.- A new independent report on anti-Christian violence in the southwest Indian state of Karnataka has charged that the violence was pre-planned and backed by the state’s highest government authorities.
Justice Michael Saldanha conducted an independent Peoples’ Tribunal Enquiry to investigate the violence. He visited over 400 places and examined almost 3,000 witnesses and victims in addition to forensic evidence and media reports.
Hindu extremist groups led attacks on churches, schools and homes of Christians and physically beat hundreds of people. The report said that the violence was covered up by the government of Karnataka, currently run by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Karantaka’s chief minister and home minister allegedly encouraged the criminals, while the forces of armed police, the state administration and the lower judiciary were used against Christians and community institutions.
The religious violence was targeted to have maximum impact and the persecution has continued over the last three years. The report also blamed government inaction in the face of “an atmosphere of anarchy,” the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India reports.
The report additionally examined the profiling and stereotyping of the Muslim community, which has also been subject to attacks.
The Christian Secular Forum had sought a new investigation of the attacks. The report was officially presented in Mumbai on Feb. 23 in the presence of Archbishop of Bombay Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who is president of India’s bishops’ conference.
Cardinal Gracias said Justice Saldanha’s report needed to be taken seriously.
“In the case of Karnataka, it seems apparent that a massive cover-up exercise was underway and this did not augur well for India, which hopes to take its rightful place at the top among developed nations. Thus, Michael Saldanha had done a great service not just for the minorities, but for the country,” commented the cardinal.
He criticized the official Justice B.K. Somasekhara Report, which was launched by the ruling BJP government in the aftermath of the riots. That report did not serve its purpose of identifying persons and organizations responsible for the attacks on churches and Christians, he argued.
The Saldanha Report is more than a Christian issue, he noted, because it raises a national question about the credibility of judicial commissions.
Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Christian Secular Forum, also welcomed the new report for exposing the people and forces behind the anti-Christian violence. He charged that the earlier report exonerated extremist backers of “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness.” That report gave the impression of legitimizing the attacks and “kind of justifies attacking not only those so-called 'involved' but even those unrelated and hapless onlookers caught in the cross-fire.”
The Catholic Church will present the new report to India’s federal government to demand action against the Karnataka government, Fr. Charles Irudayam told Fides news agency.
Dias called for the immediate dismissal and the incrimination of Karnataka’s prime minister and interior minister for “having endorsed violence and crimes against defenseless citizens.”
Dr. Abraham Mathai, who is the president of Indian Christian Voice and vice-chairman of the Maharashtra Minorities Commission, also called for a rejection of the Somasekhara Report.
He also warned of the “dangerous trend” of parts of the judiciary who give the impression that charges of forced or suborned religious conversions can be used as an alibi to attack Christians, even when there is no evidence of unethical conversion.
The Karnataka government should consider Justice Saldanha’s report the more credible one and act on it, Mathai commented. He also called for the withdrawal of false charges against over 300 Christians and for adequate compensation to the victims of violence.
Fr. Irudayam, secretary of the Indian bishops’ conference Commission for Justice, Peace and Development, said that the Catholic bishops and faithful, all Christians and human rights organizations have protested against “sectarianism” and the “lies and prejudices” contained in the Somasekhara report.
“All Christians and honest people have rejected it without hesitation,” he continued, noting the “overwhelming evidence” of Hindu extremists’ responsibility for the violence.
Tens of thousands of Christians rallied on Feb. 21 against the Somasekhara Report, calling it “distorted” and “anti-Christian.” People from 45 different denominations marched through the streets of Mangalore, some with gags covering their mouths.
On Feb. 18 at St. Mark University of Bangalore protesters held a silent fast which involved 18 bishops, including Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, Vatican Radio reports. The bishops, the Global Council of Indian Christians and Christian leaders in Karnataka had presented the state’s governor and the chief minister their own counter-report on the attacks.