New Delhi (AsiaNews) Violence against Christians and other religious minorities continues unabated five months after Congress Party won the Indian federal elections and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government took office.
AsiaNews reports regularly stories of attacks and forced reconversion, especially in the most vulnerable states of Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, and Jharkhand.
John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, an umbrella organisation representing India's Catholic associations (who organised the country's 16 million believers), is among the most committed defenders of religious freedom and minority rights. From his New Delhi office he answered our questions.
Dr Dayal, how do you explain the increase in violence after Congress' election victory?
Violence against religious minorities is quite in keeping with the modus operandi of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), its ally Shiv Sena and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), its neo Fascist front organisation. The strategy is simple. Where the BJP is in power it uses minimal physical violence; where it is out of power, it uses as much as necessary. Violence serves two main political purposes: it keeps minorities terrified and the ruling party engaged. This way the BJP and RSS can widen the religious divide and politicise religion. Hence, every time the BJP loses a wave of violence follows. This happened in 1979 when it walked out of the governing coalition. Even if the BJP is not in power at the federal levels, it is still in power in many states where it can cover and protect killers and attackers.
Is the Singh government doing all that is needed to stop the violence?
Singh's government is a Congress-led coalition made up of parties committed to religious equality and an end to communal and religious violence. Yet, I am not full satisfied. I have met the Union Home Minister Mr. Shivraj Patil. He assured me that the government was doing its best, but they have not fully dismantled the apparatus the BJP set up the Minorities Commission and other ministries. For instance, the Chairman of the Minorities Commission is a BJP ally.
Your organization is working so that freedom of religion is fully achieved. What do you want from the government?
We have demanded strong anti-hate laws on the pattern of those of the European Union. We want equal opportunity in employment for all minorities, especially in the government bureaucracy and the police. Muslims who are over 12 per cent of the population represent less than 1 per cent in government. Above all, we want the RSS to be brought to justice. It must be internationally investigated as a Hindu al-Qaeda.
Are there any problems between Christians and Muslims?
Minorities support each other. I work very closely with Buddhist, Sikh and Muslim groups. There are, however, some fundamentalist Muslim organisations, especially in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, who do create problems for Christians.
Do you think India is moving towards a religious war or coexistence?
We are more than one billion people in India and all of us will make sure that there never is a clash of civilisation or a religious war. Even during the partition when over a million Hindus and Muslims died, the tragedy was quickly contained.
India has historically been home to all sorts of religions, and despite the worst propaganda and violence by Hindutva* gangs, it will remain so. We are working towards co-existence, not mere tolerance. Both the All India Catholic Union and the (Protestant) All India Christian Council are in the forefront of this civil society movement.
*Hindutva means Hinduness and inspires Hindu fundamentalism.