Violence against Christians in Karnataka
A TALE OF THREE REPORTS AND SOME COMMENTS
By P.N. Benjamin*
The fledgling BJP Government in Karnataka confronted its first major crisis when churches in eight districts were allegedly vandalized by “Hindu extremists/terrorists” in September-October of 2008. The government appointed a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court, Justice Somasekhara as a One-man Commission to inquire into the incidents of attack on Christian places of worship in the district of Dakshina Kannada. He submitted his report recently.
During the course of the inquiry, the Commission received 1,019 petitions and examined 754 witnesses spread over a period of 300 days of judicial sittings. More than thirty advocates representing various sections of the society including the Government presented their case before the Commission and the final arguments were heard over a period of 53 sittings. As many as 2,437 documents were marked by the Commission as exhibits in addition to 34 material objects in the form of Electronic Storage Documents (ESDs).
The Somashekara Commission has given a 'clean chit' to the BJP, Sangha Parivar and the state government. “There is no basis to the apprehension of petitioners that politicians, BJP, Sangha Parivar and the state government are directly or indirectly involved in the attacks”.
According to the report -- circulation of derogatory literature with "insulting attitude" against Hindus and issues of conversion were the main reasons behind the attacks.
The commission has stated that the impression and allegation that top police officers and the district administration had colluded with attackers in attacking the churches or places of worship had no merit.
However, the commission has noted that the government and district administration did not treat the Christian protesters sympathetically.
The commission in its 21 recommendations has suggested that the an exclusive police station with specially trained police officers for religious matters in each district should be constituted with special powers to function without the interference of the government.
The commission launched its investigation on October 2008 and held several sittings in Mangalore, Bangalore, Davanagere, and Udupi. It accepted a total of 1,500 petitions and 34 advocates representing various sections of society presented their cases before the commission
Churches were attacked in the districts of Mangalore, Udupi, Chikamagalur, Kolar, Chikkaballapur, Bellary and Davangere during September 2008.
• Detailed and transparent inquiry
According to Justice Somasekara the Commission’s final report on the church attacks was prepared after a detailed and transparent inquiry but was misinterpreted by a few. He also added that there was no need for Christian petitioners to be apprehensive about the direct or indirect involvement of politicians, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Sangh Parivar and the State Government in the attacks.
Every bit of inference and findings of the report was based on evidence and elaborate discussion of all contentions presented before the Commission. The final report should be read in continuation of the interim report submitted to the government in February last, the inquiry panel chief said.
He said there was no lapse on the part of the Commission and any fair comments were welcome. “But all such expressions by anybody shall be subject to legal consequences under Section 10A (1) of the Commission of Inquiry Act. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; and this will apply to all,” he said.
• Fraudulent conversions
The Commission said fraudulent conversions have damaged the reputation of Christians as people who serve society and contribute to nation building. It also called for some laws to regulate some organizations that indulge in conversion “uncontrolled by any law.”
As many as 57 churches and prayer-halls were attacked in nine districts in the State in 2008. The report regretted that the attacks have “deeply affected” relations between Christians and Hindus who now suspect each other.
• Absolves Government, BJP, Sangh Parivar
Justice Somasekara categorically declared that there was "… no basis to the apprehension of Christian petitioners that the BJP, Sangh Parivar and the State Government directly or indirectly, are involved in the attacks.” He also said that "…the impressions and allegations that the present ruling government is showing cold shoulders to the interest of minority Christian community in Karnataka and try to suppress them for the political ends, like vote-catching has no basis.” noting that while it was “reasonable” for victims to suspect that the government was either slow or negligent in responding to the incidents his inquiry proved otherwise.
It also mentions that the attacks on churches or places of worship has deeply affected the harmony between the members of Hindu and Christian religions and created suspicion in the minds of each other.
The Justice noted that while, “True Hindus have no role to play in any attack directly or indirectly…” the attacks were carried out by “…misguided fundamentalist miscreants of defined or undefined groups…” who believed that they would be protected by the party in power .
He advised that action be taken against Mahendra Kumar, then convener of the Bajrang Dal, “…who sought to justify the attacks on churches….” It is important to note that Mahendra Kumar recently joined the Janata Dal (Secular) party.
• Police action justified
Justice Somasekara commented on the police response, commending them for the good work but also expressing concern when their response was either weak or unclear. “The police action against the Christian protestors in several incidents were justified,” he said while confirming that the police action at St Sebastian Church, Permannur, was “unexplainably excessive, unreasonable and is in violation of the expected norms prescribed.” He dismissed out of hand the allegation that the police and the district administration had colluded with those who attacked the churches: “…the impression and allegations that the top police officers and the district administration had colluded with the attackers in attacking the churches or places of worship has no merit.”
• Critical of local administration
Justice Somashekara, however, was critical of local administration and police in Bellary and Gulbarga districts: “The failure of the district administration functionaries, including corporation, municipality, electricity board and village panchayat authorities, in protecting the rights of the religious minorities guaranteed under the Constitution and their interference in their activities by misuse of power is evident and apparent, particularly in Bellary and Gulbarga districts…. Their acts of locking the places of worship and preventing the devotees from offering prayers is unprecedented in the history of administrative process and constitutional governance.”
He castigated the police for being “… imprudent, unreasonable and inexperienced…” when they entered some churches in “… Dakshina Kannada without following legal requirements amounting to violation of religious interests and human rights protected under the Constitution of India,” but the “saving grace is that there is no evidence to conclude that it was motivated or influenced by any other force.”
He also expressed concern about some acts of the police, including the lathi-charge in some situations in Dakshina Kannada. “The impressions and allegations that the government and the district administration did not treat the Christian protestors sympathetically and with compassion is justified in a few instances noted in the report categorically,” he noted, and that the grievance expressed by some that the compensation awarded in some instances was too meager, or inadequate was justified, he said.
• All attacks were spontaneous
A significant observation by the Justice is regarding the nature of the attacks and enmities between the two communities: “Not all attacks were spontaneous or accidental. Some were deliberate, well-planned communal antagonism with fundamentalism brewing since several years. The events leading to the attacks were many including local groupism, personal competition in trade, and education and political activities.”
Justice Somasekara noted that the allegation that some Christians and some Christian groups were indulging in “mischievous activities” including distributing “…literature maligning the Hindu religion, Hindu ancient systems, Hindu sacred beliefs, practices and sentiments….”
• Mass conversions & foreign funds
Justice Somashekara has said that “… the impression that some persons involved in conversions are getting funds from some sources including foreign countries…” and that such funds are used for “…mass conversions of innocent and helpless members of the society belonging to the weaker sections is true.”
• No conversion by Catholic Church.
The Commission has absolved the Catholic Church of any wrong-doing: “There appears to be no conversions at all by Roman Catholic churches or its members except for routine purposes like marriage or voluntary instances.”
The Commission rightly rejected some Hindu groups’ demand to ban Christian literature, including the Bible, that the groups claimed were “anathema to Hindu practices.” On the other hand it asked the government to seek the help of all religions and political parties to convince Christians to be sensitive and sympathetic to Hindu complaints.
• Grabbing of public property
About the attack on the Saint James Church at Mariyannapalya in Bangalore, did take place, said the Commission. “There appears to be a grabbing of public property by both church people and Chittiappa of Sri Adi Kaveri Trust which requires a serious inquiry and appropriate action,” it noted. There were attempts by Christians to convert people in the area, and resistance by the members of Adi Kaveri Trust of Chittiappa and local Hindus were the reasons for the incident, the Commission said.
The Commission categorically said that the Sangh Parivar had no role in the attack and it was a purely a local problem. It said that “the church should provide its own security and cooperate with the local police”.
• A make-believe attempt
Referring to St Mary’s Church in Kolar, the Commission ruled out the involvement of any Hindu organisation. The allegations of conversion are true, it noted, but that was not the reason for the attack. It was a deliberate attempt by some local group/s or political force/s to “create evidence” to link the attack to other such incidents involving churches, and to thereby demoralise or defeat the ruling BJP government.
The incident at Holy Name of Jesus Church at Rajarajeshwarinagar, according to the report was “sporadic -- carried out by either a passerby or by some miscreants to create evidence against the ruling party”.
Attack on St Anthony New Church at Yedanahalli. In this case, the report said the attack was a make-believe incident aimed at linking it with other similar incidents. The main culprits were allegedly Father Santhosh, David and his men, and two police constables, B M Nagaraj and B P Nagendra Kumar. The CoD police failed in their investigation to locate the culprits, the report said.
• Mass mobilisation of Christians & Vote bank politics
The reactions to the Commission’s findings were quick and organized. There was a mass mobilisation of Christians in Karnataka demanding the immediate withdrawal of the report and an orchestrated attempt at disseminating mischievous, unsourced, and spurious allegations about the Commission. Massive protests marches and meetings were held in many parts of the State.
However, when you politicize the church and make demands by using numerical minority vote bank for the politicians to see that we have power, then it means muscle power, which goes along with money power. To use religion and to ghetto people is divisive and anti-national. The church leaders have misused their position and authority to barter and bargain. The politicians yield not because of justice and fair play but because of the vote bank politics-this towards attaining their own power. The church leaders have been playing the game of politicians and turned themselves into semi politicians, using the ‘flock’ as tools.
Justice Saldanha’s report
I have with me a copy of the 304-page report by the retired judge Michael Saldanha, said to be based on his “independent inquiry” into the attacks on churches in Karnataka on September 14, 2008. It reads like a political party’s charge sheet against its opponent. It is far from an unbiased and independent report when the publication of the book itself has been funded by a former Congress minister T. John. To say the least, the book reads like Devil’s ‘ gospel of hatred’ – revulsive, repulsive and provocative. Needless to add, it is also meant to demoralise the law and order machinery in the State by freely and recklessly terming them (the Karnataka Police) as "state criminals", "state goondas", ‘khaki terrorists", "official terrorist of India" etc.!.
• Not unbiased.
The retired judge is the president of the Catholic Association of South Canara (Dakshina Kannada). It is therefore difficult to believe that an inquiry conducted by the president of the Catholic Association of Dakshina Kannada would be impartial. Justice Saldanha says any commission of inquiry set up by the government to investigate its own actions is unlikely to be impartial but gives himself privileges he denies the government. In addition, Saldanha has in the past three years persisted in demonising the BJP government in Karnataka
Justice Saldanha claims to have visited 413 places where incidents took place, obtained 673 types of evidence and testimony from 2,114 affected persons after visiting hospitals, courts, police stations, jails and government offices. Interestingly, he is not appointed by the State Government under the Commission of enquiry Act, but on the other hand self appointed and funded by Churches and discredited Congress leaders like the former minister T. John to give his ‘unbiased’ Report.
Highlights of Saldanha’s findings
• The Hindutva brigade was behind the violence, but even worse was the fact that the Chief Minister and the then Home Minister implicitly and explicitly abetted the Hindutva elements.
• The brute force of armed police, state administration and the lower judiciary was used against the hapless Christians and their institutions, who/which were soft targets in the attack, but provides no evidence of the use of what he calls “brute force”.
• The religious violence was pre-planned and executed with great precision for maximum impact which it did achieve and the persecution continues over the last three years.
• There is flagrant disregard of the rule of law and an atmosphere of anarchy prevails, with non-state & extra-constitutional players running riot and the government doing nothing.
Some genuine doubts & questions:
• No death reported
If brute force were used it would have resulted in the death of some and injuries to many Christians. Justice Saldanha has neither counted the dead (none), nor enumerated the injured, leaving us to believe that the mass circulation of hysterical pronouncements in foreign countries was the main aim of Justice Saldanha.
• One-sided report
Justice Saldanha’s Report is one-sided. Nether witnesses were examined nor allowed for Cross-Examination. No Documents are taken on record. Being a retired judge of the Karnataka High Court, it is surprising to know, he has not followed the basic principles of natural justice while giving his findings, adverse to the interested persons/groups/administration/officials.
How has the persecution of Christians for three years continued and to what effect? On the other hand, the number of Christians in Karnataka has increased and they have been able to worship and carry on their livelihood without hindrance.
Justice Saldanha hyperbolically alleges “flagrant disregard to rule of law” but if indeed what he alleges is true where is the evidence for such lawlessness? That a retired justice would stoop to such calumny is evidence of the organized challenge to the BJP-led government by Christian groups and Christian leaders who cannot stand the idea of the BJP coming to power anywhere in India.
• Blissfully unaware
Saldanha is blissfully unaware that the sordid events in Mangalore and elsewhere are the obvious result of unethical religious conversions and the denigration of Hindu practices and symbols by evangelists that polarize families and communities and aggravate long standing social conflicts as well.
He doe not seem to have read the report in Times of India on October 8, 2008 quoting Intelligence Bureau sources that the provocative activities of the New Life Christian church were a major source of disquiet in Karnataka and other States .The New Life movement has been accused of brazenly indulging in conversions in Karnataka and other states. In fact, the Catholic hierarchy is itself concerned about the activities of New Life movement which is allegedly taking many faithful members away from the mainstream Church
• Whipping up hatred against Hindus and calling a bluff
Spreading hatred like butter on hot bread seems to have become a pastime for M.F. Saldanha. For example, the Compass News reported in August 2010: “Christians in Karnataka State are under an unprecedented wave of Christian persecution, having faced more than 1,000 attacks in the last 500 days, according to an independent investigation by a former judge of the Karnataka High Court".
In the meantime, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) has recorded only 72 attacks on Christians in 2009. That represents a decline from 112 attacks the previous year.
When this writer asked for the list of names of churches and dates of attacks Justice Saldanha failed to do. Justice Saldanha’s utterly false and outrageous bluff that there were 1,000 attacks against Christians in Karnataka during the last 500 days was thus called because the reality was easily verifiable. The allegation reflected his shocking ignorance about the real religious situation in Karnataka.
Report of the Citizens for Harmony
Below are details gathered by the fact-finding team sent by “Citizens for Harmony,” a Bangalore-based voluntary organisation. The team consisted of Mr. Y R Patil (retired Inspector General of Police) and Director of Academy of Career Counseling and Coaching, Bangalore, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, (Social worker and Creative Director, Varnila Designs, Bangalore), and P N Benjamin (founder and coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue – BIRD.
The team visited Mangalore and Udupi on September 30 and October 1, 2009 respectively, and received several complaints and representations from Hindu and Christian organizations and from individuals who did not represent any institutions. Nearly 200 affected persons deposed before the team and submitted memorandums with documentary evidences at the open hearings held at Circuit House, Mangalore and Travelers Bungalow at Udupi. The team also visited most of the trouble spots and sought to know from the local communities, their responses to the incidents of violence. Following are excerpts from the report of the fact-finding team submitted to the Chief Minister of Karnataka in November 2008.
Excerpts from the Report
• All the incidents of violence that came to the notice of the team were directed against what is known as independent churches, house churches, Christian fellowships and associations belonging to New Life, Pentecostal, Assemblies of Gods, etc. All of them are independent of the mainstream Christian churches in India.
• Catholic churches targetted due to mistaken identity
The Catholic Churches were targeted because of mistaken identity. The majority of Hindus cannot distinguish between the mainline churches and the independent churches. On 14th September some miscreants damaged and desecrated the idol of Jesus Christ at the Perpetual Adoration Chapel of the Monastery of the Poor Clares in the premises of Milagres Catholic church in Mangalore. The VHP and Bajrang Dal have condemned the desecration of Jesus Christ’s idol in the chapel. They have also clarified that they are not against the Catholic Church.
To a pointed question to those who deposed before the fact-finding team as to why the miscreants turned their ire against the Catholic Church the answer was simple and straightforward: “How can we – the Hindus – distinguish between Catholic Christians and evangelicals? All denominations of Christianity are one and the same in the eyes of Hindus and we need not know the differences within the Christian community.”
• The places of worship which were attacked in Mangalore
and surrounding areas included the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration Monastery (Mangalore), Christ Church at Kodikal near Mangalore, Believers Church of India at Puttur, Mahima Prathanalaya and Indian Pentecostal both at Madanthyar and Bethesda Aradanalaya at Sullia. In Chikumagalur, miscreants attacked Yavana Swami church at Magodu village, and Time and Paul Gospel Harvest prayer hall at Koppa. In Udupi district, New Life prayer hall located behind KSRTC bus stand was attacked apart from two other prayer halls at Shiroor and Kollur.
• Aggressive evangelization and conversion
According to depositions before the team, a large number of Hindus and organizations were highly critical of the many Christian groups that have been indulging in aggressive evangelization and conversion activities in recent years in Mangalore and surrounding districts. They denigrate Hindu gods and their rituals in their attempt to get new converts from Hindu community. These activities made a section of the Hindu community ‘very angry’, but they had internalised it for long. But the killing of the Swami in Kandhamal and the Christian leaders’ call for protest closure of schools triggered the sudden eruption of violence in Dakshina Karnataka, especially in Mangalore and Udupi, on September 14 and 15.
It was brought to the notice of the team that the Christian evangelists and missionaries have been targeting the poor and illiterate extensively as also the youth. Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes like Kudubis, Vishwakarmas and Lingayats are some who have fallen prey. Their modus operandi is to visit poor Hindu houses without their permission and distribute Christian tracts and literature. They seek those who are mentally and financially weak and induce them to give up their Hindu way of life and join the Christian religion with promises of moral and financial support on conversion to Christianity.
The team also was told that there is a drastic increase in recent times in aggressive faith marketing strategies followed by the Christian groups in this region, which has caused this anger and resentment against Christians.
• Encroachment of private and public property
There have been instances of Christian groups encroaching upon public and private properties in Mangalore. Two specific cases in point are: The Nagavana, at Shanthinagar, is a place of worship for the Kudubi tribes for centuries. The property has been encroached upon by the International Jesus Christ Church in India. A large church complex and living quarters have been built on this land by desecrating the sanctity of the Nagavana and also preventing the Kudubis from their worship at their sanctified shrine. It has led to much emotional trauma to the tribals of incomplete rituals. There has been a continuing protest by the Kudubi community but of no avail.
The same Church also causes much disturbance to the entire neighborhood with its week-end events that include loud music and dancing through the night shattering the peace and tranquility of the entire area. The leaders of the Kudubis have expressed their anger and disgust, displeasure and resentment, against the presence of this Christian group several times in the past to the civic authorities and have also legally proceeded against them in the civil court.
The founder of this church is Pastor Mani David Joseph and the present pastor is Immanuel Santosh Kumar.
• Pachinady Kurchugudde incident
This is a hillock belonging to the government. A couple of years ago, the Catholic Church authorities encroached on it and erected several crosses all around its boundaries. They also built a statue of the Crucified Jesus Christ and a house-like structure. The Mangalore Bishop inaugurated it on January 20, 2007.
The Mangalore Municipal Corporation has illegally allotted a number to the structure thus giving it a semblance of legal sanction, and creating an impression among the local people that the land and the structures are owned by the Catholic diocese.
The local residents who met the team at the site asserted that this particular property belongs to the government. They wanted to know how the Municipality had allowed the Christians to erect the structures, a statue of Crucified Jesus Christ and several concrete crosses on the said government land.
Some activists of Hindu organizations have, in the aftermath of Mangalore incidents, hoisted several flags on this land in protest against the illegal occupation of the hillock by the Catholic Church. Incidents such as these have led to growing anger, heartburn and tension amongst Hindus against Christians.
• Incidents at Holy Cross Church,
Kulshekar - A Case Study
On September 14 and 15, church bells continuously tolled in all the Catholic Churches of Mangalore signaling to the faithful that the churches were in imminent threat of destruction. Consequently, at the Holy Cross Church compound in Kulashekar, about 800 Parishioners gathered within a few minutes. In addition, many people who had attended the first Mass were holed up inside the Church. All the gates to the church premises and school building adjacent to the church were locked from within. The school was closed inspite of a government directive not to close schools.
Some miscreants from among the crowd inside the Church compound snatched away the wireless set from an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI). They were asked to return it and the priest was unable to convince the youngsters to do so saying that he was recently transferred to the church and did not know anyone of them personally and therefore helpless.
The police surrounded the compound from outside because all the gates were locked. Police Inspector Ganapathy repeatedly asked the miscreants on the megaphone to voluntarily come out and surrender the police wireless set. He also requested the crowd to disperse as it was against the curfew orders that had been clamped to congregate in public.
The negotiations went on for almost five hours until the Superintendent of Police (Mangalore) Satheesh Kumar arrived on the scene. The situation was getting out of control. Sensing the seriousness of the situation, he entered the compound wearing a helmet supplied by a constable and broke open the gates with the help of about 50 constables.
As they moved in, they were attacked with stones and bricks from the top of the school. The photographs of youngsters – face covered with duppatas/clothes given to them by girls/women — throwing stones and roof tiles from the third and fourth floors of the school in the Church compound, are seen in the unedited videos in the possession of the fact-finding team. This was handed over to them by an amateur free-lance videographer.
When the miscreants started attacking the police, the SP had no other option but to order a lathi-charge and ultimately burst teargas shells. In the melee, several policemen were injured and a woman constable suffered serious head injuries. A Tata Sumo belonging to the Deputy Superintendent of Police was also destroyed by the miscreants.
• Church using doctored tapes to spread hatred
It has come to the notice of the fact-finding team that the Church authorities have been circulating doctored video clips of the events that day in the church. Fr. Frances Vincent of Holy Cross Church showed us the tampered video to prove that the police action against the church members, said to be numbering about 800, was brutal, inhuman and heartless. He also emphatically claimed that the police “brutality” was without provocation on September 15, and in violation of all canons of human rights.
The video clips in the possession of the Church were supplied by the same source that gave the fact finding team the unedited version of the video pictures. It is shocking that the video tapes in the possession of the fact finding team show pictures of mounds of stones, sticks and bottles stored inside the Holy Cross church. There is no explanation forthcoming from the Church as to why those materials were stored inside the church. Circulation of such doctored tapes by the church authorities has been further stoking the flames of ill-will against the police and the Hindus at large.
• Police Action
Seventy-two cases of arson were registered in Mangalore and two in Udupi. Sixty-seven policemen suffered injuries when Christians attacked the police. Twenty-six Christians and 17 Hindus were injured in police lathi-charge. The police conducted more than a mild-lathi-charge. However, it is fair to suggest that the police were also at their wit’s end having seen some of their injured colleagues and did not want to take any chance, especially when they did not have any wherewithal to judge the armed nature of the miscreants.
Incidents in other places in Karnataka: 2009-2010
As a member of the State Minorities Commission, I have visited the following places and gathered information about the alleged violent incidents reported from there during this period.
Hebbagodi attack: Infighting, the Real Cause
St. Francis De Sales church at Hebbagodi, on the outskirts of Banglaore, was attacked in the second week of September 2009. Five persons were taken into police custody in connection with the attack. It was later confirmed that the incident was an effect of the infighting and confusion between different factions in the church, mainly the Syrian and Latin Catholic groups. Many were sore with the authorities after they were forced to vacate the quarters in the rear of the church compound, where they were living for decades.
Meanwhile, a section of believers had protested against the prayers being held in different languages and also vented ire over the celebration of Onam (harvest festival of Kerala) inside the church. In addition, another section was fuming after the priests failed to give permission to bury a parishioner, Peter, who had died three months before.
St. Antony's Church in Bangalore
Miscreants broke open St. Antony’s church in Kavalbyrasandra in near Bangalore on November 7, 2008. The miscreants had probably broken open the doors of the newly built church past midnight. The main door was forcibly opened and the miscreants had obviously tried to steal the gold-plated chalice and two ciboriums kept in the tabernacle and also in the sacristy for keeping the Blessed Sacrament. The tabernacle was broken open and the communion elements were thrown out and sprinkled all over. (Deccan Herald, November 8, 2008)
Four persons including three juveniles were arrested for allegedly breaking into the St. Anthony’s Church in Kavalbyrasandra on November 11. The accused had destroyed the Holy Communion and escaped with valuables. They were drug addicts and had cases against them. The three juveniles were all 16 years old, and the fourth accused, Nauphal, is 20. On November 11, at about 2 a.m., they used iron rods to break the church door and emptied five offering boxes.
Later, they desecrated the church, broke the Holy Tabernacle, and got away with two gold-plated bowls, old iron pieces and also the crown of Christ, the police added. The accused then sold these articles in a scrap shop belonging to Alkatti Mazhar and Alkatti Wazeer at Lingrajpuram. The stolen articles were later dispersed in the Sunday bazaar (New Indian Express, December 14, 2009).
Attack on Humnabad Church
The ‘attack’ on a church in Humnabad town in November 2009 embarrassed the district administration and the police and caused quite a stir among the Christians who wanted the Government to take immediate action against those responsible for the attack. Furniture, electrical fittings in the main prayer hall, and the cross on the dome of the church were damaged.
But, according to The Hindu, December 18, 2009, police investigations revealed that the previous pastor of the church – Vasant -- had hired three goons, all belonging to the same locality, to attack and vandalise the church on November 17, 2009. Vasant was the pastor of the church till June 2009 before his transfer to a church at Basantpur in Chincholi taluk in Gulbarga district. He had conspired to damage the church with the hope that the church authorities would cancel his transfer and keep him in Humnabad.
• Reasons for violence against Christians
In most of the cases the reasons for the attacks against Christian groups are not difficult to ascertain. Simply put, they are a reaction to the “aggressive faith marketing,” propaganda, and mindless evangelism and conversions through foul and unethical means indulged in by Christian missionaries who denigrate and make fun of Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric.
The Indian subcontinent has become the principal target for a wide range of western Christian missions which are determined to spread the gospel to India’s "unreached" people. There is little doubt that the current communal tension in India would not be serious if foreign-funded missionaries had been content with giving Indians the choice of Christianity and left it at that.
• Christians under siege
Christians are a small minority in India. But their attitudes often elicit counter-reaction from among militant Hindus who sometimes incite violence against Christians. Many preachers of the Christian Gospel rattle off verses from the Bible to preach hellfire and damnation to those who do not agree with their interpretations of the contents of the Bible. They lay enticing traps for people whom they think must be "saved" at all costs. One hopes that the fanatics among the Christian faith will soon realize that theirs is a losing battle even if they derive their financial and other means of support from the wealthy nations overseas.
• Animosity against Christians is a reaction to
the aggressive propaganda and mindless evangelism of thousands of foreign-funded, cultic, fundamentalist, fanatic, and revivalist Christian groups working in India. They denigrate Hindu gods and abuse Hindu rituals as barbaric. They are the root cause of tension between Christian and Hindu communities. Invariably, incidents of violence against Christians are always bloated out of proportion and internationalized. Why should anybody be surprised if the “extremists” among Hindus are offended and react violently? It is urgent that leaders of the established mainline churches, known for their erudition, equipoise, and empathy came out in the open and disowned such provocative acts of intolerance of the fundamentalist Christian groups masquerading as real Christians.
Terms such as "evangelistic campaign," "missionary strategy," "campus crusade," "occupying non-Christian areas," a "blitzkrieg" of missionaries, and sending "reinforcements" sound more appropriate to military enterprises than to Christian witness to God's redeeming love in Jesus Christ. The statistical approach implied in the words "the unreached millions" is derogatory to neighbours of other faiths. "Unreached" by whom? When Indian Christians themselves use these phrases, which have originated outside the country, to describe their neighbours living next door to them in the community, Christians should not be surprised if the neighbours are offended, as Dr. Stanley Samartha mentioned in his book, “Courage for Dialogue”.
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the so-called Hindu extremists but the self-styled saviours of Christianity who assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise.
• Agents provocateurs or riot-entrepreneurs ?
The tragedy is that those who claim to be spokesmen and defenders of the Indian Christian community spread distress and division, and fan the flames of hatred against peace-loving Hindu community. They have turned out to be agents provocateurs who instigate and manipulate whatever the proximate trigger for violence against Christians. And, there is always a politician with an axe to grind, pulling the strings, inflaming passions, exploiting the victims for purely political ends. But the chances for success of such politicians ---the breed “riot-entrepreneurs” -- would be remarkably lower if there is vigorous and communally -- integrated civic life, not just through everyday casual contact but through formal associations that consolidate the mutual management of the two communities, Hindus and Christians.
• Enjoy grace and favour
To all appearances, these Christian leaders enjoy the grace and favour of the Congress Party and other so-called secular political parties. This encouragement helps the growth of powerful elements of separatism and disunity in the country.
It is unfortunate that there are not many Indian Christian leaders who can light a candle amidst the encircling gloom spread by religious proselytizers of both fundamental Christianity and Jihadi Islam. Most of the Christian leaders are unfortunately agents provocateurs or riot-entrepreneurs who are bank-rolled by US and other western Christian funding agencies.
It is high time Indian Christian leaders made an earnest attempt to appreciate this basic fact. That would be true humility if that is indeed possible for them to manifest. When greater inter-religious understanding and mutual respect is the need of the hour, leveling wild accusations that do not have any foundation is dangerous gamesmanship.
• Reaction to the provocations
Finally, Hindu “fundamentalism” is a reaction to the provocations of Christian proselytizers. Under attack, Hindus have partly woken up to the need for self-protection and self-preservation. When they attack such Christian proselytizers they generate much criticism, especially from Christians and their leaders and from the media world-wide.
People like me know that all such propaganda is being peddled in the name of a bogey man called Sangh Parivar. If one is honest in one’s analysis, it is not the Sangh Parivar but certainly the actions of Christian proselytizers and jihadi Muslims who challenge the religious sensitivities of the Hindu majority in the State.
• A bogeyman called Sangh parivar
The Sangh Parivar bogey man will disappear if the mainline Churches in India come out openly and affirm that they are taking a solemn pledge in the name of Jesus to abide by the admonition of Jesus not to go miles to make a proselyte.
Yes, no civil society should condone violence. But mere condemnation is not a method to avert the repetition of violence. We have to find out if the violence is deliberate and unprovoked, or due to provocation. If it is the former, then there is one set of solutions, which mostly involves applying the law and severely punishing the perpetrators of the violence. However, if there is provocation, then we have to study the issue in greater detail. We have to understand why there has been a provocation for the violence, and who are the persons or organisations behind the provocation.
• Spreading animosity against mainline churches
It is worth recalling what Father Adolf Washington of the Archdiocese of Bangalore wrote in the Deccan Herald two years ago: “There are several groups of people doing the rounds in Bangalore adopting persuasive techniques not just to convert people but also to spread animosity against mainstream Christian denominations. They hurl invectives against the teachings of Christian denominations and even induce people to tender a written ‘resignation’ to the pastor or priest. Since some of these groups do not even accept the divinity of Christ, in effect, their conversion should not be understood as conversion to Christianity but to their organisation. Mainstream Christian denominations do not go on a conversion spree, only splinter groups and cultic groups do so probably for some self-gain.”
• Inter-faith dialogue: need of the hour
As in the case of all communal riots in our country, most of the incidents of violence against Christians have been instigated and manipulated: whatever the proximate trigger for violence, there have always been Christian leaders/politicians with an axe to grind, pulling the strings, inflaming passions, exploiting the victims for purely political ends. But the chances for success of such leaders -- the breed “riot-entrepreneurs” -- would be remarkably lower if we encourage a culture of inter-faith dialogue between Christians and Hindus and a vigorous and communally-integrated civic life, not just through everyday casual contact but through formal associations that consolidate the mutual management of the two communities.
• Political conspiracy
Lastly, the incidents of violence against Christians throughout Karnataka that have taken place ever since the BJP government came to power in 2008 have been minor in nature but all have been the result of jointly hatched political conspiracy by the Church with the full support of discredited parties like the Congress, Janata Dal (S) and others to destabilize the only BJP government in South India. Not a single life has been lost and thus unfortunately no martyrs for the Church!
All the incidents should have been localised and contained. But, they have been blown out of proportion and internationalized by the media and the self-styled leaders and spokesmen of the Christian community - classic examples of vested interests making mountains out of molehills and spreading distress and divisions among neighbours of different faiths and provoking religious sentiments and fanning the flames of hatred.
No civil society can condone violence. But mere condemnation is not a method to avert the repetition of violence. We have to find out if the violence is deliberate and unprovoked, or due to provocation. If it is the former, then there is one set of solutions, which mostly involve applying the law and severely punishing the perpetrators of the violence. However, if there is provocation, then we have to study the issue in greater detail. We have to understand why there has been a provocation for the violence, and who are the persons or organisations behind the provocation.
Chairman and Coordinator
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
www.birdindia.org, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission
& Bangalore-based Freelance Journalist