By BosNewsLife Asia Service
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– A nation-wide alliance of Christian leaders, churches, mission agencies, and other Christian institutions in India has condemned widespread anti-Christian violence in the Indian state of Karnataka, which injured dozens, but “welcomed” the sentencing of those involved in church bombings.
The All India Christian Council (AICC) said it could confirm details of at least 48 “major incidents” of violence or discrimination against Christians across 14 of 29 districts in Karnataka, between August and October 2008.
In a statement seen by BosNewsLife Friday, December 12, the group said however that despite these setbacks “it welcomes the recent sentencing by a Karnataka court of 23 people for bombing churches in the year 2000.”
Eleven people were sentenced to death and and 12 others received life sentence in connection with the serial blasts in churches across the states of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa, in which at least two people died.
Yet, AICC President Joseph D’souza admitted not everyone within his organization agreed with the death penalty. “While we welcome the end of the trial and the awarding of the death sentence to 11 persons and life imprisonment to 12, we must note that a majority of our leaders oppose the death penalty on principle.” In addition, “Even when violence is inflicted on our community, we are taught to forgive and show grace unmeasured,” D’souza said.
The Muslim militants were reportedly made to believe that blasts at churches in India would trigger a civil war between Hindus and Christians. A religious leader from Afghanistan would invade and conquer India to convert it into an an Islamic country.
A van carrying people who planted the bombs went off accidentally in the city of Bangalore , where two of the accused were killed and another suspect was injured, according to investigators. The AICC suggested it hopes the sentencing would send a message to those involved in fresh anti-Christian violence in Karnataka, amid fears of a repeat of the deadly violence seen in the state of Orissa, where dozens of Christians were killed since August.
The AICC said that the incidents it investigated in Karnataka ranged from mob attacks on Christian homes to vandalism of 39 churches. “Over 53 Christians were injured,” in the violence, the organization added.
It said most incidents occurred in Dakshina Kannada District of the state, where 11 attacks were reported against Roman Catholic churches, and five against the evangelical Believers Church denomination. Also, 19 independent churches or prayer halls, were targeted, the AICC said in its report.
AICC said the violence was sparked in part by “false” accusations that the Christian group New Life Fellowship Trust “was publishing a pamphlet derogatory to Hindu gods.” “Ironically only two New Life buildings were attacked,” the group noted.
The frequency of the attacks apparently peaked on September 14, with a dozen attacks reported near the city of Mangalore and another six incidents attacks elsewhere within a few hours. “It is notable that at least 16 of 39 attacks on Christian places of worship occurred after September 14th in spite of appeals to state and central authorities,” AICC explained.
The group said it is closely monitoring “the progress of the Justice B.K. Somashekara Commission of Inquiry” which was set up by the state government to investigate the violence. Christians comprise just over two percent of India’s predominantly Hindu population of 1.1 billion people. However radical Hindu groups, and in some cases Muslim militants, have expressed outrage over the spread of Christianity and what they view as an attempt by Christian missionaries and others to convert people of other religions. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).