04/19/2010, 00.00
INDIA
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Madhya Pradesh: Christian dies fleeing Hindus

by Nirmala Carvalho
A 25-year-old man drowns in a well after a group of radical Hindus breaks a prayer meeting. The archbishop of Bhopal tells AsiaNews that the State has failed to protect Christians.

Betul (AsiaNews) – A 25-year-old Christian, Amit Gilbert, drowned in a well trying to flee from the fury of a group of Hindu radicals who had attacked a prayer meeting in Madhya Pradesh, seriously wounding three participants. The attack occurred last Saturday in the village of Saliya, near Betul. According to Abhishek Rajan, a local police official, the body of the man was found in the well after he jumped inside trying to escape from his attackers.

Mgr Leo Cornelius, metropolitan archbishop of Bhopal, told AsiaNews that “the Home Ministry and the Law Ministry have failed in their duty to protect the minority community. I just spoke to the chief minister. He is always well disposed towards the Christian minority and cordial with the Catholic Church, but he has failed to translate this attitude into protection against fundamentalists.  It is the duty of the State to uphold the law and give people confidence.”

For the prelate, “the climate of terror and the attacks against the Christian minority are growing by the day. These attacks are well planned and systematically carried out. What is more, extremists have started to use a new method. Some file complaints against local Christian leaders whilst others disrupt Christian assemblies. When Christian leaders go to the police to file their own complaints, they find themselves detained on charges of conversion activities”.

Many Indian States have in fact adopted anti-conversion laws. Even though they are unconstitutional, they impose stiff sentences on anyone who converts a Hindu to another religion.

“These laws are open to interpretation and discretionary in their application,” Mgr Cornelius said. “Madhya Pradesh was the first Indian State to adopt a law on religious freedom, which is in fact an anti-conversion in disguise. Yet everyone benefits from the presence of Catholics who provide education and health care to all. Even the children of extremists study with us.”

As a way to protest against the situation, the archdiocese organised a large demonstration. “Some 2,500 people took part in the event, including eminent Muslim leaders and Communist Party officials. Those who addressed the crowd came to our defence, telling everyone that each Indian citizen has a constitutional right to practice and preach their faith, a right that applies to minorities who must be protected.”

For Sajan K George, national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, Hindu radicals “have unleashed a reign of terror all over the country. The death of 25-year-old Amit Gilbert, who was a Master of Divinity student, shows how extremists want to wipe out the tiny minority of Indian Christians.  Right now, every Christian celebration triggers their ire. Last Wednesday, two days before Amit’s death, they attacked a gathering of 5,000 Protestants.”

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