Saji Thomas, Bhopal
Updated: February 06, 2019 04:17 AM GMT
The Marian statue of St. Joseph parish in Jhabua Diocese in Madhya Pradesh was found damaged by fire on Feb. 3. Church leaders suspect the attack was politically motivated as India's general election approaches. (Photo supplied)
A Marian statue was set on fire in India’s Madhya Pradesh state in the latest attack against Christians amid reports that more than 1,000 such attacks have occurred in the past year.
Church leaders suspect the attack could have political undertones ahead of the national election due to take place in two months.
Catholics of St. Joseph parish in Ishgar village of Jhabua Diocese found the partially burned statue of Mother Mary in the grotto on Feb. 3, said diocesan spokesman Father Rockey Shah.
The 70-year-old parish has about 4,000 Catholics and has “never before reported such hostility” from the majority Hindus in the area, he told ucanews.com.
Church leaders believe the attack is an attempt to create a political advantage for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) when it seeks re-election after its term to lead the New Delhi government ends in May.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP lost power to the rival Indian National Congress in December. The attack could be part of an attempt to project the Congress as inefficient and garner Christian votes, Christian leaders like Father Shah suspect.
State police are investigating the case, Father Shah said.
The attack happened as Persecution Relief, an ecumenical forum monitoring violence on Christians, released its annual report claiming that Indian Christians suffered 1,059 incidents of persecution in 2018, up from 736 incidents in 2017.
“The fringe elements becoming bolder and bolder and taking center stage in some areas is a cause of worry,” Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops’ conference, wrote in his foreword to the report.
Since the BJP came to power in 2014, Hindu groups have stepped up their action to achieve their goal of making India a Hindu theocratic nation, leading to increased attacks on Christians and Muslims.
“Persecution comes in different forms today: disruption of peaceful gatherings for prayers, physical attacks against innocent worshippers, use of laws to intimidate and harass institutions and persons,” Bishop Mascarenhas said in his note.
Shibu Thomas, founder of Persecution Relief, told ucanews.com that 2018 witnessed a 118 percent rise in incidents such as threats, harassment and intimidation compared to 2017.
Uttar Pradesh state, where Hindu guru Yogi Adityanath become chief minister two years ago, was the worst place for anti-Christian attacks with 129 reported incidents.
Other blackspots were Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana, which together accounted for 59 percent of attacks reported in 2018.
….as we enter the last months of 2021, we are asking readers like you to help us keep UCA News free.
For the last 40 years, UCA News has remained the most trusted and independent Catholic news and information service from Asia. Every week, we publish nearly 100 news reports, feature stories, commentaries, podcasts and video broadcasts that are exclusive and in-depth, and developed from a view of the world and the Church through informed Catholic eyes.
Our journalistic standards are as high as any in the quality press; our focus is particularly on a fast-growing part of the world - Asia - where, in some countries the Church is growing faster than pastoral resources can respond to – South Korea, Vietnam and India to name just three.
And UCA News has the advantage of having in its ranks local reporters who cover 23 countries in south, southeast, and east Asia. We report the stories of local people and their experiences in a way that Western news outlets simply don’t have the resources to reach. And we report on the emerging life of new Churches in old lands where being a Catholic can at times be very dangerous.
With dwindling support from funding partners in Europe and the USA, we need to call on the support of those who benefit from our work.