It began slowly in 1998. The attacks seemed isolated; no one had
heard of such a thing. A church altar destroyed in one town. Nuns
raped in another. Bibles burned.
But today, attacks against Christians in India appear part of a
systematic, and often violent campaign against a mostly peaceful and
relatively powerless minority - just 2 percent of India's
The violence began after the 1998 accession to power of an Indian
government whose ideological underpinnings include anti-minority
teachings, writings, and theories. The result is a new and
uncharacteristic climate of fear among Christians - in a nation long
fabled for its tolerance.
Today, despite a mixture of official denials and what often seem
oblique and reluctant official censures, the incidents are occurring
almost weekly - with Hindu radical groups one day gloating in the
press over killings of Christian believers, and the next denying any
part in them. Some 35 attacks against Christian targets are recorded
by the Delhi-based United Christian Forum for Human Rights (UCFHR),
between January and June.
In June, matters got worse. On June 7, a Catholic priest, George
Kuzhikandam, was killed while sleeping in a church compound in a
town called Mathura in Uttar Pradesh.
A week later, four churches in different parts of India were
bombed. The morning after the bombings, a young evangelical preacher
from Punjab, Ashish Prabash, who worked for India Campus Crusade for
Christ, was found stabbed to death in his bed, and partially burned.
A week later, church grave sites in Andhra Pradesh were desecrated.
Three days ago the sanctuary of a church in Maharashtra was
ransacked after threats severe enough to cause the terrified head
priest to run away without filing a police report.
In areas where attacks take place, Christians describe a
pervasive atmosphere of hate against them that is created by Hindu
radical groups. They describe a neglect or even acquiescence to the
crimes by local authorities. In the Mathura killing of Brother
George, as he is known, the police brought in the church cook, Vijay
Ekka, for "interrogation."
Mr. Ekka had slept near the slain priest and reported the murder.
A week later, while in police custody, Ekka died. The police first
said he committed suicide; but an autopsy indicates he was
strangled. Theories about the custodial killing of Ekka have
circulated - some blaming him for complicity, and others suggesting
he knew who committed the murder. In any event, the cook is no
longer around to tell his story, one local Christian points out.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Indian Prime
Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, has largely adopted a position of
silence and official perplexity. Until yesterday, the government had
not explicitly acknowledged violence against Christians per se. Mr.
Vajpayee's spokesman, Brijesh Mishra, said in Italy this week the
attacks are "isolated" and "aberrational" and have no pattern. Often
they are attributed to a law-and-order problem, a local issue like a
land dispute or a love triangle.
But yesterday, in a meeting of state officials, Home Minister
L.K. Advani said the Christian attacks need to be addressed,
possibly in a meeting of state chief ministers in August. Mr. Advani
suggested that terrorists and foreign agents from Pakistan were the
Still, a growing chorus of Indian voices say that the attacks
have come after the rise of a Hindu nationalist government in New
Delhi, whose affiliated organizations of radical foot soldiers now
openly speak of "driving Christians from India."
"There is a definite pattern of attacks, and I think it is now
clear there is a corollary between these attacks and the election of
the BJP," states social activist C. Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of
Mohandas Gandhi, regarded as the father of India. "The silence is