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Anti-Christian attacks flare in India

Some see a government hand in the fanatical Hindu anger against a minority and its converts.

By Mian RidgeCorrespondent / September 24, 2008

CHURCH VANDALIZED: In Karnataka last week, Christian protesters also clashed with police.

SK Mohan

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New Delhi

With its glinting high-rises and harried executives in designer suits, BangaloreSilicon Valley of the subcontinent and capital of Karnataka State – is an icon of the "new India."

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But the city has shown a less presentable side in recent days, with a rash of attacks by Hindu fanatics on Christians. On Monday, stone-throwing mobs vandalized two churches, bringing the number of church desecrations in Karnataka to more than 20 in a week.

The attacks are sparks of a conflagration of anti-Christian violence burning across India that many fear will spread further in the run-up to national general elections, scheduled for May.

While Hindu nationalists claim that the unrest is caused by missionaries forcing conversions on Hindus, Christians – and most secular observers – say the violence is politically motivated, designed to win votes for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP has grown to be the main opposition in the last two decades – a triumph many attribute to its focus on Hindutva, an ideology that holds India is a Hindu nation and religious minorities outsiders.

But wretched poverty and a lack of basic necessities – from education to healthcare – have also played their part in what many describe as the worst anti-Christian violence in India since independence in 1947.

The rioting began in the eastern state of Orissa in August, following the murder of a hard-line Hindu priest. Police accept the claims of responsibility from Naxalite rebels – atheist Maoists – but Hindu groups blame Christians.

Allegedly led by the Bajrang Dal, a militant youth wing of the Hindu nationalist Vishnu Hindu Parishad (VHP) group, mobs went on the rampage in the district of Kandhamal, torching churches and homes and displacing tens of thousands of terrified Christians, many of whom are still in camps. More than 20 died.

By this month, the anti-Christian agitation had spread to the central state of Madhya Pradesh, to Karnataka and Kerala in the south, and to Uttar Pradesh in the north. Some of the worst cases have occurred in Karnataka, which earlier this year voted in its first BJP government.

Mohammed Shafi Qureshi, chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, says he perceives a clear link between BJP ascendancy in Karnataka and the violence. "What we found was something unbelievable," he says of his recent fact-finding trip to the state. "The mobs devastated churches and homes, beat up nuns, and the police were nowhere to be seen…. The state government was responsible for this. If the BJP hadn't come to power, this never would have happened."

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