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Christians March Through New Delhi Seeking Action Against Violence


May 30 2007

Approximately 1,000 Christians marched May 29 through the streets of New Delhi seeking federal action against increasing anti-Christian violence in the country.

National-level Catholic and Protestant groups jointly organized the rally, which ended with a public meeting. Several leaders lamented the federal government´s inaction toward attacks on Christian groups.

In solidarity, about 100 Catholics gathered at a public ground in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India´s business capital and a Catholic stronghold in Maharashtra state, western India.

At the New Delhi rally, people carried placards and banners which read "Violence does not bring peace," "Let Christians live and serve," "India carries the imprint of Christian services" and "Christians are only 2.5 percent of the population, why target us?"

According to John Dayal, a rally organizer, Christian leaders have recorded at least 80 attacks on Christians nationwide since January. Most occurred in states ruled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian People´s Party) but some reports came from states ruled by the secular Congress party.

"It is not enough" for the federal government to say law and order is a state concern "while remaining mute spectators to violence against Christians," Dayal told the gathering. The Catholic activist is president of the All India Catholic Union.

Reverend Madhu Chandra, another organizer, is an official of the All India Christian Council. He told UCA News the rally was planned when federal leaders did not act on a memorandum that Christian leaders submitted May 14. The memorandum was presented to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

Its text, released to press during the rally, expressed "deep concern" about "rising violence" against Christians across India. It mentioned that in two cases the attacks were recorded and televised nationally.

"While many houses, churches, nuns and pastors are routinely attacked, we are grieved by the many cases where wives, daughters and sisters of pastors were dragged out of their homes and violence committed against them," it said.

Police remained passive witnesses in most cases, but in others "actually connived with anti-social elements," it added.

Dayal told the gathering that fault lies with the Congress-led federal government, which "was voted to power by the dalits, minorities and the poor, hoping it would at least protect them."

The Sanskrit term dalit, which means "trampled upon" or "broken open," denotes the former untouchables at the bottom of the Indian caste system. Some 60 percent of India´s 24 million Christians are dalit.

Begum Fatima, a Muslim activist and president of the Indian Peace Organization, also addressed the rally. In most cases, she noted, Christians were attacked on accusations they converted poor and tribal people.

"If dalits and other backward classes among Hindus are allowed to convert to Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam, then they should also be allowed to convert to Christianity," she added.

Udit Raj, a dalit leader, told the gathering that backward Hindu groups supported the rally, just as the "Church and several Church-run NGOs" support "dalit liberation."

Dalit and religious minorities have lost faith in the federal government, Raj said. He pointed out that a Congress-led coalition rules Maharashtra state, where two "Christian priests were beaten up openly."

The same point was stressed at the Mumbai protest.

"The Christian minority community has lost confidence" in the federal and Maharashtra state governments, Dolphy D´Souza of Bombay Catholic Sabha (council or forum) told the gathering.

Four Jesuit priests were among the participants, but most protesters were women, including about 20 nuns.

Mohammed Phir Zada, 63, a Muslim who joined the Catholic protest, said "it pained him immensely that some fanatic Hindu activists are attacking Christian priests." He expressed solidarity on behalf of Muslims.

Abraham Mathai, a Protestant and vice chairman of the Maharashtra State Minority Commission, told the protesters that 1.9 million Christians in the state "live in fear, while fanatics attack priests, pastors and other Christians and go scot-free."

The leaders of the New Delhi rally included Church of North India Bishop Karam Masih of Delhi; Arnold James, chairman of Delhi state´s Commission for Minorities; and Joseph D´Souza, president of the All India Christian Council.


(Accompanying photos available at here)