The executive body of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, meeting in Bangalore on Friday, issued a statement expressing "utter disappointment" at the "apathy and inaction" of the national and state governments in the face of anti-Christian violence committed by extremist Hindus. Calling upon Indian officials to stop the violence and to help its victims, they denied allegations of forced conversions to Christianity and suggested such charges are self-serving.
The bishops lamented the murder of innocent people, the molestation of women, the desecration and destruction of churches and religious places, and the destruction of Christians’ homes in various districts of the east coast state of Orissa, the Indian Catholic reports.
"The State Government kept giving an assurance that things were normal and security arrangements were perfect," the statement read. "Yet when representations were made, it pleaded inability to control the mobs that vandalized church property [and] assailed religious personnel and the Christian population."
The bishops claimed that the perpetrators of the violence were "trained agents of radical Hindutva activists" acting under instructions and executing a "master plan of destruction."
The bishops’ statement also reports that the violence has spread to Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh.
According to the bishops, the violence is undermining India’s ancient values of "Ahimsa (non-injury), Truth, Tolerance, and Respect for Religions."
The attacks have also damaged India’s international image of secular democracy, the bishops claim.
"These recent horrors in various parts of our country have disgraced the high ideals and principles that our wise men and saints upheld and the vision that our Founding Fathers cherished," they wrote.
While voicing appreciation for the national government’s dispatching of a fact-finding team to Karnataka, the bishops expressed disappointment that until recently similar action was not taken in Orissa.
Invoking the religious liberty guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, India’s bishops demanded stronger action against "anti-social and anti-religious elements" that "violate human rights and terrorize innocent people."
Calling for legal action against those responsible for the violence, the bishops also demanded adequate restitution for the victims of the extremists. The bishops asked that the Central Bureau of Investigation examine connections between the Orissa incidents and anti-Christian attacks in nearby states.
Further, the bishops demanded a ban on fundamentalist groups that train "terrorists" under the banner of Hindutva, also demanding that leaders who incite violence or politicize religion be restrained.
Addressing repeated allegations of forced conversion by Christians, the bishops declared that they are convinced such a claim is "merely a strategy developed by vested interests in order to prevent Christian services of health, education, poverty alleviation and development on behalf of deprived communities."
The bishops’ statement proclaimed conversion by force, allurement, or deception to be against Catholic teachings such as those found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
They also countered claims that the poor are manipulated into conversion.
"It is truly humiliating to the poor to claim that they easily yield to the temptation of converting to any religion for some material advantage. In fact, the poor who choose Christianity forfeit so many benefits guaranteed by the Constitution," they wrote, referring to constitutional provisions for low-caste Hindus.
"Some have even sacrificed their lives for refusing to reconvert," the bishops added. They suggested that extremist Hindu opposition to Christian activities "derives from the fear that many of the deprived communities may be so empowered as to assert their own rights and resist exploitation."
However, the bishops continued, "we cannot renounce the heritage of love and justice that Jesus left us."
They counseled that forgiveness is the proper response to anti-Christian violence, saying they themselves are "heartened" by Hindus and other Indians who have condemned the "evil deeds of a fringe group of fundamentalist activists" and have helped their victims.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of India statement ended with a call to prayer:
"We invite everyone to join in prayer for our great nation, for leaders of the Governments and for Civil Authorities, for all those who have suffered in the recent violence and also for those who were the cause of our sufferings. May God bless our country and lead us on the way of peace and justice."