05/09/2007, 00.00
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TV broadcasting of Anti-Christian attacks marks new terror campaign by VHP

by Nirmala Carvalho
After the case of the Protestant clergyman in Jaipur, the beating of other Christians is shown on TV. Hindu extremists are making up stories of forced conversions of Hindus to justify their actions whilst police lets the perpetrators of the violence go scott free. For one human rights activist, the attacks are part of a wider, premeditated plan to provoke mass psychosis in the Christian community. He calls on governments to intervene.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – It seems that there is not a day that goes by without some media reporting one form of anti-Christian attack or another. But even if the event is taped and shown on television law enforcement and judicial authorities seem largely indifferent. Two days ago a Protestant clergyman was beaten in front of cameras in Jaipur, Rajasthan; on the same day two pastors from the Friends Mission were subjected to the same treatment at the hands of activists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, in the state Maharashtra.

Rev Ramesh D. Gopargode, 34, and Rev Ajit Belavi, 35, are pastors at a small congregation in Ichalkaranji, Kolhapur District. In the last six months they have organised several prayer meetings with residents from local villagers. On Monday, about 50 armed extremists from the VHP attacked and beat them for allegedly converting Hindus to Christianity—all this in front of a TV camera.

Bloodied, the two victims were taken to a nearby police station where they were arrested and formally charged under Section 295 A of India’s Penal Code, which punishes anyone who, “with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class [. . .], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class.” Their assailants, for their trouble, were let go without any charges laid against them.

Many political leaders and human rights activists reacted angrily on hearing the news. Local Congress leader Rajiv Shukla called the incident “shameful”. Maharashtra Home Minister, R R Patil promised a “high-level probe [. . .] into the incident. The guilty will get the strongest possible punishment”.

Speaking to AsiaNews, Abraham Mathai, deputy chairman of Maharashtra Minority Commission, warned that such attacks are becoming the extremists’ normal modus operandi. In his opinion, they are out to provoke mass psychosis and scare Christians across the country.

“Premeditated attacks in Kolhapur must be strongly condemned,” Mr Mathai said. But for him it is clear that the presence of cameras to tape the violence like in Jaipur is part of some kind of sinister strategy by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to instil terror in the vulnerable Christian community at a wider level by broadcasting the incidents nationwide.

The police has also come in for criticism for failing to charge those involved despite the evidence in their possession.  Their inaction can only encourage extremists to repeat their actions in an atmosphere of total impunity. And even “when they are arrested they are held for at best 24 hours and then released on bail,” Mathai lamented.

Christians have appealed to both central and state governments to do something to stop this new and shameful wave of terror against their community.

For Mathai, it “is a sad day in India's secular history, when minorities are targeted and victimized [. . .] in the full view of the nation and no help coming from the so called 'keepers' of the law.”

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