Violence Against Christians Continues in India

February 20, 2002 Silver Spring, Maryland…[IRLA]. In the country where Mohandas K. Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru promoted non-violence in the early 1900s, some cities in India have experienced religious conflict during the past ten years. On February 17, 2002, the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations in North America (FIACONA) reported that worship was disrupted at a Holy Mass in Mysore in the south Indian state of Karnataka when windows were smashed, bricks thrown at the congregation, and the parish priest room destroyed. Witnesses claimed that even after police arrived, Hindu activists continued hurling stones and bricks.

India is a diverse country with a population of more than 1 billion people. Approximately 81.3 percent of the population is Hindu, 12 percent Muslim, 2.3 percent Christian, 1.9 percent Sikh, and 2.5 percent other religious groups including Buddhist, Jain and Parsi.

Earlier this year violence against Christians was reported from the Northern Indian State of Uttar Pradesh in the districts of Ballia, Sonbhadra and Allahabad when Christian missionaries were beaten with iron rods, and Christians forced to flee their homes, according to news reports.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported last year that the Indian central government "appears unable to control growing violence by self-proclaimed Hindu nationalists targeting religious minorities. There is concern that the government is not doing all that it could to pursue the perpetrators of the attacks and to counteract the prevailing climate of hostility in some quarters in India, against minority groups. Over the past years, priests and missionaries have been murdered, nuns assaulted, churches bombed, and converts intimidated."

In a statement issued yesterday, Dr. M.E. Menezes, national president of the All India Catholic Union, appealed to the government of Karnataka to "identify the culprits and take action that such incidents do not take place in the future." The FIACONA is appealing to the U.S. Department of State to raise the issue of human rights violations with India's prime minister.

"Breaking the cycle of violence is difficult," comments Dr. John Graz, secretary-general for the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA). "I would recommend that commissions on reconciliation be established where representatives from all faiths can come together to dialogue and find ways to promote principles of religious freedom. Such commissions have proved beneficial in Chiapas, Mexico and Rwanda, Africa. It is so important that people of good will from different religions work together. The national and state governments in India should initiate such a commission. They cannot just express regret over the attacks of these extremists, and yet allow the extremists a free space in which to act," Graz concluded.

Chartered in 1893, the IRLA has promoted and defended religious freedom for 109 years. The IRLA was originally organized by leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church; however its purpose is universal and non-sectarian, seeking to address religious freedom concerns from all faith communities. For more information about IRLA, visit www.irla.org. [Viola Hughes]