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News ->Indian Goverment must halt violence against Christians

Indian Goverment must halt violence against Christians
(2 October 2008)

Former London Mayoral candidate Ram Gidoomal CBE has called for the Indian Government to step in to end violence against Christians in the state of Orissa.India should match its words with its actions and ensure that members of the Christian minority community in the eastern state of Orissa are protected against renewed communal violence, Amnesty International said today. Despite the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement in Paris on 30 September that the violence was a “national shame” and that his Government had taken a “firm stand” to halt it, violence against the Christian minorities has continued.

The last few days have witnessed renewed attacks by supporters of Hindu nationalist organisations, including Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal, against the Christian minorities and their places of worship in Kandhamal district in Orissa, leaving three people dead, more than 15 people injured, including some policemen, and hundreds homeless.

The month-long violence against the Christian minorities, which began on 24 August 2008 after the murder of a prominent Hindu nationalist leader, now appears to have resumed after a brief lull. Amnesty International has spoken to people who have confirmed that an atmosphere of insecurity prevails in the district in the wake of the most recent attacks despite the presence of central paramilitary reserve police deployed by the central government at the request of the state government forces.

The number of Christians who have taken shelter in 25 relief camps run by the state authorities has gone up from 12,000 to 20,000 during the last month and is still increasing. Amnesty International fears that most of them are unable to return home. According to camp residents, they face threats of violence and, in some cases, an ultimatum from supporters of these Hindu nationalist organizations to convert to Hinduism if they want to return home.

Amnesty International urges the Government of India and the Government of Orissa to:

  • immediately halt the violence against the Christian minorities in Kandhamal district
  • provide adequate security for the relief camps set up for those displaced due to the violence and ensure a peaceful return to their homes
  • conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the attacks by a competent authority, publish the results and bring those responsible to justice
  • ensure protection of the religious rights of the minorities.

Growing violence in India is a threat to stability

Growing violence exposes serious threats to India’s social and political balance, said SADP leaders Dr Prem Sharma and Ram Gidoomal, after a meeting at the Indian High Commission in London.

Dr Sharma is Patron of SADP (South Asian Development Partnership). He commented: “We were re-assured that the Government of India is taking steps to deal with the violence, issuing notice under Section 355 to two state governments that they need to take urgent action. This is the work of a few extremists, who do not represent the majority in India. We urge them to halt their activities and call for peaceful discussion of issues. Minorities are being ill-treated by those who claim to represent the majority. We need to return to the Hindu tradition of the strong looking after the weak, not oppressing them.”

Ram Gidoomal CBE, SADP Chairman, said: "India has a long tradition of religious harmony and constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. This is under increasing pressure from sectarian forces and terrorist attacks. The recent attacks in different places have seen priests and other Christians tortured and killed. Their homes have been burnt and churches destroyed. Nuns have been raped. People have been forced to flee from their homes and are now living in fear of their lives. Rumours and counter-rumours are being spread.

“This is the work of extremists who are destroying the fabric of India. The nation is now locked in a struggle between the secularism established at Independence, and a double challenge from the Naxalites (who now control 10% of India's districts, according to Government figures), and from Hindutva forces who want to re-impose the unequal hold of traditional structures. The vast majority in India are peace loving people who respect life. We pray for an end to this violence."

Christians account for about 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion population, while more than 80 percent of Indians are Hindu.

Naxalites, (Maoist insurgents), have been blamed by the Indian police for the killing of Hindu radical leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and his four associates, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), of which Swami Saraswati was a local figurehead, has responded, along with the Bajrang Dal, by launching attacks on Christian targets in Orissa, where there was already tension between various marginalised groups, and further attacks in Bangalore (Karnataka), Kerala and Madhya Pradesh.

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