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Attacks On Christians Continue In Karnataka

01/14/09 MANGALORE, India (UCAN) — Church workers suspect Hindu fanatics in an attack on a Catholic teacher that they see as the latest incident aimed at terrorizing Christians in the southern state of Karnataka.

A group of unidentified people attacked James Victor Menezes on Jan. 7 while he was going to his St. Legory’s School in Merlapadavu, a village near Mangalore, a Catholic stronghold 2,270 kilometers south of New Delhi.

The attackers hit the teacher with wooden sticks and fled when people rushed to the scene. Menezes was hospitalized with multiple head injuries.

Father Charles Menezes, the school manager, told UCA News on Jan. 11 that Church people and the assaulted teacher suspect people who opposed some teachers distributing bibles in the Catholic school perpetrated the attack.

This and other attacks are meant to terrorize the Christian community, the priest said, adding that the assailants probably wanted to kill the teacher.
He said the school distributed bibles on Jan. 2 and announced they were intended only for Christians, but a few others also picked up copies.

Hindu groups including Srirama Sene (army of lord Ram) protested on Jan. 3 in front of the school, accusing schoolteachers of distributing bibles to Hindus. Some protest leaders even claimed that students were told to prepare themselves for a quiz on the Bible.

Christians became targets of violence in Karnataka after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party) came to power in May 2008.

In a series of incidents during Sept. 14-21, at least 24 churches and prayer halls were attacked in the state, most of them in Mangalore.

The latest attack came a week after a Protestant church was burned down on Jan. 1 in Davengere village, 300 kilometers north of Mangalore. According to media reports, Hindu groups torched the church to protest its attracting Hindus during the Christmas season.

From his hospital bed, James Menezes told UCA News on Jan. 11 that his attackers did not shout any slogans or reveal any group identity, but that some of them were present in the protest at the school.

The layman, who has taught at the school for the past 32 years, said doctors needed 22 stitches to close his head wounds. “It is a miracle that I survived the attack,” he added, saying his attackers repeatedly hammered him on the head with wooden sticks, apparently intent on killing him.

Mary Saldanha, who works in the same school, said her colleague took a leadership role in many Christian programs. “Maybe they targeted him for his active Church involvement,” she said.

The school, established 80 years ago, teaches in the local Kannada language and has about 600 children, most of them Hindus and Muslims, studying in classes up to the seventh grade. “Most Catholic students in the locality opt for English-medium schools,” Saldanha said.

Santosh D’Costa, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Neermarga, which runs the school, said police have not arrested suspects in the attack. The parish, he added, has appealed to district police officials against local police apathy and asked them to ensure the safety of Christians.

Father Melwyn Pinto, headmaster of St. Aloysius School in Mangalore, told UCA News on Jan. 12 that the Protestant Bible Society of India has been distributing bibles in schools in Mangalore for several years.

Many schools including his accepted the bibles for distribution just as St. Legory’s School did during this Christmas season, he said.