New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Hatred toward Christians in the India of tolerance has religious and cultural roots, but these are above all nationalist and political. In recent weeks in Orissa (northeast India), a pogrom has broken out against Christians, with killing of the faithful and destruction of churches, homes, and social centers. The immediate reason is the accusation that Christians assassinated a radical Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda. Even though the police still suspect that the swami's assassins are a group of Maoist guerrillas, the campaign of destruction against Christians and their institutions seems to be a violent response to the "violence" of the followers of Jesus.
In reality, the attacks against Christians in Orissa go back for decades. The assassinated swami himself had made the elimination of Christians one of his primary goals. The reason: to stop the conversion of tribals and pariahs from Hinduism to Christianity, because - according to him and his organization - these are obtained through deceit, force, or payment.
Radical Hindu organizations continue to claim that there are millions of conversions each year, raising the specter of an "entirely Christian" (or Muslim) India.
Speaking with AsiaNews, Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil clears the field of these accusations: "Certain sections in the fringe elements make false allegations that the Church converts illiterate people either through allurements of forcible conversions, but these are baseless and absolutely false allegations. In fact, Indian government statistics have shown that the Christian population of India appears to be declining slightly. From 2.61 percent of the population in 1981, it fell to 2.53 percent and 2.3 percent in the census for 1991 and 2001. According to the latest census, conducted in 2001, 80.5 percent of India's inhabitants are Hindu, while 13.4 percent are Muslim".
Condemning the violence against Christians in recent days, the cardinal, who is also the head of the Indian bishops' conference, emphasizes the presence of "powers of darkness [that] are instigating these misguided people to persecute the Church and to try to eliminate Christianity from our beloved motherland India".
These "powers of darkness" are above all the organizations inspired by Hindutva, the nationalist extremism that sees India as exclusively Hindu and wants to eliminate Christians and all other minorities. Hindutva looks at Christians and conversions as a threat to the caste system, and therefore to society.Fr Paul Thelakat, director of the influential newspaper Satyadeepam (the light of truth), explains to AsiaNews: "Among the upper caste Hindus especially in the cow-belt ('Hindu-belt' or 'cow-belt' of northern India), there is a feeling that Christians some way are not Indians at all. Above all they have indoctrinated many Hindu people that the constitutional right 'to profess, practice and propagate' one's own faith no more exists". The Indian constitution defends the freedom of religion and of conversion. By blocking conversions, the higher castes aim to maintain the status quo of the social and economic submission of the tribals (adivasis) and pariahs. "Every conversion", continues Fr Paul, "has to be forbidden. It looks like the adivasis and tribals are among the cattle fold of the high class people, and have no say in matters of their religion. They cannot choose their religion, it is as if they were no longer free citizens of India, who need permission from the upper castes to convert. I, as a Christian, apparently am not allowed to spend any money or manpower to help the poor marginalized people who were the underdogs of the caste system".
Fr pul accuses the Hindutva organizations of being "terrorist": "I find there is no difference between the terrorists like the SIMI [editor's note: Student Islamic Movement of India, which claimed responsibility for the attack in New Delhi on September 13] who bomb the country and the violent organization of the Hindutva who engage in violent activities and the leaders, justifying them as 'natural reactions'. It is no secret that these people have their historical connection to the Nazis who came democratically to power with hate campaigns against the minorities in Germany".
There are also political factors behind the hatred and violence against minorities, especially the Christians. It is no accident that the attacks against Christians have taken place mainly in Orissa, and then in Madya Pradesh, Chhattisghar, and Karnataka: all of these have been governed by the BJP [editor's note: Bharatiya Janata Party, close to the Hindu fundamentalists] either directly or in alliance with another conservative party.
"Sadly, Christians are treated as second class citizens in many of the BJP-ruled states", Cardinal Vithayathil explains, "and this persecution unleashed against the minority Christian community affirms this".
"“It may be true", says Fr Paul Thelakat, "that the anti-Christian violence in BJP-ruled states is motivated by the effort to consolidate Hindu votes in the elections in March of 2009".