Serious Charges Omitted In Attack On Pastor
Hindu nationalist-ruled Rajasthan closes investigation on Walter Masih case.
4/29/08 NEW DELHI, India (Compass Direct News) – The Hindu nationalist government in Rajasthan state has closed a police investigation into a televised attack on pastor Walter Masih a year ago today after withdrawing the more serious charges against the accused.
The state government ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has refused to sanction prosecution under the more serious charges of the 14 Hindu extremists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP), who were accused of attacking Pastor Masih with sticks and rods, leaving him bleeding profusely in the Nandpuri area of the state capital, Jaipur.
Police had arrested 14 of the 20 alleged attackers in the April 29, 2007 assault and filed a case against them for rioting, causing hurt, trespassing and causing damage – but without including any charges related to religion-related offenses, which provide for stricter penal action.
The prosecution filed a charge sheet against the accused in a trial court in August 2007 but also acknowledged that some other charges were still pending. Later police added charges of hate speech, insulting a religion or religious beliefs and offensive statements made in a place of worship.
As required by law, police sought the state government’s sanction for prosecution of these charges, which would bring harsher sentences. At the same time, all of the accused were released on bail by the Rajasthan High Court.
Now the government has refused to give sanction for prosecution of the more serious charges, instead ordering closure of the investigation under the original charges.
Frustrated, Masih told CNN-IBN news channel that the government’s move amounted to protection of the attackers. “We want justice, please help us,” he said.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria told the channel, “It’s sad that just because he’s a Christian, so much undue importance is being given to this case.”
Attack a ‘Petty Crime’
A representative of the Christian Legal Association (CLA) told Compass that by declining to add charges related to religious crimes, the state had weakened the case against the accused.
“The case, which highlighted the false confidence of extremists to launch attacks on Christians with impunity,” said the CLA representative, “will now be treated as involving petty offenses.”
The Hindu quoted the state president of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Prem Krishna Sharma, as saying that the BJP had closed the probe in view of state assembly elections due later this year.
“With the elections coming nearer, there are clear indications that the BJP will openly threaten the minorities and give a free hand to its rank and file to attack them,” he said.
The PUCL led a rally against the government’s move on Friday (April 25).
Dr. John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, told Compass that a deep nexus existed in Rajasthan between the BJP and Hindu extremist organizations such as the VHP and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal.
“Whenever the BJP is in power, it goes all out to help Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] organizations,” he said. “The BJP governments have in the past encouraged employees, including senior government officers, to join the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] in several states, thereby making deep and long-term linkages between these militant cadres and the government apparatus. This helps the RSS even when the BJP is not in power.”
Dayal added that the BJP also defends Hindu extremists whenever they are caught committing crimes.
He said that by declining to give permission to prosecute the accused, the government was interfering with the criminal justice process. Dayal added that the BJP was sending out a signal to militant groups that they would be protected when they attack religious minorities.
“It is also signaling to the minorities,” he said, “that they cannot expect help from the government or the justice system.”
BJP, Political Wing of RSS
The BJP is widely regarded as the political wing of the RSS, India’s chief Hindutva organization, though party leaders deny it.
According to media reports, BJP President Rajnath Singh recently led a drive to pass four amendments to give overwhelming powers to RSS leaders working as BJP state officials known as “organizing secretaries.” According to one amendment, only the national party president – not even state heads – can overrule the decision of a state organizing secretary.
Thanks to the amendments, according to the reports, the RSS presence will nearly double in the BJP. The RSS, also referred to as BJP’s ideological mentor, helps the party in its election campaigns.
Rajinder Puri, a veteran political analyst, has noted: “The BJP is a party of leaders without workers. The workers belong to the RSS. That is why the RSS controls BJP. That is why BJP leaders do not emerge through a healthy political process but are appointed by the RSS The RSS functions like a bunch of oligarchs squabbling behind the curtain.”
The BJP declares on its website that it “is today the most prominent member of the family of organizations known as the ‘Sangh Parivar,’ [organizations in the family of the RSS].”
Historical Bias Against Christians
Soon after coming into power, the BJP in August 2004 lifted a ban on the distribution, acquisition and carrying of trishuls – sharp, three-pronged knives or tridents – often used in attacks against Christians. The VHP openly distributes these tridents to its supporters.
On July 7, 2004 the government withdrew 122 cases related to religion-related violence, including five cases registered against Hindu extremists for damaging houses belonging to the Muslim community in Banswara district in September 2002. A case directed against seven Muslims in the same area was not withdrawn.
In May 2006, Christians uncovered the preparation of a “databank of churches and missionary organizations” by police in Udaipur district. (See Compass Direct News, “State Secretly Surveys Churches, Missions,” May 31, 2006.)
A questionnaire used to gather information for the database asked for the “ideology of the priest of the church or the head of the organization.” It also sought a detailed description of the activities of Christian institutions, their sources of income and financial aid, legal status, fixed assets, and information on residents of any hostel facilities they may run.