10/15/2004, 00.00
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India's Catholics worried by anti-minority violence

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The recently elected leaders of the All India Catholic Union (AICU) had their first meeting in Mumbai today to assess anti-Christian violence and consider the situation of minority rights. The organisation represents India's 16 million Catholics.

During a press conference newly-elected president John Dayal expressed his "deep concern" for the wave of anti-Christian violence reported in recent months. Even states like Kerala, traditionally free of communal violence, have seen Christians persecuted. Attacks include assaults against the Missionaries of Charity nuns, the desecration of churches and the murder of a priest. By and large, they have been the work of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).

According to the AICU, developments have been even more ominous in states administered by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in last May's federal elections lost control of  the Union government. Whether in Gujarat, Orissa, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh or Jharkhand, things have "gotten worse" for minorities in what is known as India's East-West tribal belt, an area where the Church is heavily involved among local indigenous communities in providing social and educational services.

"In these states there is a systematic effort to undermine public security," the AICU spokesman contends. In Rajasthan the authorities have been encouraging people to buy the ahs Trishul, a three-tipped sword that symbolises hindutva or 'hinduness', an ideology that preaches violence against non Hindus. In several states, a campaign called Ghar Wapsi (Back to the fold) is underway in which tribal people who converted to Christianity are forced to convert back to Hinduism.

For the AICU, BJP-run states have given carte blanche to the Sangh Parivar, an umbrella group that includes several Hindutva­-oriented organisations, that has launched a hate campaign against Muslims and Christians.

AICU's president John Dayal twice met Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Human Resources Minister Arjun Singh. He brought to their attention the fears and apprehensions the minorities who now live in constant fear.

Mr Dayal praised Mr. Singh for "detoxifying" the public service from Hindu fundamentalists but called for vigilance against similar elements in the police, judiciary and other administrative bodies.

The AICU said that the recent census shows how claims that minorities are growing were false. Instead, it pointed to the declining literacy among Christians. "It is high time that the government go beyond the minimal services provided to the Dalits, including Christian Dalits," its spokesman said. "It should instead provide adequate funding for free education to the poor and the landless". (LF)

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