09/02/2004, 00.00
INDIA

Priests killed, churches ransacked by Hindu fundamentalists

Lorenzo Fazzini

Catholic activist John Dayal blames government impotence and western indifference to religious freedom.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – According to John Dayal, national vice president of the All India Catholic Union, an organisation that represent India's 16 million Catholics, "attacks against religious freedom in India do not draw the attention of Western civil rights organisations even though religious minorities are still victimised by Hindu fundamentalism."

In the last 10 days the Indian Catholic Church has been hit by three serious violent incidents. On August 22, armed assailants attacked and beat up Father John Sunderam, a parish priest in Kubbu, in Jharkhand state's Lohardaga district (eastern India) leaving him in a coma. Another priest, Father Albanus Tirkey also suffered injuries.

On August 26, a group of 300 Hindu fundamentalists stormed the Parish Church of Our Lady of Charity in the town of Raikia, in Orissa's Kandhamal district (north-eastern India). The attackers burst into the church burning bibles, bringing down the Tabernacle and destroying statues of saints. Police was present at the scene but did not intervene. Later local authorities announced the arrest of three people charged with the mayhem in which six people were injured.

Both Orissa and Jharkhand are governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which backs Hindu fundamentalists.

On August 28, the most serious incident took place. Father Job Chittilappilly was killed at his parish in the town of Thuruthiparambu, Kerala state (south-western India). He was saying the Rosary in his private quarters. The circumstances of the crime –no signs of robbery and recent phone calls threatening him because of his pastoral activities among Hindu families– suggest the murder was premeditated.

Human rights activist John Dayal recently met Shivraj Patil, Union Home Minister, to remonstrate with him about the Christian minority's adverse situation. "We can't intervene because it is a local security matter," was the minister's terse reply.

Here is John Dayal's interview with AsiaNews:

When the Congress Party was back in government many thought that the situation for religious minorities would improve . . .

Even if the BJP is no longer in power, Christians are still victims of attacks and violence. The worst cases are in Orissa, Punjab, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand. Although fewer people are killed, violence against individuals and religious buildings has not ceased. Violations of religious freedom continue.

In the last few days there have been attacks against Catholics in India . . .

Catholics are not the only victims. Protestant believers and churches have also come under attack. This is why I met Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil to tell him about the serious attacks against Christians of the last few weeks.

What do you want from the government?

I explicitly told Minister Shivraj Patil –who is also responsible for religious minorities– that we want the government to better guarantee minorities' religious freedom. I told him that we would like to see the situation of religious minorities placed on the national political agenda. Moreover, I said we want each and every violent incident to be fully investigated. I emphasised to him that anti-Christian attacks like those in Rajasthan and Orissa are now under the scrutiny of the international media and public opinion.

What did the minister say?

"We'll see what we can do," was his answer. He said that the Union government could not intervene in areas such as local security that are under the jurisdiction of each state.

What does western public opinion do for religious freedom in India?

We are backed by European Catholic and Evangelical groups, but western civil rights organisations are not interested in religious freedom.

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