Martyrs of the third millennium
Christianofobia in India
Christians are still killed in India. The religious persecutions of Christians that the Hindu fundamentalists began in Orissa, in the north of India, has moved to other Indian states. From 24 August to 29 September 2008, fifty-nine followers of Christ were killed. This number does not show the scale of the anti-Christian pogroms. The picture is completed by 18,000 wounded, 177 destroyed and damaged churches, 4,300 burnt Christian houses and 50,000 of those who managed to escape from the fundamentalists’ hatred to forests and to refugee camps, which were built in a hurry. By the way, even in these camps, allegedly protected by the police, Christians are not safe. The hands of the Hindu radicals have reached there, too. They force people to convert to Hinduism. The Christian minority in India has been from time to time harassed by the Hindu radicals. There have been assaults and battery as well as insults so far. Many a time there have been even murders. In Orissa itself the last case of assault on Christians happened last December. The target was the churches. 13 churches were attacked. So far the events in Orissa have been the most violent and bloodiest. After a month it became clear that the attacks are organised according to some earlier defined scenario.
The history of the pogroms
It began with the death of the leader of the Hindu fundamentalists Swami Laxmanananda. He died in an assassination attempt on 23 August. The police quickly accused Christians of the murder although all traces led to the Maoist guerrillas whom Swini opposed. Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from the diocese where the attempt was made, sensing what would happen, immediately condemned the perpetrators using strong words. But it was not enough to prevent the plan of pogroms. During the funeral the word to attack was given and the persecutions started. A list of 140 Christians who were allegedly guilty of the death was made. And the enraged crowd completed the work. The only thing was to skilfully fuel people’s hatred so that it would not die down.
The key questions in such cases are always the same: Why? Why in Orissa? Why did it happen and what were the reasons to attack Christians? Both in Orissa and in the remaining places where the pogroms of Christians occurred – Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka – Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party) is in power. This party has followed the ideology called Hindutva. It is a Hindu version of nationalism. According to this ideology a citizen of India can be only a follower of Hinduism. ‘Hindu nationalism is a cancer that kills the healthy social tissue of the Hindu society’, said Archbishop Cheenath a few days after the pogroms had started. The main foundations of the ideology of Hindutvy were borrowed from Europe. One of the theoreticians of this ideology Golwalkar was fascinated by Hitler and Nazism, which could be seen in his main work in which he did not hide his sympathy for the leader of the Third Reich. ‘This is no secret that these people have historical connections with the Nazis who seized power in a democratic way using a campaign of hatred towards minorities’, says Fr Paul Thelakat, the editor-in-chief of the influential paper ‘Satyadeepa’. The Catholic columnist even accuses the organisations that follow the ideology of Hindutvy of terrorism, which does not differ from that of the Islamic fundamentalists. Why now? This is a political issue. Most likely, they want to mobilise the Hindu voters before the elections next year. Why did Christians tread on the Hindu nationalists’ toes? After all, they constitute only 2.3 % of the society of one billion people. The number of Muhammad’s followers is much bigger – 13.4 %. And the followers of Hinduism have an overwhelming majority – over 80%. In what ways could Christians threaten them? Firstly, Christianity with its teaching about man’s dignity is a real threat to the stability of the systems of castes and for the Indian People’s Party to rule people’s hearts and minds. The leaders of the Indian People’s Party who represent the higher caste want to maintain the status quo and ensure their power over the lowest castes, especially the pageants and the untouched. The lowest castes, converting to Christianity, free themselves from this slaves’ dependence. Secondly, the Catholic Church, small as far as her followers are concerned, constitutes a serious social power through her works, schools, hospitals and care centres. Suffice to say that the Church runs 20% of all schools and has a much more important share in the national support programmes for weak social groups, which poses the most serious threat to the Islamic fundamentalists and their diabolical ideology.
We will endure
– We feel being totally abandoned – confessed Archbishop Cheenath on the second day of the pogroms. The day before the authorities had assigned three policemen to guard his house. But they had not even had their truncheons! The Indian Christians asked the highest authorities to help them but these were very sluggish. In order to turn the public attention to the seriousness of the situation the Indian Catholics closed some of their schools on 29 August. Other denominational groups joined them. They wanted to turn the attention of the country and the world to the tragedy of their brothers in faith. People fasted and prayed in all Catholic churches in India on 8 September. Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil explained that instead of responding to violence with violence the Catholics in India wanted to overcome evil with prayer and fast. What is going to happen to the Catholics in Orissa? They will endure and continue helping people. ‘Here the majority want to destroy the Cross but its roots are deeply planted and the cancer of nationalism will not win. The Church will be the light to many future generations’, Archbishop Cheenath says in spite of the persecutions.
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The communiqué of the 345th Plenary Session of the Polish Bishops’ Conference
With sorrow and concern does the Polish Bishops’ Conference receive the news about the pogroms and persecutions of Christians in India and other countries. The Bishops encourage organising the World Mission Sunday of 19 October as a special day of solidarity and prayer for the persecuted. They appeal to the proper authorities to stop the acts of violence and ask the followers of other religions to show mutual respect and dialogue.
Bialystok, 28 September 2008.