By BosNewsLife Asia Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Christians already suffering of major flooding in the Indian state of Karnataka faced more difficulties Thursday November 12, amid fresh allegations that government aid is distributed mainly to “higher caste” Hindus.
The controversy emerged as Indian authorities warned Karnataka and other coastal states and territories to prepare for a new cyclone with heavy rainfall, adding to misery in a region where already hundreds of people died and millions were displaced in previous flooding.
“We are greatly distressed to note that discrimination on the basis of caste and religion has occurred in distribution of relief supplies in the state of Karnataka,” said Sajan K. George, the national president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), which represents churches and mission groups.
“Christians and people of backward castes are unable to enter temple premises and collect the relief supplies in spite of having suffered the same environmental disaster,” George told BosNewsLife.
“In fact, instead of receiving relief supplies, Christians and other backward castes have been threatened from partaking of any of the government provided benefits.”
He said the GCIC has collected documented evidence of “numerous Christians who have been denied relief in Raichur, Karnataka” and said there have been similar reports in other regions of the state.
George linked the situation to the way the distribution of relief has been organized. “The funds belong to the government and the public and yet were handed to non-governmental agencies for distribution – namely Hindu maths and other religious organizations. This has led to caste discrimination,” he alleged.
Dalits, viewed as the ‘lowest caste’ in India’s ancient system of Hinduism, are also suffering, he said.
At a public hearing organized by Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation over the weekend, P. Ramesh from Bijapur district alleged that the district administration had used the floods as an excuse to demolish two slums. “Rather than help rebuild our houses, whatever remained our houses was destroyed without any notice,” he claimed in remarks published in Indian media.
George said it comes at a difficult time for the Christian community in Karnataka which, he claimed, “has been subject to repeated vicious attacks.”
There have been 53 documented recent cases of attacks against Christians and churches in Karnataka, he said. “Just three days ago, on 6 November 2009, a physically handicapped Christian was attacked in Shimoga District, Karnataka.”
Rights groups have blamed many attacks on Hindu militants, who oppose the spread of Christianity in this mainly Hindu nation. “It is unacceptable that having had the very basic right of worship denied to Christians, now Christian flood victims have been denied basic relief necessary for survival,” George added.
He said the GCIC has urged the Indian authorities to probe “the utilization of funds that were received for relief work by the State of Karnataka.” He said relief should be distributed “through government channels instead of religious organizations immediately” to prevent “any further occurrences of discrimination…”
It was time, he added, to receive “Justice for all the Christian and lower caste families that have been denied relief and equitable distribution to ensure fairness.”
Indian authorities were not immediately available for comment, but the Home Ministry said it was “Assessing the impact of the movement of a new cyclone” in the region.
A new cyclone would add to suffering in flood-hit Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, according to Christian missionaries in the area. “These people have lost all their livestock, lost their farms, lost their businesses. There is nothing left for them. Just trying to survive is the greatest thing right now,” explained Daniel Punos, vice president of mission group Gospel for Asia (GFA) in a statement.
His organization was among several groups that swiftly responded to the flooding, which killed at least 250 people, displaced an estimated 10 million, people and destroyed over two million homes.