Religious leaders say the violence reveals a 'struggle for supremacy' in PM's party
The glass case of a Marian shrine was damaged by a rock at Mangalore diocese in Karnataka state on Tuesday (Photo provided by Father Onil D'Souza of the Mangalore diocese)
A week after Indian Prime Minister Narandra Modi promised strong action against religious hate crimes in the country, Christian leaders have reported at least three recent incidents of violence against their people or institutions.
Police arrested some 20 Christians for distributing Christian literature in northern Rajasthan state on Wednesday, while Mangalore diocese in Karnataka state said a group of unidentified suspects early Tuesday threw stones at a prayer hall, smashing the protective glass pane of a Marian statue.
In the southern Indian state of Kerala, a cemetery at the Mar Thoma Church was vandalized in the Pathanamthitta district twice on Sunday and Monday.
The continuing attacks on Christians and their institutions show that "the strong message of Prime Minister Modi has either not reached those perpetuating [violence], or they don't take it seriously," said Joseph Chinnayyan, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.
Christians say right-wing Hindu groups are behind the violence that has increased since Modi came to power last May. The Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum (CSF) says that about 300 clergymen and Christian leaders were targeted in incidents of violence around the country last year.
Modi, who swept to power with his pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, sad last week while addressing a Christian gathering that his administration would act sternly against those perpetuating hate crimes in the name of religion.
"We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext, and I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard," Modi said.
But the bishops' spokesperson said the reported incidents are “contrary to the promise given by our Prime minister".
The arrest of 20 people in Jaipur city was a "clear violation" of their fundamental rights, said Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesperson of Delhi archdiocese.
The group of Christians, from several parts of Andhra Pradesh, was on a tour of the city for community service and religious meetings.
They were distributing Christian literature on a street in the Mansarovar area of Jaipur city when they were confronted by a group of Hindus. They were attacked and police later detained the Christians, local media reported.
Hemendra Sharma, a police officer in Jaipur city, said that they detained the Christians on the "basis of some input and will release them if nothing suspicious is found”.
"The attack and arrest is a clear violation of basic rights and a clear violation of the Indian constitution" that guarantees the right to follow and propagate any religion of choice, Father Emmanuel said.
"Christian leadership is disillusioned. As this happens even after the prime minster's public assurances, we do not know where to go now," he added
Father Emmanuel said such incidents also show that "Modi is not totally in control. It is clear that there is a struggle for supremacy among Hindu cultural groups and their political wing, the BJP," the priest said.
At a function last weekend, Mohan Bhagwat, the head of prominent Hindu group RSS, accused Blessed Mother Teresa of converting the poor under the garb of social services.
Such statements along with continuing violence against Christians are part of a strategy of RSS, the umbrella organization of Hindu groups working to make a Hindu-only India, according to Sajan George of the Global Council of Indian Christians.
These incidents are part of a "well-planned agenda executed by the RSS to show to the people that instead of what the prime minister has to say, their policy will be followed all over the country", George said.
Joseph Dais of the Catholic Secular Forum said the continuing violence "undermines the authority of the prime minister. This means that fringe elements or the Hindutva brigade are running the country instead of the government of India,” he claimed.
He added that these incidents should "worry the prime minister and the nation more than the Christians. The very credentials of the prime minister are in question now."
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