Justice Rare for Victims of Minority Persecution in India

NEW DELHI, INDIA — For the first time an all-India picture has emerged of anti-Christian violence from a people’s tribunal.

Victims of Christian persecution from across India shared their horrific stories and highlighted the denial of justice to them before an independent people’s jury.

According to International Christian Concern (ICC), the depositions were part of « The Independent People’s Tribunal against the Rise of Fascist Forces in India and the Attack on the Secular State, » a three-day program which concluded here on March 22.

In its report, ICC said the independent jury was organized by non-profit organizations Anhad and Human Rights Law Network, and supported and attended by a plethora of rights groups, including Christian organizations, like the All India Christian Council (AICC) and the Christian Legal Association.

Of the 100 victims who submitted their statements, about 40 were Christian. The rest were mainly were from Gujarat state, which witnessed a wide-scale killing of members of the Muslim minority community in 2002.

Impunity of perpetrators of gang-rape

« I was gang-raped by my fellow tribal villagers, including the brother and father of the local legislator in January 2004, and I named everyone in my police complaint, but no one has been arrested till today, » lamented Taramani, a school teacher from Madhya Pradesh state’s Jhabua district.

Taramani’s village, Alirajpur, was one of the worst affected villages during the spate of anti-Christian violence that followed the infamous January 11 incident, in which a young girl was found dead in the compound of a Catholic school in Jhabua district. Hindu fundamentalist Hindu Jagran Manch (Forum for Revival of Hindus) blamed the murder on the church, and instigated a series of attacks on Christian individuals and their institutions. This was despite the fact that a non-Christian admitted to the crime.

« A crowd of about 250 people first launched an attack on my house and set it on fire and then some of them took me to a jungle and outraged my modesty, » said, Taramani, a widow.

With tears in her eyes, she added that when she returned she found the house completely gutted. “Even the police initially refused to register my complaint which they did only later and reluctantly.

« All that I have received from the government is Rs.30,000 ($700 USD), but no arrests. The perpetrators still tell me that nothing will happen to them, as they are very powerful, » she said.

Attackers remain at large

Another victim, Shobha Onkar, also from Alirajpur, could not help crying as she narrated how she was attacked by a mob in the aftermath of the January 11 incident. « About 300 people surrounded our house in the presence of the local police inspector and started breaking in. I thought I should open the door before they vandalized my house, but when they entered into the house, one of them hit me with a stick on my head. I started bleeding profusely, » she said.

« My son ran to the police and bent on his knees to plead them to rescue me, saying, ’They will kill my mother,’ but they did not budge, » she added.

Onkar also said that relatives of the local legislator belonging to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were among the crowd.

Onkar’s house was badly damaged and completely looted. « The government gave me only Rs.6,000 ($140 USD) as compensation. And justice, which matters the most, was denied, as the perpetrators were not brought to justice, » she added.

There were also victims from the states of Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Kerala and Jammu and Kashmir.

Lessons for the church

Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the AICC who was one of the jury members, told ICC, « From the Christian perspective, the hearings were memorable and important. Christians of all denominations, and both men and women, came forward to depose for the first time in a major way. In my experience this is also the first time that an all-India picture has emerged of anti-Christian violence from a people’s tribunal. »

The all-India pattern of violence has lessons for everyone, and particularly for the church whether it is Catholic, Protestant or Evangelical, he said, adding that urgent steps needed to be taken. « Clergy and church workers have to be trained in human rights and basic law. »

Another memorable witness, said Dayal, was the compilation by the Rev. Madhu Chandra of AICC to prove the massive activity of Hindu extremists in the north-eastern Hindu majority states of Manipur and Assam.

« For me, the most heartening testimonies were of women — Muslim and Christian. »

Madhya Pradesh a daylight church

He also said it was obvious that « Hindutva pressure » was working. « The church in Madhya Pradesh is fast becoming a ’daylight church’ with mission activity in the evening and after sun down — which is how outreach programs can work in forest villages when people return home after sunset — has stopped. Only in full daylight can some work be done. And yet, the church hierarchy seems not too worried. »

In other areas, church activity is now confined to tribals alone, who constitute just a third of the population even in the so-called tribal belt of central India, he said. « This has serious ramifications. »

Dayal thanked the civil society, including « well-meaning Hindu Activists, » for their « unstinted support » to the Christian community.

No help from the State

Based on the statements of the victims and presentations by human rights activists, the tribunal noted that « demonization of minorities, both Muslims and Christians, and their consequent marginalization and physical attacks have been noticed all over the country, particularly in the states where the BJP is in power, like Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. »

In these cases, the victims have failed to get any help from the State. The role of the police is particularly dubious, as in most cases, the victims were not even able to file an FIR (first information report). It is often noticed that the victims are turned into perpetrators of crime. As a result, there is a sense of helplessness that the minorities feel.”

Rights activists also deplored the role of the media, mainly local newspapers in vernacular languages, in inciting anti-minority violence.

The tribunal was an initiative of Shabnam Hashmi of Anhad and attorney Colin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network.

By Michael Ireland, Journal Cheiritan  , Sunday, 01 April 2007

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