The Indian government has sent extra security forces to Kandhamal district in the eastern state of Orissa, which has witnessed large-scale violence against Christians in recent months. Expressing concerns about the safety of the members of Christian community, Home Minister P Chidambaram has also urged the state government to maintain law and order especially during Christmas.
A Hindu protestor sets a Hindu flag atop a church in Phulbani District of Orissa state
Since August radical Hindu mobs have attacked and even murdered Christians in different Indian states. In Orissa alone nearly 50.000 Christians were thrown out of their villages, about 60 were killed. In view of this growing violence of radical groups, the confederation of Christian organizations, the “All India Christian Council”, fears for the core values of India.
The violence against Christians in Orissa started after the murder of a high ranking Hindu leader of the radical World Hindu Council VHC. Although Maoist rebel groups took responsibility for the act, the VHP claims that it was Christians who murdered their leader.” This way they justified their attacks”, says James Albert from the German human rights “Society for Endangered People”.
“People came in from outside, two-to three hundred persons. They carried guns, swords and axes and started attacking the villagers. The villagers fled into the nearby forest. Then the mob marauded their houses and burnt them down so that they couldn't live there any more.”
Role of missionaries
About two per cent of the Indian population are Christians. Before they converted from Hinduism, many of them belonged to the Dalits, the so called untouchables, the poorest of the poor. Hindus of other casts complain saying that by turning into Christians, the Dalits gain more social advantages, for example access to Christian education facilities.
“The catholic and the protestant mission focus very much on education. They provide schools and education facilities. One can say that by this Christians become more open-minded, more versatile and better able to make more of themselves,” explains Albert.
Therefore many radical Hindus accuse Christian organizations of luring untouchables and converting them to Christianity illegally.
Against this background radical Hindus have started reconverting Christians. The German Society for Endangered People reports that Christians in Orissa have been forced to return to Hinduism. Some of those who refused were killed.
Politics for a vote bank
Anti-Christian violence is happening mostly in Indian states where the Hindu-nationalist BJP-Party is governing or involved in government. On the pretext of religious zeal the BJP and their offshoot organizations campaign against the Christians, says Joseph D’Souza, president of the All Indian Christian Council. Their aim is to influence the political climate ahead of the oncoming parliamentary elections in May next year:
“Very sadly in India communal politics have become a major feature of our political scenario. And deliberate polarization of people according to extreme religious lines is a means that is being used to create what is called a solid vote bank.”
Both, radical Hindu nationalists, as well as militant Islamists, who carried out disastrous terror attacks this year, have one thing in common, adds D’Souza: both reject the secular, tolerant India as it was envisaged by the country’s founding fathers Gandhi and Nehru.
“Today that very idea of one India which is one nation made out of pluralistic religious traditions living side by side with decent religious freedom is being threatened because of the mad subscription to get political power by any means. Groups who engage in these kinds of politics, they are playing with fire, with regards to the future of India,” he says.
Clearly, there can only be a solution to these conflicts if India systematically applies its laws against criminals. Criminal prosecution has not been consistent in the past. Public opinion expects the authorities to protect the religious minorities as laid down in the constitution, and to bring the murderers of the Christians and the Hindu-leader to trial as soon as possible.