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Washington Report
Hindu Extremists Now Focusing Violence Against India's Christians

By M.M. Ali

March 1999, page 52

The recent physical attacks on members of the Christian minority and the burning down of scores of churches in the state of Gujarat and other parts of India reflect the gospel of hatred on which the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its religious coalition partners are based. The otherwise staid and respected English language daily Times of India observed that after having targeted the Muslims and the Sikhs for a long time, Hindus have now turned toward the small, unprotected minority of Indian Christians.

BJP's extensions, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Sewak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal, have openly incited their rank-and-file to demolish all vestiges of Christianity from India. The atmosphere of fear and hatred against Muslims whipped up at the time of the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992, and against Sikhs in Delhi following the assassination of Indira Gandhi in 1984, now is focused on Indian Christians.

The establishment throughout India of Hindutva-land of the Hindus alone-is the objective of all of the right-wing Hindu religious parties that exist under the BJP umbrella. It is their declared policy to use all means, including violence, to reach that end.

Support for secularism comes only from a modest, educated, urban fringe. Recent events have shown that such voices of sanity are muted and drowned in a rising wave of Hindu fundamentalism that is sweeping India today.

Christians are a mere 26 million in a population of almost a billion, and they are scattered all over the country, particularly in remote villages and tribal areas. They do not constitute a force of any kind, and are traditionally peaceful and friendly people.

India's dominant Hindu society is laden with class and caste distinctions. A small segment, the Brahmins, remain at the top. A vast majority, the Sudras, form the bottom that traditionally was considered "untouchable." Through the centuries they have been treated as less than human.

In the past 200 years, some from this bottom tier have converted to Christianity. Hindus today accuse Christian missionaries of forcibly converting Hindus to Christianity. Such charges obscure the truth. It is the level of humanity and tolerance that draws people toward a dogma or a doctrine, just as discrimination and hatred turn them away.

It is being argued that Hindu extremists, after encountering effective resistance from the Sikhs and the Muslims, have turned on a softer target-the Christians. In fact, this is only partially true. No minority is safe in the BJP's India.

Political analysts attribute the upsurge in anti-Christian ire to the fact that Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who has recently become politically active in her role as highly respected widow of assassinated Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi, happens to be a Roman Catholic from Italy. The anti-Christian argument is that if the Congress Party returns to power, Christians will receive undue patronage from the government. This charge may instill fear among the uneducated masses, but it does not make any political sense.

By the same token, misgivings are being expressed by some Indians about the motives for awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the late Mother Teresa and this year's Nobel Prize for Economics to Amritya Sen, both of whom are Christians. For that matter, one might wonder why current Indian Defense Minister George Fernandez, a Christian, is unable to hold back the BJP goons?

The real issue, however, is that now that a Hindu party has come to power, some Hindu extremists have ambitions of re-converting the Muslims, the Sikhs and the Christians of India to Hinduism. Minorities in India should be braced for more to come under BJP governments, which have little sympathy for the secularism of India.

Prof. M.M. Ali is a consultant and a fellow with The Center for Planning & Policy Studies in the Washington, DC area.

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