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Church releases data to show that anti Christian violence in
India this year has been the highest ever in the history of
independent India

Indian Christians plan National Protest Day on 4th December to focus national parliament's attention on continuing violations of the rights of religious minorities, and acts of violence by right wing fundamentalist forces

The Church In India released data to the press Tuesday, 24th November 1998 proving that the violence in 1998 so far is more than the total incidents of crime against the Christian community from 1964 to 1997.

The data was released at a press conference by the United Christian Forum for Human Rights to announce the National Protest Day on 4th December 1998 to focus attention on the continuing violence against the Christian community. The press conference was addressed by Catholic Archbishop Alan de Lastic, chairman of the Forum which has the participation of the Catholic, Protest and Evangelical Church groups. Others who addressed the media today were Church of North India's Bishop of Delhi Karam Masih, Evangelical Fellowship of India general secretary Dr Richard Howell and All India catholic Union national secretary John Dayal, who is also the convenor of the Forum.

The leaders of the Christian community said the protest had the support of all denominations, and had also been supported by several human rights groups and leaders of India's other minorities, including Muslims.

De Lastic, Masih, Howell and Dayal stressed that the Christian response to the violence would be peaceful protest. The church and its institutions would also continue with their humanitarian and educational activities.

Christian educational and developmental organisations are victims of the violence, together with priests and preachers. De Lastic said these institutions were being targeted because they were sensitising the empowering the people, particularly those who had been exploited and subjugated.

The speakers said the propaganda by certain elements that the Church was busy with converting India's Hindu population was being deliberately created to divert attention from the fundamentalist programme of foisting a mono cultural system on pluralistic India. "Everyone knows who these forces are, every one knows what this conspiracy is," Karam Masih said. De Lastic said while conversions by force or inducement were against the Indian laws, faith and conversion from one religion to another were a matter for an individual, a decision which he took of his free will and which was his right under the Constitution of India.

The forum said a memorandum will be presented to India's parliament and its prime minister urging the representatives to take urgent action to stop the assault on India's traditions of democracy, pluralism and religious tolerance.

The forum said the government had not taken the action it should have to curb the increasing violence against all minorities, not just the Christians. The forum also released the text of an Open Letter to the people of India which identifies the conspiracy against the minorities, and the inaction of the government.

The following is the text of the Press statement issued by the Forum.

The Christian community in India is observing 4th of December 1998 as a National Protest Day to focus the attention of the Government and the people of India on the spate of violence against Christians this year, and continuing efforts by a some fanatical elements to demolish the secular character of the state. Schools, colleges and other Christian institutions run by various denominations and congregations will remain closed for the day on 4th December 1998. Those working in Hospitals and essential services will wear black badges. Christians in service are being urged to take a day's leave to participate fully in the various protest programmes planned at state headquarters, diocese and parishes of all denominations of churches in India.

In Delhi, the protest includes a relay Prayer and fast at Raj Ghat, the memorial to Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation, a Rally at Parliament House (at Jantar Mantar) and a Memorandum to Parliament (to the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha and the Prime Minister of India, the Leader of the House). A number of Bishops and large numbers of Priests, Nuns, Lay leaders and Human rights activists are expected to be part of the Rally.

At the national level, the protest is being coordinated by the national organising committee of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, which was set up last month. The Forum has a presidium consisting of all Bishops resident in Delhi, with the executive panel including heads of churches and communities representing the member-churches of the National Council of Churches in India, the Salvation Army, the Methodist Church in India, the Baptist church and the Evangelical Fellowship of India, CRI, All India Catholic Union, apart from Christian NGOs, the YMCAs and YWCAs. Church of North India's Bishop Karam Masih of Delhi and Catholic Bishop Vincent Concessao, are the coordinators, and Fr. Devadhas, director of Chetnalaya the co-convenor with Convenor John Dayal.

The Organising Committee of the Forum has received heart-warming messages of solidarity and support by Human Rights activists belong to various communities, NGOs and community leaders who share our deep concern at the threat that fanatical fundamentalist and communal elements pose to the unity and integrity of India, to its ancient pluralistic culture, and to its democratic and secular polity.

The issues : This years has seen more violence against the Christian community in India than ever before in the first Fifty years of Independence. This has been admitted in Parliament by the Indian Minister for Welfare, Mrs. Maneka Gandhi in July this year. Mrs. Maneka Gandhi singled out Maharashtra and Gujarat for largest number of violent incidents against the Christian Community. Since July, the violence has escalated even more sharply, culminating the gang-rape of four nuns in the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. The violence has not ended.

Especially disturbing are the following aspects of the violence and the pressure on the community :

  • The severity of violence
  • The geographic spread of the violence
  • The connivance of political elements and the backing of political groups in power, and
  • The complicity of the state machinery, particularly that of the police, in many cases.

In addition, the pressure on the community has taken other forms too in, many of which it is a co-victim with the Muslim and other minority communities. These include :

  1. Dilution of special encouragement given to charitable work, by the attempt made in taxation laws
  2. Delay in extending Equal rights to Dalit Christians.
  3. Delay in the formation of the Supreme Court bench to consider the question of minorities.
  4. Abuse of official media to manipulate news, and denial of equal media opportunity to minorities.
  5. Lack of action on minority finance Development Corporation
  6. Continued ignoring of the National Minority Commission and its orders
  7. Continuing delays in central, state and municipal authorities on issues such as new land and clearances for cemeteries, churches and schools, clearing of encroachments and alienation of properties.
  8. Attempted Hindutva-isation and brahmanisation of the national education and youth programs which subverts the education system and erodes the plural and democratic edifice of country. Anatomy of Violence : The violence is aggressive and its scale, magnitude and severity it is bestial. The forcible disrobing of Fr. Christudas in Dumka, the murder of two priests in Bihar and the North East assault on priests, nuns and preachers in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Orissa and other states, inexorably culminates in the rape of the nuns. The body of a Methodist old man, a Dalit, was exhumed from its grave in Kapadwanj, Gujarat, by a group of fanatics. Hundreds of bibles were burnt by hoodlums belonging to a particular group who raided a hundred year old school run by the P. Mission in Rajkot in the same State...In Gujarat again, a statue of the Blessed Virgin was shattered. In Khatima, in UP a church was broken into, and various statues of installed in the altar.

In Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Orissa, Punjab and Rajasthan many prayer meetings have been violently disrupted and old and young, men and women, priests and worshippers assaulted mercilessly. Scores of people have been injured in these incidents so far, some of them critically.

Many of these incidents have been investigated by the National Commission for Minorities. Many others have been probed by unbiased Human Rights groups, who have all confirmed the severity of violence. They have identified the assailants and killers as belonging to a group of organisations who believe in a communal philosophy. The Chairman of the National Commission of Minorities have repeatedly called on the National and State governments to act and bring the culprits to book and to ensure there is an end to violence against the Christian communities. The reports have also exposed the insidious and criminal conspiracy of intolerance and hate. The directions of the Chairman of the National Minorities Commission have fallen on deaf years.

The conspiracy begins by fanning hatred, creating a Mythology of Hate through disinformation and by repeating falsehoods. The conspiracy is to brand the Christian community, and in fact all minority communities, as aliens. By propounding a thesis of "One People, One Nation, One Culture," the effort of this group is to denounce the pluralistic traditions of Indian culture, the richness of its diversity and the spiritual contribution of its varied faiths. Anyone who is different is branded as an enemy, and attacked, coerced, assaulted.

The intolerance and violence was exposed sharply by Justice Venugopal in the 1982 Report of the Enquiry commission investigating the Kanykumari riots against Christians. He said this group "adopts a militant attitude sets itself up as the champion of what it considers to be the rights of the Hindus against minorities. It has taken upon itself to teach the minorities their place, and if they are not willing to learn their place, then to teach them a lesson." (Report of the Justice Venugopal Commission of Enquiry) Justice Sri Krishna who this year submitted his report on the Mumbai riots has described in more graphic terms the genesis of communal hatred and the strategy used by these fanatical groups to subjugate the minority communities.

In the recent attacks on the Christian community, the dimensions of the violence becomes chillingly clear.

Firstly, the attack is on the physical symbols of the church, specially on personnel involved in grass roots empowerment, including priests, nuns,. The attempt is to scare, coerce, limit. The second pressure is on institutions, again with the apparent objective to ensure that Christian social outreach is curtailed, its developmental contribution to nation building is minimized. The final attack is on Christian witness. It is designed not just to break our spirit, but to weaken our very faith.

This all is targeted against the minorities. And what happens when the minority communities complain? In Gujarat, the chief minister gave a commitment of peace to the Christian community. This commitment was made to the national commission for minorities. Despite the chief minister's personal pledges, attacks on Christians continue in major Gujarat cities, including Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar and the industrial capital Baroda. In Orissa, no one is punished. In Rajasthan, no one has been brought for saying that Banswara will be cleansed of all Christian presence by 2000 AD.

Several Memorand a have gone to the President of India, and the Prime Minster. Our leaders met the Union Home Minister. He made polite statements and promised to pull up those who were defending the rape of the nuns. The government is yet to apologize for the incident. The government is yet to condemn fundamentalism and communalism.

Jhabua Incident: Not only is there no attempt at applying balm to the wounds, there is an attempt to shift blame. This is apparent in the three stages of the official and political reaction on the shocking case of the gang-rapes in Jhabua. First, the efforts was to try to prove that no one was raped, and that it was 'ordinary' crime, a mere molestation. Secondly, the endeavour was to try to say that it was not a communal issue. And finally now, the seems to be to try to prove that Christians were the rapists. The trauma of a the nuns is the final violence in a long chain of violence. The total cases involving Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, MP, Bihar, UP, Punjab, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and even Kerala, are now reaching a hundred.

What has happened to the Constitution of India, to Articles 19 to 30, including the important Article 25, and to the very guiding principles, the fundamental rights of guaranteed to each one of us as children of this land? What has happened to Article 18 of the UN charter on Human Rights, dealing with the Freedom of Faith, and the Special UN Resolution on Minorities? The nation seeks an answer from the governments at the Centre and in the states, and from the political leadership of the country.

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This report is provided by the National Christian Forum for Human Rights