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Anti-Christian Hate Campaigns Fuel Persecution in India

You are free to disseminate the following news. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address www.www.persecution.org. Contact Jeremy Sewall, Policy Analyst, 1-800-ICC (422)-5441, jeremy@www.persecution.org.

(September 25, 2007) The Washington, DC based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC) www.www.persecution.org has learned that Hindu extremist groups have actively been campaigning against Christians for close to a decade, yet there is little the government has done to check what continues to fuel India’s worst incidents of religious persecution.

Often, reporting on Christian persecution in India tends to focus on the incidents, and not the causes, of persecution. Rarely do we see the big picture – that Hindu ultra-nationalists who believe that to be Indian means to be Hindu are taking advantage of the uneducated and waging a hate-filled propaganda campaign against Christians.

Most recently, Hindu extremist groups Bajrang Dal and Hindu Jagruti Samiti distributed thousands of anti-Christian leaflets in Chitradurga district in the southern state of Karnataka last month. This campaign resulted in an incident on August 5, when at least 50 extremists attacked more than 10 workers of the Seventh Day Adventist church during the dedication of a new church in Sira area between Tumkur and Chitradurga districts. On August 16, the victimized Christian workers were arrested on charges of “forcible conversion.”

The trend of launching venomous propaganda campaigns that incite physical attacks against the Christian minority came to fore in 1998 when the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political arm of the chief Hindu extremist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), graduated from a party on the margins to a mainstream and ruling party in India.

Soon after the BJP’s accession to power, there was a spate of violence against Christians from December 25, 1998, through January 3, 1999, in the Dangs district of Gujarat state. These attacks included the killing of priests and the raping of nuns to the physical destruction of Christian schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries. Hundreds of Christians were also forced to “reconvert” to Hinduism. The outbreak of violence in Dangs is typical of how anti-Christian violence is organized in various parts of the country.

According to a report by the Human Rights Watch, “Politics by Other Means: Attacks against Christians in India,” the extremist group Hindu Jagran Manch (HJM) obtained permission to hold a rally on December 25, 1998 in Ahwa town in the Dangs district. Over 4,000 people participated in the rally, shouting anti-Christian slogans while the police stood by and watched. After the rally, the attacks began on Christian places of worship, schools run by missionaries, and shops owned by Christians.

In another incident, Hindu villagers, with the encouragement of a village chief, gang-raped two Christian women after their families refused to denounce Christianity on May 28, 2006 in Nadia village in Bhagwanpura block in Madhya Pradesh state’s Khargone district. A fact-finding report noted, “There have been several attacks against the Christian community since 2003, but the intensity of persecutions increased since May 21, 2006, followed by a rally organized by the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (organization for welfare of tribal people).”

Given that hate campaigns and consequent attacks polarize people along religious lines, the BJP, which portrays itself as the “protector” of Hindus, benefits politically.

ICC research noted that hate campaigns attract several local laws, and yet the media – both local and international, the state and federal governments in India as well as international organizations have a tendency to take note only of “violent incidents” while failing to address the backdrop against which such incidents takes place.