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BosNewsLife (01/12/06) – A group investigating religious persecution in India warned Thursday, January 12, that “extremist propaganda being used to promote a Hindu religious festival” has raised fears of attacks on Christians and Muslims in western India .

Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the slogan “Hindu Jago, Christi Bhagao” (“Arise Hindus, throw out the Christians”) has been used by festival organisers to “stir up religious tensions” in the Dangs, a remote district of Gujarat state.

The Shabri Kumbh, a new religious festival that is due to be held February 11-13, has therefore caused “grave concerns” to Muslims and Christians in the area, CSW said. It said two separate fact-finding teams from a cross-section of civil society travelled to the Dangs to investigate the alleged intimidation.

“We could see the fear writ on the face of most of the Christians we met,” the investigators were quoted as saying.

Next month’s event reportedly aims to attract up to 500,000 people and is held to commemorate the mythological story of Shabri and Ram in which the latter kills the demon Ravana. The Hindu nationalist organisers of the festival have called for the same treatment for Christians, “describing it as a dangerous foreign faith,” CSW added.

“The motives of this [festival] reek of rabid communalism and antipathy and physical hostility towards Christians. This area has been targeted by the Sangh Parivar for many years,” added the Secretary General of the All India Christian Council and member of the Indian Government’s National Integration Council in remarks published by CSW.

“The motives of this [festival] reek of rabid communalism and antipathy and physical hostility towards Christians. This area has been targeted by the Sangh Parivar for many years,” he added.

The Dangs area is inhabited by tribal peoples, a small minority of whom are Christians and Muslims. Christianity has however been spreading among tribals and native missionaries are among those active there, BosNewsLife monitored.

Although most tribals in the region still practise animism, next month’s festival will encourage them to “re-convert” to Hinduism, reports said. “A slogan on the main Hindu temple in the district is translated, ‘Our resolve is to free the world from the ideologies of conversions and jihad’,” CSW noted.

CSW partner, the All India Christian Council, has urged the Indians government and the State Government in Gujarat “to ensure that the festival takes place peacefully and without any harassment of Christians.”