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A Special Report by ICC
05/22/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The south Indian state of Karnataka handed an absolute majority to the Left-of-Center Congress Party, giving Christians the hope of reprieve from the persecution suffered under the former rule of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The BJP, which supports extremist groups, has lost its hold on Karnataka after nine years of unchallenged rule. Under its leadership, Karnataka earned the reputation of being the most religiously intolerant state in India.
Christians or their property were being attacked an average of three times per week in the state, according to Christian Legal Association Senior Advocate, S. Nova Bethania. Last November, he told Morning Star News, “Such instances are not being investigated properly, and offenders are neither traced nor brought to book. This has emboldened perpetrators of such crime to extend their anti-Christian agenda.”
Frequent Attacks
In 2012, 41 cases of anti-Christian attacks were recorded by the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC). And on March. 5, 2013, they had already numbered seven. However, they only took into account attacks that resulted in destroyed churches and imprisoned or assaulted Christians. If every incident of intimidation, harassment, insult or temporary detention were recorded, the number would be much higher, according to Sajan K. George, president of the GCIC.
On Nov. 2, 2012, four Christians from Zion Prayer Hall church were forced to undergo a Hindu “ritual cleansing,” even as fundamentalists threatened to kill their pastor, according to the church leader. They ordered the Christians to publicly renounce Christ and embrace Hinduism or else be ostracized and lose their government benefits as members of the ethnic Bhovi community, a pastor, who goes by the name of Annaiah, told Morning Star News.
The Christians were then taken to a Hindu temple, where they were forcibly bathed in water and told to eat sacrificial meat. The incident was reported to the police, but officers refused to take action. Later, the Hindu extremists marched toward the district collector’s office shouting anti-Christian slogans, demanding Pastor Annaiah’s arrest on accusations of forceful conversion. The next day, about 200 extremists came to the village and verbally abused the Christians. Pastor Annaiah and other Christians fled to a police station where they were given protection.
In March 2010, it was reported that Christians in Karnataka were attacked more than 1,000 times in 500 days. “Attacks are taking place every day,” said Justice Michael Saldanha, chairperson of the Karnataka Chapter of Transparency International, adding that the attacks were worse than in Orissa, where anti-Christian pogroms left more than 600 villages ransacked, 54,000 people homeless and 38 people murdered in 2008.
“There were more instances of Christian persecution in Karnataka than any other state in India,” said William Stark, ICC’s Regional Manager for South Asia. “This is probably due to the environment of impunity for perpetrators of attacks on Christians fostered by BJP. With BJP out, many Christians in Karnataka are hoping instances of violence against Christians will diminish significantly and perpetrators will finally be brought to justice.”
Challenges Ahead
Disputing the allegations of increased persecution, Karnataka Home Minister recently told Compass Direct News, “The allegation of Karnataka having faced 1,000 attacks is absolutely false. There is liberty in the state. Sections of the media are trying to hype it, and such claims are politically motivated. Karnataka is the most peaceful state in India, and the people are law-abiding.”
However, his comments are in stark contrast to ground realities. When Justice Saldanha conducted the People’s Tribunal Enquiry into the attacks on Christians in Karnataka, he found that Christians were regularly accused of “forced conversion” and the police were quick to act on the allegations without proper inquiry.
According to his report, Christians are often dragged to the police station under false allegations, locked up, beaten up and denied bail by the lower judiciary, which functions as the loyal partner of the police department. When asked why the police acted on such frivolous complaints without due legal process, they replied that they had orders from above. Saldanha discovered that 468 Christian workers in rural areas had been targeted with such actions since September 2008.
It is hoped that the seemingly endless cycle of persecution will come to a head, with the BJP being ousted by such a large margin. The Congress Party now has an absolute majority, leaving the BJP far behind with less than 40 seats in the 224-member assembly. However, Hindu nationalists have been promoting their ideology in this state for decades, and many in the state’s bureaucracy are believed to be their sympathizers.
Although the task is gigantic for the Congress Party, Christians still hope for greater religious freedom and the initiative to employ a judicial process that will right the countless wrongs which were committed under the previous administration.