|The News International, Sep 29, 2008|
|NEW DELHI: Hundreds of Christians held a rally Sunday in the Indian capital to protest recent attacks by Hindu hard-liners that have left dozens of Christians dead and thousands homeless in several Indian states. About 400 Christians gathered in a New Delhi park to pray and listen to speeches in which community leaders urged the government to do more to protect the country’s religious minorities.
“We are quite disappointed with both the federal government and state governments as violence against Christians has spread to several states in the past month,’’ said Dominic Emmanuel, a spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India. The clashes between Hindus and Christians started in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state on Aug 24 following the killing of a Hindu religious leader. At the time, police blamed Maoist rebels active in the area, but right-wing Hindu groups blamed local Christians and set fire to a Christian orphanage.
The violence then worsened to include mob attacks on churches, shops and homes. Emmanuel said Hindu hard-liners have killed at least 40 Christians in the state in the past month. Gopal Nanda, the director-general of state police, put the death toll at 27.
Emmanuel said more than 4,200 Christian homes and 150 Christian buildings – including churches, hospitals and orphanages – have been burned in the past month and nearly 50,000 people have been left homeless in Orissa state.
The state government has not given details about the number of homes and buildings attacked.
The attacks on Christians have spread to the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Christians have been responsible for retaliatory attacks on Hindus in Orissa state.
Meanwhile, the archbishop of New Delhi accused Sonia Gandhi, the chief of the governing Congress party and a Christian, of not doing enough to help Christians.
Vincent Concessao told the CNN-IBN television channel on Sunday that Gandhi may be reluctant because “Hindu bodies have been levelling an allegation against her that because she is a Christian she is in favour of Christians.’’
Manish Tiwari, a Congress party spokesman, rejected the claim, saying Gandhi had ordered ministers and party officials to visit all places where people have been attacked.
He also said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government had ordered state governments to take all possible steps to protect people and property.