In India, a pattern of attacks on Christians
Yesterday, a top Indian official acknowledged the violence and called for action.
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Christians provide a "soft target" for growing Hindu nationalist forces. Unlike the Muslims, Christians have no history of fighting back, since their numbers are small and there has been little history of violence against them. (Also, Muslims have an important 15 percent voting bloc.) Ardent Hindu's object to efforts to convert lower-caste Hindus and the 8 percent tribal community in India. Christian missionary schools often educate tribals who learn to read, save money, buy land, and get better jobs - which creates resentment.Skip to next paragraph
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"If you attack Christians, you get mileage by being seen as antiforeign, since Christians are presented as part of the hated colonial legacy," says Pramod Kumar, a social-science researcher in Chandigargh.
Attacks on Christians began systematically after the spring 1998 election of the BJP. Churches in Gujarat were attacked and Bibles burned in the summer; that fall, four nuns in Madhya Pradesh were raped. But not until the January 1999 murder of Australian Protestant Graham Staines, who worked with lepers in a rural eastern state, did the issue receive much attention. Mr. Staines and his two young sons were burned alive in a jeep while sleeping.
"When the government says there is no pattern to these crimes, I feel complete exasperation," says John Dayal, national convener of the UCFHR. "There is not just violence, but there is also a hate campaign. Each hateful statement is signed - so there is no ambiguity about it. The right-wing groups are condemned by their statements."
One such statement made to a Times of India reporter last Thursday is an example. Dharmendra Sharma, a local leader of the Bajrang Dal, one of a network of Hindu radical groups operating near Mathura, where Brother George was killed, stated that Christians were "bigger enemies" than the Muslims, and said, "We are prepared to use violence. There is no limit."
Speaking of the death of Staines, Mr. Sharma added that, "The two boys should not have been killed, and the way Staines was killed was not good. We should be prepared for any eventuality. But I think a good beating is sufficient to do the job."
This week, following headlines and a letter from the National Human Rights Commission of India, a Bajrang Dal leader denied his group was anti-Christian. He admitted that firearm training of Hindu militant groups had started in northern India. But in a qualification, he said the training was being done "with air guns."
In Western societies that have had bitter ethnic and sectarian violence, antiminority violence is officially condemned - even if incidents continue, experts point out. Today, for example, attacks on Jews in the United States are met with official censure and prosecution. During the spate of black church burnings in the American South in 1997, President Clinton held national seminars. Even in Europe, which largely tolerated a four-year aggression by Serbs against the multi-ethnic Bosnian state in the mid-1990s, elected leaders jointly condemned the pro-Nazi hate rhetoric of Austrian right-wing politician Joerg Haider.
Last week, in an unusually frank statement to the Foreign Correspondents Club in New Delhi, American ambassador to India Richard Celeste said the attacks on Christians raised a "very discordant note" in the country. Ambassador Celeste praised the newly warm relations between India and the United States. He also admitted the attacks send "a contrary message" regarding "India's commitment to secularism and tolerance."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society