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Christians take to Indian streets to protest as attacks on them continue


Traffic came to a standstill in central Bangalore in Karnataka state on 25 September, as thousands of Christians took part in protest rallies against a wave of violence directed against them in eight of India’s regional states.

At the end of a rally organized by the Karnataka Christian Federation, participants staged a sit-down protest in front of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the campaigner for Indian independence, who was known for his advocacy of non-violence.

More than 100 churches and Christian institutions are reported to have been attacked, and tens of Christians have died, in the violence that broke out following the killing in August 2008 of a Hindu leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati.

"This is a clear conspiracy to terrorise Christians," said Methodist pastor, the Rev. Charles Vijayakumar, as he stood by St James’ Catholic Church in a suburb of Bangalore.

The place of worship was one of two Catholic churches in the city desecrated on 21 September, while in the southern state of Kerala, two similar incidents were reported the previous night.

In Madhya Pradesh state, the Catholic Cathedral of Peter and Paul of Jabalpur was set on fire the previous week, allegedly by Hindu extremists, causing serious damage.

A Maoist leader is reported to have claimed responsibility for the killing but some Hindu groups say it was a Christian conspiracy, as the 85-year-old slain monk had been campaigning against conversion to Christianity in Kandhamal, where he was based.

More than half of the 100 000 Christians in Kandhamal are said to have sought refuge in jungles or relief camps.

The rallies in Bangalore followed protests in other Indian cities, including Mumbai, where 10 000 people took part in rallies on 19 September, and in Hyderabad, where more than 15 000 people demonstrated the following day.
Previously, churches in and around Mangalore, in Karnataka, were attacked on 14 September. This was followed by reports of sporadic attacks on churches in other parts of Karnataka, and in the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh.

All major church leaders in Chennai led a protest march on 21 September of more than 30 000 Christians of all denominations.

"The Christian community is shocked by these atrocities," the Rev. Samuel Prabhakar, coordinator of the ecumenical prayer and protest rally at Chennai, told Ecumenical News International. "The unanimous demand from the rally was that the government should take stringent action against those attacking the Christian community." 

(c) Ecumenical News International