Christians in India Fear Campaign of Violence and Call on Modi to Speak
As incidents of Christian persecution continue to spread across India, the nations capital city is not immune. A series of attacks on churches in New Delhi has led the Christian leadership there to call on Prime Minister Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist ruling party BJP, to speak out against these attacks and against the persecution Christians have faced since his rise to power. So far, Prime Minister Modi has remained silent, allowing the issue of Christian persecution to derail his economic agenda. Will Prime Minister Modi and his government finally take the issue of Christian persecution seriously?
2/3/2015 India (New York Times) – A series of episodes at churches over the last two months has prompted Roman Catholics here to worry about a deliberate campaign of violence, and to call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to speak out against religious intimidation.
At least five Catholic churches in and around Delhi have reported various attacks, including suspected arson, burglary, vandalism and stone-throwing. The latest was discovered on Monday morning at St. Alphonsa’s Church in New Delhi, where a parish employee found the church’s front door broken open, ceremonial vessels missing, and communion wafers strewn about.
The episodes have caught the attention of human rights advocates, who have been alert to any new pressure on religious freedom in India since Mr. Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party swept to power in elections last May. But church leaders say that the authorities have not taken the attacks seriously enough.
Indian Christians, suspecting arson, held a candlelight vigil in New Delhi this month after a fire destroyed St. Sebastian’s, a Catholic church there. ‘Reconversion’ of Religious Minorities Roils India’s Politics DEC. 23, 2014
“There has been no attempt from the prime minister’s side to condemn the attacks,” said the Rev. Mathew Koyickal, the chancellor of the Delhi archdiocese and a former parish priest at St. Alphonsa’s. If Mr. Modi would speak out, he said, “we would be comforted, we would know we have a prime minister who cares about us.” Catholics and other Christians make up about 2 percent of India’s population.
President Obama called for religious tolerance in the country during his visit in late January. “India will succeed so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith — so long as it’s not splintered along any lines, and is unified as one nation,” he said in a speech on Jan. 27.
Mr. Modi’s political opponents have also taken up the issue. In December, when a right-wing offshoot of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or R.S.S., a Hindu nationalist organization, promoted conversions of Christians to Hinduism, opposition leaders called on Mr. Modi to explicitly condemn the drive.
Church leaders have speculated that the Hindu far right might also be behind the church attacks, but the Delhi chapter of the R.S.S. denied involvement. “We do not believe in any kind of violence,” said Rajiv Tuli, a chapter spokesman, adding that he believed the “unsubstantiated allegations” were meant to defame the governing party.
At St. Alphonsa’s on Monday, the police said they believed the break-in was a burglary, and noted that a DVD player was taken with the two ceremonial vessels, a monstrance and a ciborium.
But parishioners said they were sure the real motive was intimidation, noting that collection boxes had been left untouched.
“It’s just so sad,” Vivien Ashima Kaul, a retired history professor, said, adding that the church episodes were being incited by “fringe fundamentalists.”
The most serious was a fire early on Dec. 1 at St. Sebastian’s Church in East Delhi that badly damaged the altar, nave and sacristy. The Rev. Anthony Francis, who became pastor of the church in July, said the church smelled strongly of kerosene afterward, and parishioners saw what appeared to be oil floating in the puddles of water left by firefighters who put out the fire.
“We firmly believe that it is not accidental, but a deliberately conducted act of arson,” Father Francis said.