Volunteers of the vigilante group of Gau Raksha Dal (Cow Protection Squad) inspect a truck Nov. 15, 2015, on a highway in Taranagar in the desert state of Rajasthan. Cow slaughter and consumption of beef are banned in Rajasthan and many other states of officially secular India which has substantial Muslim and Christian populations. (Photo by AFP)
Catholic bishops in central India’s Madhya Pradesh state have decried increasing attacks on religious minorities and those belonging to lower caste groups, saying they would not succumb to pressure from Hindu extremists to stop working among the poor.
In the latest incident on July 27, a group of Hindu women beat up two Muslim women at a railway station accusing them of carrying beef for sale. The slaughter of cows, an animal considered sacred to orthodox Hindus, is banned in the state. The victims were jailed but some reports say they were carrying buffalo meat, which is not banned.
"It really is a hopeless situation," said Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur. He said activists of hard-line groups affiliated with the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules the state, "act with impunity" and engage in violence purportedly to defend their brand of Hinduism.
The attack on Muslim women comes a week after a Christian pastor and his co-worker were abducted, attacked and tied to a tree in Rewa district. While their attackers have got away with the assault, the victims were jailed on charges of violating a law that prohibits religious conversion.
"We are witnessing a series of attacks and we do not know how to deal with such a gruesome situation," Bishop Almeida said.
In most cases fanatics project themselves as defenders of Hindi culture and social order. They want religious minorities like Christians and Muslims, as well as low caste people, to accept their hegemony.
Volunteers of a vigilante group gather to inspect a truck on a highway in Taranagar in Rajasthan. Almost every night a vigilante squad lie in wait for suspected cattle smugglers, in a bid to enforce a government ban on beef. (Photo by AFP)
Media reports have been landing on a weekly basis, telling stories of fanatics beating up lower caste and tribal people and persecuting Christians and Muslims in remote villages with no legal repercussions.
"Complaints to local police will have only one answer, ‘we will take action.’ But no action is taken," Bishop Almeida said.
For example, the bishop said, on March 20, Hindu activists attacked Christians who were sleeping inside a school in his diocese and destroyed sacred statues. "Even after providing video footage of the attack nothing happened," he said.
The church in the state will not be cowed and will not abandon its work among low caste groups, Dalit and tribal people, Bishop Almeida said.
Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of Indore agrees. "We will not give up our mission," he said. "We will continue our work and will not hesitate to face these challenges."
Christians are a tiny minority in the state where 91 percent are Hindu. They form only 0.30 percent of the population, or 216,000 people. Most Christians are tribal or from lower caste communities living in remote villages.
The situation in the state is "not at all promising" Bishop Thottumarickal told ucanews.com. The lack of state interference and police action allows criminal elements to "take the law into their own hands and do whatever they want. It is an alarming situation," he said.
A society "cannot function in this manner," he continued. "It will eventually lead to chaos, jeopardizing the future of everyone, not just minorities or Dalits."
However, the recent attack on the two Muslim women came up for discussion in the state legislature on July 27. Home Minister, Bhupendra Singh assured action but said that no complaint had been made by the victims.
Local reports said a veterinarian confirmed that the women were carrying buffalo meat. As slaughter of buffalo and consumption of its meat is legal in the state, some leaders, like Bahujan Samaj Party chief, Mayawati, now wonder what could have prompted the assault.
In Madhya Pradesh, a leader of the opposition Congress Party, Bala Bachchan, told media that atrocities against minorities were increasing in the state, much more than anywhere else in the country, and the state government was doing nothing to check the trend.