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In India, a pattern of attacks on Christians

Yesterday, a top Indian official acknowledged the violence and called for action.

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Still, a growing chorus of Indian voices say that the attacks have come after the rise of a Hindu nationalist government in New Delhi, whose affiliated organizations of radical foot soldiers now openly speak of "driving Christians from India."

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"There is a definite pattern of attacks, and I think it is now clear there is a corollary between these attacks and the election of the BJP," states social activist C. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi, regarded as the father of India. "The silence is unfortunate. One longs to see the central government clearly oppose these attacks. This is a major development in this country, a dangerous one, and if it is not stopped, it will get worse."

On June 12, a delegation of the United Christians for Human Rights (UCFHR), representing India's 18 million Catholics and 6 million Protestants, requested a meeting with the prime minister. Led by the most popular figure in Indian Christendom, the late Delhi Archbishop Alan de Lastic (who died in a car accident in Poland on June 20), they asked Mr. Vajpayee to condemn the attacks. Vajpayee stated that Christians are safe in India, but did agree to investigate attacks and the hate literature.

Such an investigation might start in the Delhi bookshop of Vajpayee's own BJP party. "Bunch of Thoughts," a book by M.S. Golwalker, mid-century leader of the RSS, the parent organization of the BJP, is on sale there for about $4. It identifies Muslims, Christians, and communists as the three "enemies" of India. Mr. Golwalker states that "Wherever [Jesus' followers] have gone, they proved to be not blood-givers, but blood suckers." Another states that if Christians don't "offer their first loyalty to the land of their birth ... they will remain here as hostiles and will have to be treated as such."

Historians point out that the church does have much to answer for in its colonial days. But the attitude and entire social context of Christians has changed dramatically in India since then. Today, the Christian community in India is known mainly for charitable organizations and rigorous, excellent schools.

Other than Sonia Gandhi, leader of the Congress Party, there are not many high- profile Christians in India's political elite. Christians have, however, made some inroads into the military: Admiral Sushil Kumar, head of the Indian Navy, a former Army Chief of Staff S. F. Rodriguez; the No. 2 in command of the Army in Kashmir, John Mukherjee.

Still, pamphlets, handbills, reprints, and other literature denoting Christians as hostile to India are easy to find in the streets. Experts say it is clear an ideology and a rationale for hate have be fed to ordinary Hindu masses in many mid-size cities and rural areas. A leaflet dated May 25 states: "Warning: Put a stop to the evil deeds of the Roman Catholic devils."

The attacks are not viewed as an overarching Hindu-Christian clash of civilizations," say those monitoring them. Rather, they are an example of "manufactured hatred," says one. In his last interview, the late Archbishop de Lastic said, "I will never accept the general statement that it is the Hindus who are attacking Christians. A few fanatics are destroying the age-old religious tradition of peace that is characteristic of India."