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Church Sees Politics In Anti-Christian Violence, Launches E-mail Campaign

By James Varghese
1/3/08 JABALPUR, INDIA (ANS) — According to a report carried by www.ucanews.com, Church people in Madhya Pradesh state have launched an electronic-mail campaign for peace in Orissa state, where they say Hindu radicals attacked Christians in the hope of political gains.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal launched the campaign on Dec. 31 by sending an e-mail to Indian President Pratibha Patil and then to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. It appealed for steps to check sectarian violence in Orissa, eastern India, that began Dec. 24 and claimed at least five lives.

The archbishop is based in the central Indian city of Bhopal, the Madhya Pradesh capital, 745 kilometers south of New Delhi.

Orissa is ruled by a coalition of a regional party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People’s Party), considered to be the political wing of groups trying to make India a Hindu theocratic state. Several violent attacks against Christians have also taken place in Madhya Pradesh since the BJP took control of the state government in December 2003.

The e-mail urges the federal and Orissa state governments to compensate victims’ families for loss of life and property, and calls for a probe by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation. Archbishop Cornelio said the Church plans to send at least 4,000 e-mails to federal officials, parliamentarians and the Orissa chief minister. Besides, he added, e-mails will go out to international groups and NGOs working for human rights.

For four days beginning Dec. 24, Hindu radicals attacked and set fire to Christian homes, churches, convents and seminaries in Orissa’s tribal dominated Kandhamal district. Church people estimate the violence caused property damage of around 28 million rupees (US$700,000).

Father Anand Muttungal, a spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, said the e-mail campaign would “help fight the victimization of Christians in India.”

He and some other Church people see the violence as a repeat of the 1998 Christmas season attacks against Christians in tribal regions of the western Indian state of Gujarat, also ruled by the BJP. During 10 days of violence beginning on Dec. 25 that year, several churches were burned.

Father Muttungal told UCA News radical Hindu groups incite hate to divide people as a means of gaining political power. The BJP consolidated its power in Gujarat while violence continued against Christians and Muslims.

Hanuman Prasad Verma, a senior journalist in Madhya Pradesh, agrees with Father Muttungal. “The BJP has learned from Gujarat that polarizing the people is the key to power,” he told UCA News. “It is trying to do the same in other parts of the country.”

India’s more than 1 billion people, 83 percent of whom are Hindus, include about 25 million Christians.

Archbishop Cornelio described the e-mail campaign as the Church’s “humble effort” to reach out “to as many peace-loving people as possible” to create awareness about the dangers of sectarian violence in the country.

He said the “pre-planned” violence against a religious community violates India’s democratic principles. He regretted that Orissa’s law-enforcing agencies “did precious little” to protect the life and property of Christians, who were left “at the mercy of the attackers.”

Troublemakers are far fewer than peace-loving people in India, the archbishop observed, but the majority “need to come together and assert the need for peace and harmony.”