Worthy News Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (Worthy News) -- A nation-wide alliance of church leaders, denominations, mission groups and other Christian organizations in India urged all political parties Tuesday, February 2, to make defending religious minorities a key priority ahead of upcoming general elections, amid concerns over spreading anti-Christian violence in the country.
The All India Christian Council (AICC) said it was crucial to "reassure minorities...that India continues to be the secular country envisaged by its founding fathers and guaranteed by the Constitution," after “large scale persecution of the Christian minority in as many as 14 states."
AICC investigators said they were especially concerned about Hindu militant attacks over the 2007-2008 period in the states of Orissa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
"It will be recalled that even today over 6,000 Christians in Orissa have to live in government refugee camps because of threats to their life and religion by gangs of the Sangh Parivar," AICC Secretary General John Dayal added in a statement obtained by Worthy News.
"At its height in August-October 2008, over 50,000 persons were displaced and forced to run to the jungles as gangs burnt over 4,000 houses in 300 villages in the Kandhamal district of Orissa," said Dayal, who is also a government advisor. "Hundreds of churches were destroyed. Many girls and women were molested and raped, including a Catholic nun."
The violence reportedly spread to other districts and other states, including Karnataka, where over 30 churches were destroyed and violence still continues, according to AICC and other rights groups. Recently, "Christmas could be celebrated in Orissa only after over 6,000 Central Reserve Police personnel were posted to the state. Even now their presence is required as the [local] State police have proved to be partisan," Dayal explained.
Elsewhere, in Uttar Pradesh, militants of the Hindu group Sangh Parivar apparently attacked Christians in recent weeks, with reports of violence in towns and cities, including Badaun, Agra, Gorakhpur, AICC said. "In Badaun, for instance, the Sangh Parivar has blatantly and in the presence of the print and television media forcibly tried to convert Christians to Hinduism."
AICC said militants threatened to carry out similar ceremonies in other parts of the state, apparently with at least indirect support from authorities. "The police have acted half-heartedly and despite the publication of the reports, no action has been taken against the goons," stressed AICC's Dayal.
His organization also claimed police refused to register cases of pastors who were victims of violence. The church leaders were allegedly turned away by police who further "threatened them instead of listening to their complaints." Police and authorities have often denied reports of wrongdoing.
The AICC said it also wants officials to improve the rights of Christians among Dalits, seen as the lowest caste in India's ancient system of Hinduism. Christian Dalits don't have the same access to government benefits and work places as non-Christian Dalits and other disadvantaged castes, according to advocacy groups. Dalit Christians are believed to number over 60 per cent of the entire Christian community in India, a mainly Hindu nation of 1.2 billion people.
The AICC said it has requested India's government for assistance in getting land land for opening new schools "especially English language schools for Dalit children irrespective of their religious identity." Christians and Dalits are "being hindered by official apathy and inaction," the organization alleged.
Dayal added that India's government must give Christians "adequate representation in various organisations, commissions and organs set up by it in various areas." Currently, "other than the token presence on the Minorities Panel, there is scant Christian representation in various organisations set up or financed by the State government," he said.