09/08/2005, 00.00
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Christian universities also targeted by fundamentalists

by Nirmala Carvalho

Anti-Christian hate causes "serious damage to India's secular structure" and to cultural and economic development

Allahabad (AsiaNews) – "Freely living one's faith" is an "undeniable right" and the 4 September attacks against the Institute for Agriculture in Allahbad "are part of a well-planned and complex strategy against Christians".

This was the reaction of Fr Babu Joseph, spokesperson of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI) and Director of Communications, when he was interviewed by AsiaNews  about the attack on a religious activity on Sunday 4 September on the campus of Allahbad.

"We strongly condemn this violence against Christians and such anti-Christian sentiments and the perpetrators of the violence should be handed over to the forces of justice. Being Christian, we follow the Gospel of Forgiveness, but one has to defend life and property and for this we demand that an in-depth investigation into this violent attack.

 "I myself was on this Protestant campus and I attended the religious service which has been conducted by the university for years.  Religious worship is conducted in an orderly manner, and with the decorum expected of any religious convention.  Even though thousands of people attend the meetings, there have never before been any incidents of rowdiness. It is the right of every person to worship, but faculty members have been on the receiving end of adverse comments and threats from fundamentalists groups.  This is a systematic and well planned strategy against Christians and it must stop."

The Allahabad Agriculture Institute was set up in the northern state of Utter Pradesh in 1910 by a missionary, Sam Higginbottom with the motto, "Feed the hungry, save the land". Thousands of agriculture scholars have emerged from the institute throughout generations. As a Christian university, functions are celebrated daily and especially on Sundays, with the participation of students, teachers, families and people who come from neighbouring communities. Dr R.B.Lal, vice-rector of the campus, launched a Christian movement known as "Yeshudarbar" seven years ago, together with some colleagues. The movement follows the personal motto of the founder, "Gospel and Plough", an approach which links agricultural improvement with the spreading of gospel values such as spirit of service, love for one's neighbour and community service.

Yeshudarbar meetings are held on all days of the week and on Sunday mornings there is big gathering attended by thousands of believers.  On 4 September, more than 7,000 believers were gathered.  However, as soon as the service began, about 15 people suddenly trespassed, they started destroying things, including the Cross, and shouting anti-Christian slogans. Some members of the gathering restrained them and people were seriously injured in the chaos which ensued.

John Dayal, president of the India Christian Council, told AsiaNews: "This is an attack on religious freedom of minorities and all secular values upheld by the citizens of India.  If such attacks on the Cross, the Bible and worship services are allowed to go unpunished, great damage will be dome to the secular framework of the country.  We appeal to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the Home Minister of the Government of India to take immediate action to apprehend the culprits and ensure confidence and security to the Christian community of Allahabad and also the campus community of the University."

The 4 September attack was not an isolated case at the university: since 28 August, incidents have been taking place in which students are increasingly involved. Cars and hostels have been destroyed or damaged and peaceful demonstrations are turned into stone-throwing and shouting of integralist slogans. The management of the institute believes infiltrators among the students are fomenting inter-religious hatred.

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