06/28/2007, 00.00
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State should stop sectarian violence, says bishop of Gandhinagar

by Nirmala Carvalho
Huge crowds gather in Karnataka to protest attack against Father Pereira and other Christians. Mgr Fernandes says he was overwhelmed by the solidarity of the population, irrespective of caste or faith. The state must however act against the culprits who too often get away with it.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – “The CBCI strongly condemns the attack on Carmelite Fr Silvester Pereira and four Christians.  It is a cause for serious concern that such incidents of anti-Christian violence are spiralling upwards,” said Mgr Stanislaus Fernandes, archbishop of Gandhinagar and secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI). He spoke to AsiaNews about the growing anti-Christian violence and intolerance in the Indian state of Karnataka, which state authorities have ignored too often.

Father Pereira and other Christians were assaulted and beaten up in a hospital waiting room. Their Hindu nationalist attackers even dragged them to a police station accusing them of trying to convert patients in the hospital. Only the intervention of third parties prevented them from being arrested.

There are “elements who want to force the Catholic Church to feel unwanted and worried about defending its own existence,” said Mgr Fernandes. Never the less, he was “overwhelmed by the response of [members of] the general public who participated in rallies organised to protest the attack on Fr Silvester and the others.  It is heartening to see that people from all sections of society and all faiths, political leaders and civil servants, are publicly against this attack.  This clearly shows that people of all castes  and creeds appreciate what the Church is doing for the people, and that they condemn these anti-Christian attacks at a  time when Christian missionaries are victims of a grave injustice.”

Led by Fr Anthony Lobo, a protest rally that drew large crowds was organised by various Christian groups yesterday afternoon at Kundapur’s Shastri Circle. Former MP Vinaykumar Sorake attended the event and reminded the rally of the services rendered by the Christian community in the field of education in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district. He lamented that the assault on the priest has made a civilised society bow its head in shame.

Mr Sorake and Legislative Council Member K Prathpchandra Shetty urged the police to press charges against the culprits as a warning against other radical groups that carry out attacks against minorities.

Social activist Rajashekar noted that in Karnataka’s coastal area similar incidents did not only affect minorities but also Hindus who did not follow the principles of the Bajrang Dal, which extremists believed to be the true orthodoxy.

Another public protest took place in Mysore whilst one is being organised for next Monday in Mangalore by the Konkan Yuva Awaz Mangalore and the Karnataka Christian Federation, who have called on ordinary citizens to appeal to both state and Union governments.

Diocesan authorities asked Oscar Fernandes, a minister for Mangalore, for justice and protection from violent elements who are a threat to the Christian community.

Mgr Stanislaus Fernandes stressed the importance of state intervention. “The Church,” he said, “ha complained several times that the offenders are not being prosecuted, that extremists are being protected. If they are not punished, anti-Christian attacks will spread to the whole country.”

“We trust that the secular principles of our constitution will be upheld,” he said. “For decades the Catholic Church has worked tirelessly and selflessly for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed irrespective of caste and creed. We now ask the authorities to allow us to continue our work for the community, defend man’s dignity, protect his rights and build the common good without intimidations and violence.”

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