USCIRF Report on Karnataka 2009-10 a response
Chairman and Coordinator
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD)
www.birdindia.org, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) annually issues its report on the status of religious freedom in other countries. However, it does not have a fair representation of religious leaders from non-Abrahamic religions on its policy making bodies. Among its nine Commissioners there is not a single one to represent faiths like Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other Eastern religions. Yet, the Commission feels that it is qualified to pass judgments on the extent of religious freedoms in countries like India where Hindus constitute nearly 81 percent of the country’s population, and where the Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh faiths were founded. It is in the context of the 2010 USCIRF report on India, and the criticisms made in that report that the following rebuttal is presented.
As a freelance journalist I have contributed feature articles to English-language newspapers and magazines for more than three decades. Like most of those who have to regularly write for newspapers and need factual information, I diligently file press clippings so that I don't slip up on accuracy.
I am the founder and coordinator of the Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD), promoting pluralism, tolerance and understanding for a society and a world free of all prejudices. It provides a platform for addressing issues which are causes for religious/communal tension/resentment by inviting people of all faiths to share through it the richness of their various religious traditions and experiences.
In addition, I am at present a member of the Karnataka State Minorities Commission, representing the Christian community in the State. As a member of the Commission I have visited several places where alleged attacks against Christians took place and interacted with people belonging to different faiths and also government officials to find out the facts behind attacks.
As far back as 2002, I was part of the RSS-BIRD fact finding team that enquired into the attack on the Holy Family Church at Hinkal in Mysore. And I wrote the report which is available on the internet. In the same manner, I was a member of another fact-finding team that exposed the political conspiracy behind the Mangalore incidents of violence against Christians in 2008.
So, I have the first hand information about several of the alleged attacks against Christians Karnataka. I can thus confidently say that the incidents of violence against Christians in Karnataka have been few and far between. However, all of these incidents have been blown out of proportion and internationalised by a handful of leaders from the Christian community and by unscrupulous politicians. They are using ordinary Christians as pawns for their narrow selfish ends.
Incidents in Karnataka: What really Happened
The latest (2010) report of the USCIRF on the Indian state of Karnataka is a classic example of how naively and unthinkingly US government agencies swallow the baseless propaganda against Hindu organisations. Interestingly, the report begins with the now forgotten 2008 Mangalore riots and goes on to refer to a few insignificant incidents of violence against Christians allegedly perpetrated by “Hindu extremists” until March this year in Karnataka.
It says: “Attacks in Karnataka state continued during the 2009-10 reporting period against Christians and church properties. For instance, in February 2010 Hindu extremists reportedly beat two Christian pastors unconscious after literally dragging them from their church compound. In March 2010, a pastor was assaulted during a prayer service when reportedly 15 Hindu extremists forced themselves into the meeting. In neither case did authorities bring charges against the attackers. However, in recent months, police in Karnataka have detained several pastors and held them overnight on charges of ‘forcible’ conversions. In March 2010, about 30 Hindu extremists reportedly forcibly entered the private home of a Christian family and accused the pastor of ’forceful’ conversions. Police arrested the pastor based on these allegations, while no action was taken against the intruders”.
First things first. As the USCIRF report refers to the violence in Mangalore in 2008. I wish to go into some details I have gathered as a member of fact-finding team sent by “Citizens for Harmony,” a Bangalore-based voluntary organization. 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 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
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.
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 has been 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 here 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.
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: A Case Study
On September 14 and 15, church bells continuously tolled in all the Catholic
Churches in 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.
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.
Findings of fact-finding team
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.
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 the pointed questions 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 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.
The USCIRF has conveniently ignored the above report as well as the following news report: that appeared in Times of India of 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. Its publications, “Satya Darshini”, for instance, are seen by many as having painted Hindu gods and goddesses in extremely poor light”
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 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: The motive was obviously theft
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)
Humnabad church attack
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.
Whipping up hatred against Hindus
Spreading hatred has become a pastime for several Christian leaders. For example, a retired judge of Karnataka High Court, M.F. Saldanha, claimed last August that there were 1,000 attacks against Christians in Karnataka. Compass e-magazine, August 16, 2010, repeats that false claim stating that “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". But, 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.
It proves that Justice Saldanha’s allegation that there were 1,000 attacks against Christians in Karnataka during the last 500 days is utterly false and outrageous, and the reality easily verifiable. Asked for the details of the attacks, Justice Saldanha failed to provide me with the list of names of churches and even dates of attacks. The allegation reflects his shocking ignorance about the real religious situation in Karnataka.
Reasons for Attacks
The reasons for the attacks against certain 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.
Father Adolf Washington of the Archdiocese of Bangalore has said: “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.”
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 tiny 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 famous book, “Courage for Dialogue”.
The real source of danger to the Indian Christian community is not the handful of Hindu extremists but the self-styled saviours of Christianity who assert that they alone are the holders of valid visas to heaven and paradise.
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. To all appearances, these Christian leaders enjoy the grace and favour of the Congress Party-led Government of India. 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. What Indian Christians today have unfortunately are leaders who are bank-rolled by US and other western funding agencies.
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.
It is high time that the USICRF made an earnest attempt to appreciate this basic fact. That would be true humility if that is indeed possible for them to manifest. The USCIRF should apologize for its irresponsible and unsubstantiated comments; it should also check and re-check facts before deciding to disparage Hindu “extremists” in its reports. 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.
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 organizations like USCIRF and from the media world-wide.
People like me, who have access to the media, 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.
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. If they can do that, the so-called Sangh Parivar will disappear” (Dr. C. Alex Alexander).
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