there was “conspiracy to hide the bodies of Christians killed by VHP cadre to destroy evidence . . . Many are missing – both adults and children – in every village.”
The worst hit area was Barakhama village, about 12 kilometers (seven miles) from Baliguda, where 415 of the 450 houses belonging to tribal Christians were burned down, and six of the seven churches were vandalized, said the report.
The AICC report notes the first killing of a Christian, describing how 50-year-old Bhogra Naik of Barakhama was “cut into three pieces” after his house was destroyed.
Violence Up in 2007
Joseph of the CBCI told Compass that 2007 saw no improvement in security despite the efforts of the federal government to address issues concerning minorities by creating a separate ministry of minority affairs – there were more cases of physical intimidation, murder, destruction of property, arson, looting and other heinous crimes against Christians than in the previous year.
According to the figures of India’s home ministry, between 1950 and 1998 there were only 50 recorded anti-Christian attacks. The number shot to 100 in the year 2000, and from 2001 to 2005 at least 200 incidents of anti-Christian attacks were reported every year. The number of anti-Christian attack stood at 128 in 2006, according to the AICC and CLA.
“What is most distressing is the regularity at which these attacks are meticulously planned and almost clinically executed in order to hurt the Christians in the country,” Joseph said. “In all these instances of atrocities against Christians, it proved beyond doubt that some right-wing Hindu organizations were behind them; they indulge in unhindered hate campaigns creating bad blood between communities of different faiths, and that has caused immense social rupture in India.”
Dr. Sajan K. George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), attributed the rise in the incidence of anti-Christian attacks to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) endeavors to bring more states under its power.
“The BJP, which does not believe in the constitutional value of a secular democracy, hopes to come to power in many more states riding on divisive Hindu nationalism, its basic ideology,” George told Compass. “It has retained Gujarat state, taken Himachal Pradesh state, and is waiting to come to power in Karnataka state in south India.”
The BJP won elections in four states in 2007. While it came into power for the third consecutive term in Gujarat state, it defeated the Congress Party in Uttarakhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh states.
In Punjab, the BJP formed government in coalition with a local party, Akali Dal. “Fundamentalism of the BJP and groups associated with it threaten the plural and secular fabric of India like never before,” George added. “Saffron clouds appear to be gathering on the horizon.”
The color saffron is associated with the Hindu nationalist ideology, known as Hindutva. According to Hindutva, India belongs to the Hindu majority community, and religious minorities, mainly Christians and Muslims, are outsiders.
BJP’s Use of Religion
The BJP’s turn towards hard-core Hindutva became visible early December.
On December 10, the BJP named senior leader Lal Krishna Advani as its prime ministerial candidate in the next general election in 2009, reported The Indian Express newspaper.
Advani, leader of the opposition coalition at the federal level, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), is seen as the leader who revived Hindutva in the early 1990s.
Advani was allegedly behind the demolition of a 14th century mosque, Babri Masjid, in Ayodhya area of Uttar Pradesh state in 1992. This led to an era of divisive politics, as it became a “successful experiment” of the BJP to polarize people along the religious lines.
Due to the polarization, the once-marginal BJP gradually emerged as a mainstream party. It came to power at the federal level through the NDA in 1998.
In 2003, however, the BJP slightly changed its strategy. The party began using religion at the national level, but only covertly, to maintain its ties with allies in the NDA, which is secular in its ideology. But to please its parent organization, the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the party continued to overtly inflame religious passions at regional levels.
After the Congress Party defeated the BJP-led NDA in the general election in 2004, the RSS tightened its grip over the party and has been trying to bring it back to become an explicit pan-Hindutva party.
After assembly elections in Gujarat on December 23, 2007, Advani reportedly asked party members to replicate the combination of Hindutva and development as a major plank in other states.
Gujarat is seen as a BJP’s “laboratory of Hindutva.” In 2002, Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP colleagues allegedly allowed Hindu extremists to carry out anti-Muslim violence in which at least 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.
The killings took place after a train carrying Hindu extremists was allegedly torched, killing 59 people in Gujarat’s Godhra town on February 27, 2002. Hindu groups blamed a Muslim mob for the fire.
Gujarat is also infamous for a spate of anti-Christian violence in its Dangs district from December 25, 1998 to January 3, 1999.
At least four Christians had been killed across the country in 2007, prior to the Orissa violence.
On November 19, the body of 21-year-old Aayatu Kashyap, a Christian and distant relative of a pastor, Suduru Kashyap, was found about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from his village in Chhattisgarh state’s Bastar district. A day earlier, the pastor and believers were attacked by Hindu extremists. (See Compass Direct News, “Church Attacked in Chhattisgarh; Young Man Killed,” November 27, 2007.)
On September 19, local villagers in Jharkhand state arranged for a Christian worker, Ajay Topno, to be shot to death for converting three tribal families to Christianity. Topno, who worked for Christian media organization Trans World Radio, was found dead with bullet wounds in a jungle near Sahoda village in Ranchi district. (See Compass Direct News, “Christian Worker Shot Dead for Preaching,” September 28, 2007.)
On July 29, after launching a series of attacks on a Dalit Christian pastor, Paul Chinnaswamy, from Krishnagiri district in Tamil Nadu state, Hindu extremists allegedly murdered his brother Amos. (See Compass Direct News, “Hindu Extremists Allegedly Kill Pastor’s Brother,” August 31, 2007.)
On July 1, unidentified assailants suspected to be Hindu extremists beat Hemanta Das, a 29-year-old Christian worker, to death in Guwahati in Assam state. (See Compass Direct News, “Christian Worker Beaten to Death in Assam,” August 3, 2007.)
In April, Christians in India were shocked by two attacks launched by Hindu extremists before TV cameras. On April 29, extremists from the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, severely beat an independent pastor, Walter Masih, at his home in Nandpuri area in the heart of Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, even as a private news channel filmed the attack.
A few days later, on May 7, VHP extremists beat two Christian workers in Maharashtra state’s Kolhapur district before a TV camera and a large crowd. (See Compass Direct News, “India Briefs,” May 8.)
Another setback to Christians was the implementation of the “anti-conversion” law by the Congress Party government in Himachal Pradesh state in September. The law requires any person wishing to convert to give a prior notice of at least 30 days. The move brought the number of states with anti-conversion laws in India to four: Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and Himachal Pradesh.
In Chhattisgarh state, by February the administration in Jashpur district harassed local Christians by filing 271 property complaints against their institutions, allegedly misusing a state land law. Mainly targeting Catholic churches, educational institutions, hospitals and social work centers that help tribal people, these cases were filed in the name of verifying the credentials of the land purchasers.
Yet another disappointment for Christians came when the Supreme Court deferred a hearing on the rights of more than 16 million Dalit Christians. The hearing was deferred for the ninth time despite the fact that an advisory panel, the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, had in May favored affirmative action benefits for Dalit converts to Christianity.
The year was not without some good news. Ending a long era of absence of adoption rights for non-Hindus, the government in October cleared the way for all religious communities in all Indian states to adopt legally.