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India celebrates Gandhi’s life as attacks on Christians continue


Christians and secular groups in India have commemorated the 2 October anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, but attacks against Christians continued on a day that marks the Indian independence campaigner’s message of non-violence.

More than 100 Christian houses were torched in the troubled city of Kandhamal and nearby district of Boudh in the Orissa district as the nation prepared to celebrate the 139th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.

Often described as a prophet of non-violence, Gandhi led the Indian independence movement against the British empire through peaceful protest.

Still, this year the celebrations took place against a background of anti-Christian violence that began in August in the eastern state of Orissa, and has spread to other parts of the country.

In the Indian capital New Delhi, more than 10 000 Christians and others marked the final day of a week-long protest against the current violence by marching to the city’s main memorial to Gandhi. Several dignitaries, including federal government ministers and other political leaders, marched alongside nuns and priests.

At Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindu leaders took part in a prayer meeting for peace in front of a statute of Gandhi.

A number of groups also organized a goodwill meeting under the banner of "People for Peace" that ended with a candlelight vigil and a call to promote harmony.

Christians came to the meeting from places as far away as Berampur, 140 kilometres (88 miles) from Bhubaneswar. Still, some said they were returning dejected after hearing shouts telling Christians to "leave the country" during the event.

"We were expecting a very strong declaration from this, condemning the violence against Christians in Kandhamal, but it has been very disappointing," said a Roman Catholic priest who requested anonymity. He said he was hurt by the "silence and indifference" he had encountered following attacks against Christians in Kandhamal.

The All India Christian Council has said that 57 Christians have been killed in the violence in the Kandhamal district, and that 4300 Christian houses, as well as 142 churches and many Christian institutions have been looted and torched.

P.C. Thomas, a Catholic who is a member of the Indian parliament, told ENI after meeting Orissa’s chief minister Naveen Patnaik, "It is shocking that police have refused to register murder cases after eyewitnesses gave written complaints."

The violence in Orissa broke out following the killing of Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August. 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 two thirds of the 100 000 Christians in Kandhamal are reported to have taken refugee in nearby jungles and relief camps, or have fled to cities such as Bhubaneswar.

"It is torture for us to hear the way our people are being hunted out in Kandhamal. We do not know when this will end," said a Catholic nun, who also wished to remain anonymous.

Activist Subarna Gosh, who coordinated the prayer meeting at the Gandhi statue, said, "The situation in Kandhamal is very bad and we want to go there to promote peace, but the administration is denying us permission to go there." [

(c) Ecumenical News International