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Hindu Fundamentalists Attack Catholics in Troubled Indian State

4/23/07 New Delhi (International Christian Concern) – A minor strife between a Catholic and a Hindu boy led to a violent attack on a Catholic parish on April 16 in the troubled district of Jhabua in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

A mob of 300 Hindu fundamentalists pelted the houses of Catholics with stones and attacked them with knives and batons at around 9:30pm last Monday (April 16) in Thandla area of Jhabua district, Fr. P.A. Thomas, secretary to the bishop of the Jhabua diocese, told ICC.

At least 11 Catholics, including three women, were injured in the attack. While nine of those injured are recovering in their respective homes, two youngsters, Raju Meda, 16, and Rakesh Amaliyar, 22, are still in a hospital in neighboring Gujarat state’s Vadodara district.

They received stab wounds on their heads, necks, and other parts of their bodies, and are in critical condition, Fr. Thomas said.

The attack was so severe that that the police had to use tear gas shells to disperse the mob. The attackers, who appeared to be from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), also prevented the local people from taking the injured to the hospital till the police arrived.

“The attack was triggered by a minor fight between a Catholic and a Hindu boy, and it took place where none of the two boys lives. We don’t even know that the fight was about. The two were coming from a funeral. However, the mob came and started throwing stones on the houses of Catholics in the parish and when some Catholic youths objected to it, they started attacking them,” Fr. Thomas said.

There are about 100 Catholic families in the area.

Surprisingly, following the attack, the police filed a case against four Catholics and arrested one of them, acting on a complaint lodged by the attackers for “disturbing religious harmony”, said the Rev. Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, in a statement.

According to the Christian Legal Association of India, the Catholic was released on bail subsequently.

The victims also lodged a counter complaint against the attackers, naming at least six of them. “However, we do not know if any of the culprits have been arrested,” Fr. Thomas said.

According to Catholic news agency UCAN News, the situation is tense in the area following the attack and the church authorities have sought police protection against any further attack.

UCAN News quoted Bishop Chacko Thottumurickal of Jhabua as saying that Catholics in the diocese had been in “constant fear of attack” ever since the BJP came to power in December 2003.

Bishop Thottumurickal added that local BJP workers often threaten Christians, saying they can do anything and get away with it as the administration takes no action against them.

A spate of anti-Christian violence erupted in Jhabua in January 2004, after the fundamentalist group Hindu Jagran Manch (Forum for Revival of Hindus) held the Catholics responsible for the killing of a young girl, who was found dead in the compound of a Catholic school on January 11. This was despite the fact that a non-Christian had admitted to the crime.

As noted by ICC in “Justice Rare for Victims of Christian Persecution in India,” (March 26) most victims of the 2004 attacks are still fighting for justice, as the attackers remain at large, enjoying impunity under the BJP-rule.

Madhya Pradesh, which has only about 17,000 Christians out of the total population of over 60 million, is one of the states with the highest incidence of anti-Christian violence.