03/31/2005, 00.00
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Hindu fundamentalists injure Christians during screening of 'The Passion of the Christ'

Hindu extremist ideology penetrates the ranks of secular Congress Party. The state of Maharashtra is on its way to adopting an anti-conversion law.

Kochi (AsiaNews) – A gaggle of Hindu fundamentalists assaulted Christians who were watching a screening of The Passion of the Christ inside the Kanai Church, the oldest church in the state of Kerala (south-western India). One Christian was seriously wounded and scores of others were beaten and injured, including women and children.

The incident occurred on Easter Eve in Chalakud Taluna when 25 militants from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)—the paramilitary wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—disrupted the viewing of Mel Gibson's movie and started attacking the spectators, one of whom George Kutty, was seriously hurt.  Kanai Church members are followers of Canai Thoma, who reached Kerala from Persia in 425 AD.

Speaking to AsiaNews, John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, said that "these anti-Christian attacks are probably designed to discredit the Congress Party" which currently rules Kerala. The Chief Minister, Oomen Chandy, is Christian.

Concern is also growing among Christians and the Church in Maharashtra, the most secular Indian state and under a Congress Party administration, where State Home Affairs Minister Sidharam Mhetre presented an anti-conversion law. It follows the main lines of a similar bill already presented in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Should it become law, the bill would, among other things, require anyone changing religion to submit an affidavit to the authorities.

Human rights activists have often said that anti-conversion laws are used by Hindu fundamentalists to persecute non Hindus.

In Tamil Nadu the anti-conversion bill has been withdrawn after a prolonged campaign by opponents.

Dolphy D'Souza, president of the Bombay (Mumbai) Catholic Sabha (assembly), said the proposal by Congress-led Maharashtra was shameful.

"The Bombay Catholic Sabha is anguished and pained at the response of Mr Sidharam Mhetre," Mr D'Souza said.

He added that "if the government thinks it can pass a law against the people, we can tell him that we and other organisations shall launch a campaign" against the anti-conversion law.

Maharashtra's Chief Minister had already publicly stated that such a law was not necessary. (NC-LF)

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