By BosNewsLife Correspondents Stefan J. Bos and Santosh Digal reporting from the region
DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– Police in India’s Punjab state refuse to investigate the involvement of Hindu militants in the attempted murders of Christians, according to a report obtained by BosNewsLife Tuesday, March 2.
“The Punjab police are hiding the fact” that militants of the Sangh Parivar groupin the town of Batala “tried to burn five Christians alive,” said John Dayal of thefact-finding mission team of advocacy group All India Christian Council (AICC).
He compared the February 18-21 violence to last year’s clashes in the state ofOrissa in which at least over 100 persons died and thousands of homes andhundreds of churches and Christian institutions were destroyed.
The Orissa attacks followed the killing of Hindu leader Swami LaxmananandaSaraswati. Although Maoist rebels claimed responsibility for the assassination, Hindu militants blamed Christians for the killing.
Earlier violence also erupted in Orissa state’s Kandhamal district during Christmas week of2007, killing at least four Christians and burning 730 houses and 95 churches, Christians said at the time.
Dayal and his team said in their report that Hindu militants used similar methods in Punjab. The targeted Christians in Punjab “were from two families who live in the Church of North India’s (CNI) historic Church of the Epiphany compound built in 1865,”the report explained.
“As the larger group of attackers focused on burning the CNI church, a group of men armedwith sticks and rods came to the CNI deacon’s house…Deacon Victor Gill and his wife Parveen hid themselves under the bed. The assailants damaged the doors, tried toenter the room forcibly, and told the couple they would be burnt aliveif they did not come out.”
At a second “CNI house”, another group overturned a scooter, took out the petrol, and doused teacher Christopher Morris and his daughter Daisy with the fuel while the mother, Usha, “cringed in their home,” according to the AICC investigators.
“They tried to set the two on fire, but the matchbox had also been soaked in petrol and despitethree attempts to strike a match, the matchsticks would not ignite saving the family from being burnt alive.”
The AICC report also alleged that police “were watching” and that a fire brigade “came later” but”was blocked by a mob for quite some time.” Police officials had no comment.
“On February 20 the CNI church was set on fire and all its furniture burnt. Attempts were [also] made to destroy a nearby [Protestant] Salvation Army church, raised in 1958, where the pastor wasseriously injured,” the report added.
“We pleaded with the police to help, but they did not,” said the injured Pastor Gurnam Singhin published remarks.
The Christians were apparently attacked after they were trying to enforce an area-wide closure ofshops and markets to protest the publication of a picture of Jesus Christ holding a can of beer in one hand anda lit cigarette in another.
That picture was distributed ahead of Hindu festival Ram Navami or ‘the birthday of Rama’),which falls on March 24 this year.
“The banners were sponsored by a coalition of local political, media and business leaders, together with the trading community, which is almost entirely Hindu,” said the report.
“The Sangh Parivar [group] reacted to the Christian protest by mobilizing shopkeepers and youth‘to teach a lesson to Christians’…”There have been growing tensions between Christians and Hindus in several parts of India, a predominantlyHindu nation of over one billion people.”
AICC investigators also described the Punjab tensions as “part of a larger religious discrimination” in the state.
“The recent incidents also exposed the utter lack of Christian representation among the Punjab government.Less than half a dozen Christian leaders, many of them related to each other, hold positionsin the Akali Dal, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Indian National Congress,” they wrote in the report.
However, “They have little connection with the masses living in villages, slums and poorly constructed ghettos outsidesome villages,” they added. National and local authorities had promised to improve the situation for minority Christians, but little has been done, the AICC report suggested.
“Church meetings are routinely denied permission, for example, and caste epithets are used againstthe Christians. The chief minister [of Punjab] had promised to have the situation investigated and remedialaction taken.”
Punjab’s Christian population is around 300,000, about 1.2 percent of the state population, mostly concentrated in Amritsar area and villages in the western part of the state, according to church estimates.