With the intensification of violence against Christians in India, the chairman of the Catholic Council of Bishops in India, Archbishop Leo Cornelio, called upon the country’s Prime Minister to not only focus on the attacks in the states of Orissa and Karnataka, but also the increasing violence in Madhya Pradesh.
The archbishop’s letter, dated Wednesday, opens by commending the Prime Minister’s decision to convene a meeting to discuss “the grave situation in Orissa and Karnataka” due to a “series of murderous attacks on Christian communities and their Churches.” While the prelate notes that the attacks in those particular states are violent, he requests that the head of state pay attention to the “happenings” in Madhya Pradesh that “are also equally serious.”
“From the day the [Bajrang dal] BJP came into power in Madhya Pradesh in the year 2003 minorities in Madhya Pradesh have been subjected to [a] series of violent attacks on shops of Muslims and churches of Christians at many places. At many places violent attacks were made on the members of the two communities causing them grave injuries,” writes the archbishop.
The letter goes on to give examples of the violence against religion in the region. “In some cases churches more than 80 years old were set on fire. Even the Nuns at various places including Indore, Ujjain, Bhopal etc. were not spared.”
Though these incidents continue to occur, the government has not intervened.
Archbishop Cornelio explains that when the violent attacks have occurred, the “police and administration remained mute spectators” or even “helped the miscreants in their nefarious acts.” In hope of receiving protection, Indian bishops “have been repeatedly drawing the attention of the Chief Minister, Chief Secretary and Director General of Police seeking their intervention. But our attempts did not yield any positive and effective results.”
Greater protection is needed for the security of the Christian people, Archbishop Cornelio insisted, pointing out that recently the president of VHP released a statement “hailing attacks on Orissa Christians.” He has also warned that such attacks “will continue with greater intensity and determination.” Because of this, the archbishop concluded, “we again request you to include the incidents of Madhya Pradesh on the agenda of the forth coming meeting of the National Integration Council.”
Between April 2004 and September 2008, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, there have been nearly 111 attacks. Dozens of families have lost their homes and more than 20 churches have been burnt or desecrated. In one instance, an 11 year-old girl was raped and murdered in the bathroom of a Catholic Church. Several of the attacks were witnessed by the police, who stood by watching.
A larger survey of the violence within the five states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala, reveals a devastating picture: 149 churches have been burned and 4,640 homes set ablaze, leaving 53,000 Christians homeless, 18 000 wounded and more than 50 dead.