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ICC Note

Christians fear that the upcoming Hindu festival may spark violence similar to riots in 2002 which left almost 1,000 Muslims dead.

Christian Today India (02/07/06) – The Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI), has expressed deep concern for the safety and security of the Christians in Dangs district of Gujarat during the Shabri Kumbh Mela, a Hindu festival scheduled to be held during February 11-13 and expected to draw a massive crowd of at least half a million Hindu pilgrims.

According to media reports, the Hindu festival in the Dangs district is the brainchild of Hindu fundamentalist organizations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and other affiliate bodies like the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the Hindu Jagran Manch.

“In Gujarat , the epicentre of the war against Christianity is Dangs district, with 92% tribal population, mainly Bhils and Warlis,” said Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary, EFI, in a press statement. “This impoverished district gained notoriety in 1998, when as many as 38 acts of violence were recorded against a population of a few thousand and Christian clergy in the district.”

“Independent investigations established that these attacks were a result of hatred and suspicion systematically introduced by activists of Sangh organizations like the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and the Hindu Jagran Manch,” he maintained.

According to EFI, with the Hindu right-wing organizations planning the Shabri Kumbh Mela next week, the fears of the violence of 1998 are being rekindled. “There have been several such gatherings organised by Hindutva activists in the region in recent years, including a Vishal Hindu Mahasangam in Jhabua in MP in 2002, and another Kumbh in Bhilwada in Rajasthan in 2004,” Rev. Howell said.

According to a folklore endorsed by the Sangh organizations, in ancient times, legendary Hindu king and hero, Ram met and was served by Shabri, a tribal woman, allegedly on the location where the festival is being organized.

Though, EFI contends, “traditionally, there can only be four Kumbhs at fixed locations in 12-year cycles, and this has been unchanged through the millennia,” yet, the Hindu organizations wish to conduct the festival in Dangs, thereby manipulating “mythology for sectarian objectives of terrorizing the few thousand adivasi Christians, and to promote a false majoritarian Hindu identity in violent opposition to them.”

“By their own admission, Shabari Kumbh has been organized to deal a death blow to anti-dharmic (religious) and anti-national activities (read engagement of Christians in social and spiritual development of the tribals),” the statement continued.

EFI has also expressed dismay over the Gujarat state government’s “open support” for the nefarious activities and has claimed that “development funds in one of the country’s poorest districts are allegedly being diverted for building roads, platforms and dams for the Kumbh reservoir.”

Besides, the local administration is also acting in a partisan manner and defending the distribution of pamphlets and CDs, containing inflammatory statements against the Christians and the Church, as “legitimate religious activities,” the evangelical body has claimed.

Moreover, convergence of tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims in the impoverished region of Dangs may also destroy the fragile ecosystem, the statement has warned.

The EFI has appealed to all Christians to continue praying for the safety of the Christian tribals in Dangs and urge the President, the Prime Minister, as well as the Central Government, the State Government, the local administration and the National Human Rights Commission to ensure the safety and security of the lives and properties of the tribals living in the region.