Hindu zealots wage war on Catholic India


RITE AND REASON:The killing of Christians and destruction of churches has intensified in India's Orissa state over recent weeks yet the world remains silent

HINDUISM, ONE of the most ancient of world religions, is also one of the most tolerant. In that spirit, Gandhi - inspired by the Irish achievement of independence but rejecting the violence used to win it - brought the independent nation of India into existence by peaceful, non-violent means.

The violence that is now breaking out throughout India would seem to be in clear contradiction to that spirit of tolerance.

The paradox is that such violence is now justified by those extremists who claim to be Hindu nationalists - nationalism itself being a foreign notion to a subcontinent that for most of its history only knew of more or less autonomous princely states.

They are otherwise described as Hindu fundamentalists - again a contradiction, considering the profundity and sophistication of Hindu philosophy and mysticism.

Unfortunately, these extremists have found political expression in such parties as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal, without mentioning the BJP (Baharatiya Janatha Party), which formed the previous government of India.

They are collectively known as Sangh Parivar. Their aim is to establish a Hindu nation of India. To achieve their aim, they must get rid of all minorities, including Christians, if necessary by forced conversion to Hinduism.

While attacks on Christians have taken place in various parts of India over the past 10 years, Orissa state on the east coast of India (almost twice the size of Ireland), has, in the last few weeks, been the scene of what appears to be a concerted plan to rid the entire state of Christians, mostly Catholic.

This, at least, is what Raphael Cheeneth SVD, Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa, claims in a recent letter to his fellow Divine Word Missionaries. He is a man not given to exaggeration - and his facts are confirmed by the Times of India.

The recent attacks began on the night of August 23rd, 2008, with the murder of Swami Laxmananananda Saraswati, leader of VHP. According to the Times of India, police suspect Maoist rebels killed Saraswati but "some Hindu groups" blamed Christians for the murder and went on the rampage.

According to the archbishop, the murder provided Sangh Parivar with an excuse to achieve their aim of cleansing Orissa of all Christians. Already in December 2007, Christians there were subject to violent attacks. No one was punished, and no compensation was made, giving the perpetrators the impression that they could attack with impunity.

Archbishop Cheenath states: "The frightening memories of attacks in December 2007 are still on the minds of priests, religious women and people. So, when even the rumours of attacks were in the air, they hid themselves in the neighbouring forests or managed to get shelter in a helpful (Hindu) family . . . The director of our Pastoral Centre at Konjamonde and a sister working with him had taken shelter in a family; but they were pulled out . . ., beaten up and paraded in front of 10 policemen . . ."

Within four days, 101 churches, five convents, five presbyteries, seven hostels, two dispensaries, 126 shops and 58 vehicles of various kinds were destroyed. The primary focus of the attacks was directed against priests, religious and lay leaders.

From August 24th to 31st some 27 people were killed (including one or two Hindus), six priests were hospitalised with serious injuries (one is semi-conscious), one woman was burned to death, two priests were kidnapped, 4,300 houses were demolished in 160 villages.

"The Central Government," writes Archbishop Cheenath, "has sent the Rapid Action Force and two helicopters . . . The force has come. Despite their presence, the destruction is taking place in remote villages and thick forests." The difficulties faced by the police, when they happen to intervene to protect Christians, were dramatically illustrated on Monday of last week (September 15th) when, according to the Times of India, fresh violence broke out in Orissa's troubled Kandhamal district; a policeman was killed as an armed mob of about 500 torched a police station and set fire to several vehicles.

In the meantime, violence against Christians has increased in other parts of India, such as Mangalore, when, also on September 15th last, 15 churches were destroyed. What is deafening is the silence of the rest of the world in the face of such atrocities.

• Rev Fr Vincent Twomey, SVD, is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology, at St Patrick's College, Maynooth