Friday, February 08, 2008

India's terrorized Christians

CAIRO — Indian Christians are feeling the heat of the rising Hindu nationalism in the South Asian giant.

"They came into my house waving sticks and chanting," Radha Bai, a Christian resident of Bothali village in the central state of Chhattisgarh, told The Christian Science Monitors in an interview published on Wednesday, February 6.

"They were looking for me, saying they would cut me into pieces," he added, referring to 50 Hindu extremists.

The attackers, members of a group calling itself Dharma Sena (Army of Religion), assaulted several men and set fire to 10 motorcycles and a car on January 16.

It was the latest attack by Hindu extremists against Christians in India's eastern states.

Hindu mobs destroyed 55 churches and 600 houses on Christmas in the state of Orissa.

"It is getting worse all the time," lamented Arun Pannalal, the general secretary
of the Chhattisgarh Christian Forum.

"Few of those cases go to court.

"But by then the extremists have done their job, which is to terrify people."

He said Christians often conceal their faith for fears of losing rights to government jobs and university posts.

Christians make up less than 3 percent of India's 1.1 billion population.Dirty Politics

Many blame the rising attacks against Christians on political goals, citing a rise in attacks in Chhattisgarh, ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, a few months before the state went to polls.

"This is a movement that stirs the religious sentiments of Hindus and then makes political capital out of it," maintains Lalit Surjan, editor-in-chief of a group of newspapers in Chhattisgarh.

Hindu leaders argue, however, that Christians have only themselves to blame for tying to proselytize people in the predominantly-Hindu nation.

"They are converting Hindus by all means possible," charged Ramesh Modi, the president of Chhattisgarh's branch of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council).

"We cannot wear bangles [an expression meaning we cannot be feminine, gentle] all the time."

With the rise of Hindu nationalism, Hindu extremists have stepped up efforts to enact legislation to curb conversions from Hinduism.

At least seven states – including Chhattisgarh and Orissa – already have laws stipulating that Hindus must inform the authorities before changing religions.The Hindu ideology holds that India is a Hindu nation and religious minorities are outsiders.

Indian Muslims, estimated to number 160 million, have had their share of Hindu attacks.

In 2002, at least 2,000 Muslims were hacked or burned to death by Hindu mobs in Gujarat after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on Muslims but which a later inquiry concluded was accidental.

Recent videotapes showed the massacre was backed by Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi, recently reelected as chief minister of Gujarat, a post he has kept since 2002.

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