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India : Hindu Nationalist Extremists Injure Nearly 100

ICC Note

“It seems Christians have a second-class citizenship in their own country,”

January 18,2008 India (Compass Direct News) – More than 80 people were injured in an attack on a large Christian meeting on Wednesday (January 16) in Chhattisgarh state’s Durg district, followed yesterday by an assault on a missionary camp in Dhamtari district that hurt at least a dozen Christians.

The Hindu extremist attacks come within weeks of unprecedented anti-Christian violence in neighboring Orissa state. In Chhattisgarh’s Durg district violence, Christians said it was no coincidence that Hindu nationalist (Hindutva) extremists launched the attack as the political arm of the militants, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was holding a public meeting in the area.

The assault took place on Bhotli grounds in Gurur area of Durg district, where a local independent Christian worker, Mohan Khujjur Thomas, had organized a healing meeting for the local people, the Rev. Arpan Tarun of the Chhattisgarh Pastors’ Fellowship said.

“The attackers, who were from the extremist group Dharam Sena (Army for Religion), came in four trucks, beat Christians and others who were attending the healing meeting, and vandalized the makeshift structure,” Tarun told Compass.

Those injured include local people from other faiths who were taking interest in Christianity, Tarun said, adding that although some of the victims, including Thomas, were badly injured, no one was hospitalized.

The attackers also vandalized Thomas’ car.

The police inspector of the Gurur police station, who identified himself as D.S. Bihari, said only one of the attackers was identified and arrested, while the search for other culprits was underway.

Asked if the attackers were from a group espousing Hindutva, a nationalist ideology touting India as belonging to Hindus with other religions marginalized, Bihari pleaded ignorance, saying all he knew was that the one who was arrested is a devotee of Hindu god Hanuman.

“The investigation is on,” he added. “We should be able to arrest many more soon, and then we will know which group they belonged to.”

Hindus form more than 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people in India , with Christians amounting to about 2.4 percent of the population.

Afraid to Identify Attackers

Tarun of the Chhattisgarh Pastors’ Fellowship said police had asked victims to come to the police station to identify the attackers, but that they were too fearful to do so.

“Even if the police manage to arrest others,” he added, “they will soon be bailed out and roam free.”

Inspector Bihari said that about six kilometers (nearly four miles) from where the meeting was attacked, the BJP was holding a public meeting to launch a scheme to provide one kilogram of rice for three rupees (about 8 U.S. cents) to people through the public distribution system. Chief Minister Raman Singh organized the event, attended my numerous national leaders of the BJP.

Tarun said the presence of BJP leaders in the area emboldened the Hindutva extremists who launched the “pre-planned attack.”

“I suspect that the people who attacked the meeting had come to attend the BJP function,” he said.

The scheme was allegedly introduced as a part of the preparation for the state legislative election scheduled to take place later this year. Christians fear that upcoming elections in at least 10 states, including Chhattisgarh, will increase the incidence of anti-Christian attacks due to alleged attempts by the BJP to divide voters along the religious lines. (See Compass Direct News, “Christians Fear More Violence in Election Year,” January 15.)

A private TV news channel, IBN-7, caught the extremists vandalizing the tents in which the meeting was held. The presence of a TV camera did not deter them from engaging in the violence.

Tarun also said the chief of the Dharam Sena, identified only as Chandraval, made a statement on TV news channel E-TV threatening Christians with more attacks if such a meeting were held in the area again.

Local Christians met the district collector (administrative head) of Durg yesterday (January 17) to urge him to ensure protection of the community.

“It seems Christians have a second-class citizenship in their own country,” Tarun said, adding that Hindutva extremists in Chhattisgarh had no fear of law enforcement officials. The extremists attacked a similar meeting last year as well, he added.

Conversion Accusation

In yesterday’s assault in Dhamtari district, more than 200 members of Dharmasena, a group associated with the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, attacked a missionary health camp.

The Dharmasena extremists accused the Christians of participating in a conversion ceremony.

In neighboring Orissa state, a series of violent attacks took place in Kandhamal district from December 24, 2007 to January 2. The attacks killed at least four Christians and burned 730 houses and 95 churches, according to the All India Christian Council.

“A spate of anti-Christian attacks had taken place in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district around Christmas, and now another large attack has been launched in Chhattisgarh state,” said a representative of the Christian Legal Association of India. “If this is the beginning of a trend, it is worrisome.”

According to the latest government statistics (2001 Census), there are only 401,035 Christians in Chhattisgarh out of the total population of more than 20.8 million.