Catholics in central India launch e-mail campaign for peace

JABALPUR, India – Catholics in India’s central Madhya Pradesh state have launched an e-mail campaign for peace in Orissa state, where observers say Hindu radicals attacked Christians in hope of political gains.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal launched the campaign Dec. 31 by sending an e-mail to Indian President Pratibha Patil and then to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He appealed for steps to check Orissa’s sectarian violence that began Dec. 24 and claimed five lives, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

Orissa is ruled by a coalition that includes a regional party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political wing of groups trying to make India a Hindu theocratic state. Several violent attacks against Christians also have taken place in Madhya Pradesh since the Bharatiya Janata Party took control of the state government in December 2003.

The archbishop’s e-mail urged the federal and Orissa state governments to compensate victims’ families for loss of life and property and called for a probe by the federal Central Bureau of Investigation. Archbishop Cornelio said the church plans to send at least 4,000 e-mails to federal officials, legislators and Orissa’s chief minister. He said e-mails also will be sent to international groups and nongovernmental organizations working for human rights.

Archbishop Cornelio described the e-mail campaign as the church’s “humble effort” to reach out “to as many peace-loving people as possible” to create awareness about the dangers of sectarian violence in the country.

He said the “preplanned” violence against a religious community violates India’s democratic principles. He expressed regret that Orissa’s law-enforcement agencies “did precious little” to protect the life and property of Christians, who were left “at the mercy of the attackers.”

For four days beginning Dec. 24, Hindu radicals attacked and set fire to Christian homes, churches, convents and seminaries in Orissa’s tribal-dominated Kandhamal district. Church officials estimate the violence caused property damage of around $700,000.

Father Anand Muttungal, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, said the e-mail campaign will help fight the victimization of Christians in India.

He and some other Christians see the violence as a repeat of the 1998 Christmas season attacks against Christians in tribal regions of the western Indian state of Gujarat, also ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party. During 10 days of violence beginning Dec. 25 that year, several churches were burned.

Father Muttungal told UCA News radical Hindu groups incite hatred to divide people as a means of gaining political power. The Bharatiya Janata Party consolidated its power in Gujarat while violence continued against Christians and Muslims, he said.

About 2.3 percent of India’s more than 1 billion people are Christians.

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