Friday, November 20, 2009

Karnataka Church denounces 'moral policing'

MANGALORE, India : The Catholic Church in Karnataka state has condemned recurrent attacks by Hindu extremists on youths from different religions socializing together.
"Why can't boys and girls from different religious communities have healthy interaction?" asks a statement the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops' Council (KRCBC) issued on Nov. 20.
The statement, signed by council secretary Father Faustine Lobo, "unequivocally" condemns "moral policing" by "fundamentalist outfits," which it says has frightened people in the southern state.
The statement accuses Karnataka's pro-Hindu government of "misguiding" the assailants to impose their own outdated moral principles on others. The Bharatiya Janata Party has governed the state since May 2008.
The attackers, many identified with the group Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout), have created fear and hatred among people, especially on the state's western coast, according to the KRCBC.
Karnataka has witnessed 12 such incidents in the past year, eight of them reported from Mangalore, a major coastal town.
In the latest incident on Nov. 15, a mob assaulted three Muslim youths traveling on a bus with two Hindu girls. The five had traveled to Mangalore to attend a sports selection camp, but the attackers accused the boys of "moving closely" with the girls.
This "moral policing" came to the fore last Jan. 25, when members of Sri Ram Sene (army of Lord Ram), another Hindu radical group, attacked eight women having lunch in a Mangalore pub. Women in India traditionally stay away from bars and liquor shops, and the attackers accused their victims of corrupting Hindu culture.
Just two weeks later on Feb. 11, a 16-year-old Hindu girl committed suicide the day after extremists publicly humiliated her for being "friendly" with a Muslim boy and handed the pair to police.
"Who has given them power to safeguard girls from interacting with boys from minority communities?" the Catholic bishops ask.
Their statement says the Hindu groups want only to divide people on the basis of religion for political gain.
Karnataka has close to 53 million people, and nearly 84 percent are Hindus. Muslims constitute about 12 percent, while Christians make up less than 2 percent.
The KRCBC said the world is watching as the majority group rides roughshod over the rights of minorities, while "the police and the government are apathetic to the victims' pleas."
The bishops also approved the forming of people's vigilant committees to prevent such moral policing. "The Church is ready to join such initiatives to establish peace and harmony in society," they said.
Denis D'Silva, a former state president of the Indian Catholic Youth Movement, welcomed the bishops' move. "If we do not react against moral policing we would be promoting it," he said.

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