09/01/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Pressures on Indian president to stop anti-Christian violence in Orissa

Violence continues, unabated. Yesterday four churches were destroyed as violence spreads to Madya Pradesh and Karnataka.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A delegation representing civil society groups met Indian President Shrimati Pratibha Patil this morning, presenting her with a memorandum and calling on her to do something to stop anti-Christian violence in Orissa. The group asked India’s head of state to have the Union government take legal action against various radical Hindu groups which have fomented anti-Christian hatred. In Orissa though, violence continues; yesterday four churches were in fact set on fire and destroyed. Police has intensified its controls and extended the curfew to three more districts, but instead of slowing the anti-Christian campaign has spread to Madya Pradesh and Karnataka.

The delegation that met President Patil included people from the world of culture and the entertainment industry. There were also Catholic lawmakers as well as prelates like Mgr Raphael Cheenath, archbishop of Cuttack–Bhubaneshwar; Mgr Vincent Concessao, archbishop of New Delhi; and Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference.

In the memorandum submitted to the president, the delegation called for legal action against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bajrang Dal. In the last few days these groups have not stopped accusing Christians in the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda on 23 August.

Even though the police believes that the assassination was the work of Maoist guerrillas, VHP Secretary General Praveen Togadia told a foreign journalist that the “Church killed the swami.”

RSS spokesman Ram Madhav told CNN-IBN that “Christians are behind the murders.”

For his part Bajrang Dal national leader Subhash Chavan said that the “police are trying to hide the truth by blaming the Maoists.”

All of them however could be charged under Indian law with “creating enmity between communities and religions”.

The delegation instead called on the president to exercise her power to send security forces to Orissa where the local police and government seem incapable of coping with the situation.

In the last few days Orissa police extended the curfew to three other districts, in addition to the nine already under its mandate. Clashes with Hindu radicals continue however—at least four more churches and tens of homes have been set on fire.

At the same time the anti-Christian (and anti-conversion) campaign is spreading to other parts of the country. In Madya Pradesh (central India) local Christians fasted for three days in support of their fellow Christians in Orissa whilst Bajrang Dal groups burnt missionaries in effigy. Scuffles with Christian students broke out but the intervention of the police prevented anyone from getting hurt.

Yesterday in Chitradurga (Karnataka), a Protestant clergyman, Rev N Kumar, from the Church of Sharon, was beaten up right after Sunday service. A group of Hindu radicals entered the church and applied “kumkum”, a red holy powder, on the foreheads of those present as a sign of re-conversion to Hinduism. The police, which was present, did not intervene.

(In photo: Father Edward, who runs an orphanage in Bargarh, in his hospital bed. On 25 August the clergyman was beaten up till he lost consciousness and was left in the building that was set on fire. During the fire an aide, Rafani Majhi, was burnt to death)

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