India’s Anti-Christian Violence in 2008 Linked to Terrorists

Christians call for agency to probe anti-Muslim terrorism ties to Orissa-Karnataka attacks.

NEW DELHI, March 25 (CDN) — Right-wing terrorists played a key role in attacking and killing Christians in Orissa and Karnataka states in 2008, one of the Hindu extremist suspects in anti-Muslim bomb blasts has told investigators, leading to renewed demands for a probe by India’s anti-terror agency.

Pragya Singh Thakur, arrested for planning 2008 bombings targeting Muslims in west India, told the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that Lt. Col. Prasad Srikant Purohit had “masterminded” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and Karnataka, The Indian Express daily reported on Wednesday (March 23). Purohit is accused along with Thakur for the 2008 bombings of Muslims.

Thakur had met with Purohit after the August 2008 Kandhamal attacks against Christians began and told her “he was into big things like blasts, etc., and had masterminded the Orissa and Karnataka ‘disturbances,’” the national daily reported.

The NIA, a recently formed agency to prevent, probe and prosecute terrorism-related incidents on a national scale, is investigating several cases involving right-wing terrorism aimed at the Muslim minority in retaliation for Islamist attacks. Both Thakur, formerly a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, and Purohit, who was serving in the Indian Army when he was arrested for his role in blasts in Malegaon city in western Maharashtra state, were part of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat.

Thakur’s statement to the NIA came soon after a Directorate of Military Intelligence report said Purohit had confessed to having killed at least two Christians in Kandhamal and playing a role in violence in Karnataka and other states.

The revelation by Thakur was not surprising, said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council.

“We have held that the military precision of the Kandhamal riots, which spread fast and raged for months, could not be a work of mere common people, and that higher brains were at work to ‘teach the Christians a lesson’ while sending out signals of their power lust to the entire nation,” Dayal told Compass.

The violence in Kandhamal began following the assassination of a Hindu extremist leader Laxmanananda Saraswati on Aug. 23, 2008. Though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, Hindu extremists blamed Christians for it. The violence began after the arrival of Indresh Kumar, an executive committee member of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a suspect in blast cases, said Kandhamal activist Ajay Singh. Local media reports said Kumar was part of Saraswati’s funeral procession, which was designed to trigger the attacks, Singh added.

The RSS denies having played any role in terrorism. On March 12, Ram Madhav, an RSS national executive committee member, called the allegation against Kumar “a concerted political campaign.” Those who were dragging the RSS leader into blast cases “will stand thoroughly exposed,” The Times of India daily quoted him as saying.

Dayal and another Christian leader, Joseph Dias, said they had separately written to India’s prime minister and home minister seeking inclusion of the anti-Christian attacks in an ongoing NIA investigation. Sajan K. George of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said he had petitioned the president for the same.

Dias, general secretary of the Catholic-Christian Social Forum, a Maharashtra-based rights group, recalled that violence in Kandhamal spread across 13 other districts of Orissa.

“In Kandhamal alone, more than 6,600 homes were destroyed, 56,000 people rendered homeless, thousands injured, and about 100 men and women [were] burned alive or hacked to death,” Dias said. “Among the women raped was a Catholic nun.”

In September 2008, as the violence continued in Kandhamal, a series of attacks on Christians and their property rocked Mangalore city in Karnataka state.

“In Karnataka, it was hundreds of churches that were desecrated, Christians brutally beaten up, over 350 false cases foisted on them, property held by the community taken over, and no relief to date [has been] received,” Dias said.

While the government of Orissa downplayed the violence as “ethnic tensions,” Karnataka officials blamed it on Christian conversions.

The RSS and outfits linked to it such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the Vanavasi Kalyan Ashram, which claims to work for tribal welfare, facilitated the Kandhamal attacks together with alleged Hindu nationalist terrorists, Dayal said.

“We want the truth about Hindu groups’ anti-national terror activities against minority Christians to come out,” said George, whose GCIC is based in Karnataka.

Dias warned that that the latest statement by Thakur must not to be seen in isolation, as the Military Intelligence report revealed that the Abhinav Bharat had targeted Christians in several states, including Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.

The “game plan” is to “cripple Christian religious places, property and institutions, besides eliminating its nascent community leadership at the grassroots,” Dias added.

The Abhinav Bharat was formed in 2007 by a few right-wing Hindus allegedly disillusioned with the leaders of the Hindu nationalist movement, whom they thought were too timid to make India a Hindu nation, rather than one based on religious pluralism.

Report from Compass Direct News

New Dimension in India’s Anti-Christian Violence Feared

Concern grows that Hindu terrorists could become more apt to target Christians.

PUNE, India, November 5 (CDN) — After the recent arrests of numerous Hindu terrorists for exploding bombs, authorities increasingly view Hindu rightwing extremists as a threat not only to Muslim and Christian minorities but also to national security.

Historically Hindu terrorist groups have traded blows with India’s Muslim extremists, but because of a perceived threat from Christianity – as one Hindu extremist leader expressed to Compass – many analysts believe Hindu terrorists increasingly pose dangers to Christians as well.

Police in Goa state arrested two members of Hindu terrorist group Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) on Saturday (Oct. 31) for their alleged role in an explosion that took place near a church in Margao on Oct 16. Christians, which make up more than 25 percent of the 1.3 million people in Goa, were apparently not the target of the explosion, which occurred accidently when two members of the Sanatan Sanstha were trying to transport explosives to a nearby location on the eve of the Diwali Hindu festival, according to DNA newspaper.

Nevertheless, the incident served as a wake-up call to Christian leaders and others who fear Hindu terrorists could take greater aim at the Christian community. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said that while terrorism was not new for rightwing groups, some of the extremist groups had “metamorphosed into fully fledged terrorism squads on classical lines – cells with local leaders, supply lines, bomb-making experts, and clear linkage with the intellectuals and motivators in the RSS [Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] hierarchy.”

Suresh Khairnar, a civil rights activist who has conducted nearly 100 fact-finding trips on communal incidents, told Compass that Muslims may be the main target of Hindu terrorist outfits, but “there is no doubt that they pose a threat to the Christians also.” He added that these Hindu groups also launch attacks on Hindus from time to time – masquerading as Islamist groups to create communal unrest, as well as to confuse investigating agencies.

Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai, concurred that Christians have increasingly become a secondary target for rightwing Hindu terrorists behind Muslims, who form 13.4 percent of the population.

“Christians, on the other hand, are only 2.3 percent,” said Engineer. “And because of their engagement with education, medicine and social work, it is difficult to promote anti-Christian sentiments.”

A former inspector general of police of Maharashtra, S.M. Mushrif, also said that while Muslims are the prime target of Hindu terrorists, attacking Christians also helps the Hindu assailants to portray themselves as “working for a Hindu cause.”

Members of suspected terror groups are known to have attacked Christians. On June 27, Shailendra Chauhan, alias Uday Singh – suspected to be a close aide of Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, the prime suspect in a September 2008 blast in Malegaon, Maharashtra – was arrested for allegedly killing a Christian priest in Noida, a satellite town of Delhi. The 25-year-old Chauhan was also accused of vandalizing a church building in Sangam Vihar in Delhi in October 2008, according to The Times of India.

The AICC’s Dayal added that Islamic groups are the immediate target of Hindu terrorist groups, “but once the terror gangs of Hindutva [Hindu nationalist ideology] taste blood, it is easy to predict that they will swing into action against any perceived enemy target.”

How Alleged Terrorist Group Views Christians

The Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of Mumbai is investigating powerful bomb blasts in Malegaon town, Maharashtra, allegedly carried out by members of the Hindu nationalist Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India) in September 2008. Compass spoke with the president of Abhinav Bharat about the alleged terrorist group’s attitude toward Christians.

The Malegaon blasts near a mosque killed six people and injured more than 100. The ATS arrested 11 people, including a serving officer of the Indian Army, from the Abhinav Bharat and other rightwing outfits.

The president of the Abhinav Bharat, Himani Savarkar, told Compass that members of her organization had been falsely accused, saying “The government is lying about their involvement. There is collusion between Muslims and the government.”

Asked if only Muslims were a threat to Hindus, she said, “There is danger from both Muslims and Christians, because of conversions and terrorism.”

Conversion represents a threat in that people converting to Islam change their loyalties from India to Mecca, while the loyalties of converts to Christianity shift from India to the Pope, Savarkar said. She also spoke of a more direct threat in Christianity – “Muslims want to kill the kafirs [unbelievers], and even Jesus asks in the Bible to kill all those who do not believe in Him” – and it is not known how many other Hindu extremists share this fallacy.

The number of Hindus, she added, “is slowly reducing, and one day we will become a minority in our own nation. We do not have any other nation.”

Savarkar, niece of Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist who killed Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi in January 1948, said that in her view the main reasons people convert away from Hinduism are poverty and illiteracy.

“They do not know what they are doing,” she said. “We have to awaken Hindus. Hindus need to be made aware of the threats.”

Violent Despair

The use of bombs is a sign of frustration among extremists, said civil rights activist Khairnar, referring to the two successive defeats of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), political wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), India’s chief Hindu nationalist conglomerate. The BJP, which ruled the federal government from 1998 to 2004, has lost both the 2004 and 2009 general elections.

“They are now exploding bombs because they know they cannot succeed democratically,” he said, though he added that bomb-making per se was not a new development. “Even Nathuram Godse, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi, launched several bomb attacks before finally succeeding in assassinating him.”

In the case of the Malegaon blasts, Dayal said that the involvement of Hindu religious leaders and former army personnel indicated that terror attacks by rightwing Hindu groups were well planned. Security analysts warn that the extremist groups must be prevented from graduating to bigger terror groups.

On Oct. 21, the Mumbai Mirror daily quoted an ATS officer as saying Hindu extremist groups “are putting up a mild face as an organization while their members are detonating bombs. It’s only a matter of time before they begin to acquire better technology and more lethal bombs. Their influence is growing; there are several politicians and even ex-policemen who owe allegiance to them. They can be dangerous if not stopped now.”

O.P. Bali, former director general of police of Maharashtra, told Compass that until 2003, the year he retired, extreme Hindu nationalist groups like the Bajrang Dal mainly used weapons like sticks, tridents and knives.

“Bomb-making is a newer development, and they are still learning,” Bali said. “Considering the way some local Islamist groups have graduated from making and detonating of small bombs to bigger ones, the efforts of rightwing groups must be nipped in the bud.”

Hindu/Muslim violence has a long history. In 1947, when India became politically independent, British colonial India was divided into “Hindu-majority” India and “Muslim-majority” Pakistan. The partition resulted in the killing of around 1 million people – Hindu, Sikh and Muslim – in violent clashes mainly during the mass migration of around 14.5 million people from India to Pakistan and vice versa.

Engineer said the common notion that increasing modernization in India would put a halt to the growth of extremist groups was mistaken.

“Extremism is a reaction to modernization, and therefore such groups will grow even bigger in the future.”

Dayal seconded Engineer, saying the rightwing extremist groups were trying to keep pace with Islamist groups.

“Fortunately, in most areas, government vigilance, civil society and good relations between communities have kept these terror groups at the margins,” Dayal said. “But with the growth of parties that use identity-based divisive issues such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena party, with the apathy of government in BJP-ruled states, and with the middle-class support base for them, I fear such Hindutva terror groups may grow. That has been the historical experience in Western Europe and elsewhere.”

When suspects in the Malegaon blast were formally charged in January 2009, ATS officials told the court that the alleged terrorists’ goal was formation of a Hindu nation – and that the suspects planned to approach Israeli intelligence for help in combating Muslim extremists if the need arose, according to a Jan. 21 article in The Hindu.

Following numerous arrests, The Times of India daily on Oct. 21 quoted senior police officials as saying that Maharashtra was fast becoming a “hub of rightwing organizations’ terror activities.”

“The youth are being indoctrinated by fundamentalist organizations,” an officer told the daily. “The state should act quickly to control rightwing terror.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

India Briefs: Recent Incidents of Persecution

UTTARAKHAND, India, November 3 (CDN) — Hindu extremists from the Bajrang Dal on Oct. 25 disrupted the Sunday worship of a Ministry of the Gospel service in Rudrapur and accused the pastor of forceful conversion. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that the extremists barged into the worship service led by Pastor Victor Massey, tore Bibles and took all Christian literature. They threatened to attack anew if the congregation continued to meet for worship, adding that they would force Hindu rituals on them. Ministry of the Gospel leader S.K. Puri told Compass that church officials reported the matter to the district collector and superintendent of police, but when Hindu nationalists heard about the complaint they accosted Pastor Massey on Oct. 30 and again threatened to force Hindu rituals on the congregation. Christian leaders have asked local authorities to provide police protection.

Karnataka – A mob of about 50 Hindu extremists attacked a church on Oct. 25 in old Hubli, burning Bibles and Christian literature. The Evangelical Fellowship of India reported that at about 11 a.m. the Hindu hardliners barged into the prayer meeting of Assembly of God Church and dragged out Pastor David Raj. The attack reportedly began after an unidentified man in attendance repeatedly went in and out of the church building; he was requested to remain sitting so as not to disturb the sermon. The man left and returned with 50 extremists, led by area Bajrang Dal leader Jayathirtha Kati. After the Hindu extremists verbally abused the church members, set fire to the Christian literature and dragged the pastor out to the street, local police arrived and, as is customary in India, detained the victims. They took the pastor, his wife and two church members to the police station and only with local Christian leaders’ intervention were the Christians released at about 5 p.m.

Assam – Hindu extremists and the head of Dayung village called a meeting on Oct. 23 to oppose a Christian ministry after a young woman who became a Christian refused to renounce her faith, a source told Compass. Tara Sabha’s family beat and disowned her after she told the village council that she would not leave Christianity at any cost, the source said. Sabha had received Christ earlier in October. The source told Compass that Hindu extremists held Enosh Lepcha of First Evangelical Church Association of India (FECAI) responsible for the conversion, and on Oct. 23 they and the village head called a public meeting in which they threatened a social boycott if the ministry continued its activities. FECAI’s Abbay Pradhan told Compass that due to extremist pressure, the ministry has stopped many activities.

Andhra Pradesh – Suspected Hindu extremists set fire to India Mission Society Church in Warrangal on Oct. 22, damaging more than half of the building. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that unidentified people set the church building ablaze at about 2 a.m. Pastor P. Kumarswamy contacted the fire department, which arrived after more than half of the building had been destroyed. Police registered a First Information Report, and an investigation is underway.

Karnataka – Hindu nationalists forced an evangelist and other Christians to go to a police station on false charges of forcible conversion on Oct. 21 after barging into the church leader’s home and demanding money for a Hindu festival in Undedasarahalli, Chikamaglur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Hindu radicals leveled the charges after evangelist Kumar Nayak of the Assemblies of God refused to give a donation for the Diwali festival. Nayak and his family were about to leave home for the last of a three-day prayer meeting when nearly 30 extremists led by Prakash Nayak forcibly entered their house and tried to force them to give money for the Hindu rite. The intolerant Hindus verbally abused them, warning that they would not be allowed to stay in the village, and forced Nayak, his wife Bembitha, 52-year-old widow Lalitha Bai and her three children to go to the Banavara police station and filed a complaint. With GCIC intervention, all but Kumar Nayak were released at 11:30 p.m., with the evangelist detained until midnight on condition of reporting to the police station at 9 a.m. the next morning. After extensive questioning the next day, Nayak was released at 4 p.m. without being charged.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 18 attacked a worship service in Hyderabad, beating a pregnant woman and her child and seriously injuring a pastor’s ear. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that about 15 people from the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh barged into the service led by Pastor Siluvai Kumar and two others pastors, verbally abused the Christians and accused them of forceful conversion. The intolerant Hindus tore and threw Bibles and damaged the church facility, including musical instruments. The Hindu extremists later dragged a pastor identified only as Timothy to Kukatpally police station and filed a false charge of urinating on nearby temple idols. With the intervention of the local Christian leaders, police summoned the attackers to the police station, where the parties reached an agreement in which the extremists apologized to the Christians and pledged not to attack them.

Uttar Pradesh – On Oct. 15 Hindu extremists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) in Pratap Garh accused Pastor Sunil Singh of the Full Gospel Church of fraudulent conversion and threatened to kill him if his church continues its worship services. A source told Compass that the extremists went to the pastor’s house to deliver the threat. The Hindu hardliners filed a police complaint against the pastor of offering money to people to convert to Christianity. Police summoned the pastor to the police station for questioning, and an investigation was underway.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists on Oct. 13 stopped construction of a Methodist church building and verbally abused Pastor M. Gabriel in Nizamabad. The All India Christian Council (AICC) reported that the Hindu extremists along with the village head, Vital Reddy, were responsible for the hostilities. The pastor filed a police complaint charging harassment and contacted the district collector and superintendent of police, but no action had been taken at press time. An AICC representative told Compass that the pastor has stopped church construction to avoid further disturbances.

Karnataka – State police on Oct. 10 arrested Christians on false charges of forcible conversion in Gowdigere village, Hubli, Dharwad district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 9 a.m. about 30 local Hindu nationalists barged into the house of a Christian woman identified only as Venkatamma just after the end of a prayer service. The extremists falsely accused Friends Missionary Prayer Band Mission Pastor Murthy Nayak Ganesh and evangelist Chandrakanth Gopanna Lambani of fraudulently luring people to Christianity. Later the extremists forced the Christians to the village temple, and then telephoned Kundugol police who came to the temple and took the Christians to the station, charging them “punishment of criminal conspiracy,” among others. With GCIC intervention, the pastors were released on Oct. 12, but it was not clear at press time whether charges were still pending.

Punjab – Hindu extremists in Samral Chowk, Ludhiana on Oct. 6 severely beat and stabbed a Christian worker, according to the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI). At About 7:30 a.m. Vijay Kumar, an Indian Pentecostal Church worker and a former student of Punjab Bible College, was distributing gospel tracts when five Hindu extremists arrived in a vehicle with a non-numbered license plate and forced him into it. Beating and stabbing him with a knife in his chest and leg while taking him to different sites, they questioned him about how much money he had received to become a Christian and asked with which Christian groups he was associated, EFI reported. They later took him to a jungle and continued torturing him. A Christian search team began looking for Kumar at 7:30 p.m., and at 2 a.m. that night they received a phone call from him saying the assailants had taken him back to his village and thrown him from the running vehicle. He was taken to Christian Medical College with severe injuries but was recovering well. A complaint was filed at Shingaar police station, but no arrests had been made at press time.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists attacked a pastor and his family and later accused them of forced conversion and other false charges in Jyotipur village, Bilaspur district. Pastor Markus Das of the Assembly of God Church on Oct. 4 went to visit a family in Sadwani village along with his wife and children. On their way back their van had a flat tire, and as his friend Atul Arthur gave them a ride home, a group of people from the Rathore community – closely aligned with the Hindu extremist Bajrang Dal – attacked them. They accused Pastor Das of forcible conversion and tried to drag him and others out of the vehicle, causing minor injuries. They damaged the vehicle, smashing the windows. Pastor Das and his family managed to escape, but the next morning when he went back to pick up his van, he was told that the forest department had confiscated his vehicle after allegedly finding illegal wood in it. Pastor Das said the Rathore community set a trap. “They broke the front windshield of my car and planted the wood in my car when I was away,” he said. A First Information Report has been filed against Pastor Das indicting him for forced conversion and carrying illegal wood, and the pastor has filed an FIR against members of the Rathore Community in the Gorala police station.

Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists in Raipur on Oct. 3 tried to pressure a Christian family into giving up their faith. The extremists also threatened to publicly dishonor Pastor Kamlakar Roa Bokade by filing charges of forcible conversion against him if he did not stop visiting the family of Modichandan Sahu, a convert who has regularly attended worship services for the past 15 years. Modichandan Sahu’s two daughters had married non-Christians under social pressure, and one of her sons-in-law, Bhuwan Sahu, a member of the Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party, cut off relations with his in-laws several years ago because of his opposition to Christianity. Hindu extremists led by Bhuwan Sahu on Oct. 3 stormed Motichandan’s house, pressured her to give up her faith and tried to force her into Hindu ceremonies and ritual. The next day he began threatening Pastor Bokade, telling him by cell phone that they would frame him for forceful conversion. The Chhattisgarh Christian Forum has notified police of the harassment.

Kerala – Hindu extremist Bharatiya Janata Party newspaper The Janmabhumi Daily forced sub-editor Sredevi Nair to resign from her job on Oct. 1 after management learned that she had received Jesus Christ. Nair resigned two days before her baptism, reported The Indian Catholic. The managing editor of the Janmabhumi daily, Kummanam Rajasekharan, reportedly called her during work hours and said it was not possible for a convert to continue with the newspaper. The Indian Catholic reported that Rajasekharan urged Nair to convert her Christian husband to Hinduism and have a marriage ceremony at a Hindu temple. The Indian Express quoted Janmabhumi Editor Leela Menon as saying that that she was against conversion, and that Nair was trying to malign the newspaper after her resignation.

Madhya Pradesh – Members of the Hindu extremist Abhinav Bharat on Sept. 28 stormed into a house church in Adhartal, on the outskirts of Jabalpur. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 12:30 p.m. about 15 of the intolerant Hindus arrived on motorcycles and broke into the house church meeting shouting “Jai Sri Ram [Hail to Lord Ram)” and vandalized the property, including damaging the cross at the entrance. The Hindu extremists threatened 51-year-old Pastor Peter Johnson with further attacks. Pastor Johnson filed a complaint with Adhartal police station in Jabalpur, and police have reportedly forwarded it to the City Superintendent of Police and Collector. GCIC reported that police assured a speedy investigation. The Abhinav Bharat is already under the government scanner for anti-Muslim bomb blasts, and some of their leaders holding government posts are in custody and on trial.

Madhya Pradesh – For the third time, radicals from the minority Jains religion on Sept. 27 attacked and threatened the church of Pastor Mukesh Pal of Rajgarh, Dhar district. About a dozen of the Jains, all members of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, interrupted a worship service of some 500 mainly tribal people and cursed, criticized and accused Christians of fraudulent conversion, eating cow meat and mixing harmful chemicals into anointing oil used for prayers for the sick. The Jains religion advocates non-violence and vegetarianism. After those attending the church service argued with the radicals, the extremists left but returned with five policemen. A doctor was called on the spot to test the prayer oil, and he certified it as chemical-free. Nevertheless, police arrested Pastor Mukesh Pal and Ganpat Goyal, and many from the church followed and stood outside the police station demanding the release of the two Christians. After calls from Christian friends, high-ranking officers ensured that police release the two Christians. Pastor Pal told Compass that the radicals attacked their prayer hall in June 2006, badly damaging it. They arrived again in August 2006, warning the Christians not to hold more services and accusing them of forcible conversion, although they did no physical harm.

Andhra Pradesh – Hindu extremists led by Venkat Reddy attacked a Christian identified only as Abhishek, from Hebron Church, and accused him of forceful conversion on Sept. 25 in Ranga Reddy. The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) reported that the extremists attacked the Christian while he was conducting a Bible school class at Hamamguda, mercilessly beating him and accusing him of organizing the study program to forcibly convert children to Christianity. Abhishek received treatment at Apollo Santoshnagar Hospital, reported AICC. The extremists filed a police complaint against the Christian, but later forced the Christian to agree to stop the Bible program.

Report from Compass Direct News 

New, More Dangerous Hindu Extremist Groups Emerge in India

Christians concerned as rightwing factions splinter to form militant outfits.

PUNE, India, October 29 (CDN) — After more than a decade of severe persecution, India’s Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.

Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.

Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), the Sri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.

The Sri Ram Sene was one of the most active groups that launched a series of attacks on Christians and their property in and around Mangalore city in the southern state of Karnataka in August-September 2008, according to a report, “The Ugly Face of Sangh Parivar,” published by the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), in March 2009. In Jabalpur city in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, suspected extremists from the Abhinav Bharat attacked the Rhema Gospel Church on Sept. 28, according to the Global Council of Indian Christians. They had earlier attacked Pastor Sam Oommen and his family in the same city on Aug. 3.

The Hindu Dharam Sena has become especially terrifying for Christians in Jabalpur. Between 2006 and 2008, Jabalpur was plagued by at least three anti-Christian attacks every month, according to The Caravan magazine. In the western state of Gujarat and other parts of the country, the Rashtriya Jagran Manch has also violently attacked Christians, according to news website Counter Currents.

At an ecumenical meeting held in New Delhi on Saturday (Oct. 24), the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes, said the rise of fundamentalism was “seriously worrying” the church in India. The meeting was held to discuss prospects for immediate enactment of federal legislation to counter religious extremism with the proposed Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill.

RSS ‘Too Mild’

The new groups, formed mostly by former members of RSS-connected outfits, find the Hindu nationalist conglomerate too “mild” to be able to create a nation with Hindu supremacy.

The Sri Ram Sene, mainly active in south India, was started by Pramod Muthalik after he was expelled in 2007 from the Bajrang Dal, one of the most radical groups in the RSS family, for being an extremist, according to the daily newspaper DNA. The Hindu Dharam Sena was started by Yogesh Agarwal, former worker of the Dharam Jagran Vibhag (Religion Revival Department) of the RSS, also in 2007, as he felt “the RSS did not believe in violence,” according to The Caravan. He had earlier launched the Dharam Sena, an offshoot of the RSS, in Madhya Pradesh and neighboring Chhattisgarh state in 2006.

The founding members of the Abhinav Bharat, which was started in Pune in 2006, also believe that the RSS is not militant enough. Outlook magazine notes that its members were planning to kill top leaders of the RSS for their inability to implement Hindu extremist ideology. The Rashtriya Jagran Manch, also a breakaway group of the RSS founded in 2007, has close links with the Abhinav Bharat.

Based out of Goa, a western state with a substantial number of Christians, the Sanatan Sanstha provides the ideological base for Hindu militant groups. It has close links with the Sri Ram Sene and publishes a periodical, Sanatan Prabhat, which occasionally spews hate against Christians.

Media reports warn of tensions due to the recent spurt in activity of the splinter groups.

“The hardliners are now getting into more extreme activities,” The Times of India daily quoted V.N. Deshmukh, former joint director of India’s Intelligence Bureau, as saying on Oct. 21.

The most extremist sections are disillusioned with the way the RSS is functioning, said Mumbai-based Irfan Engineer, Director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. Most RSS cadres were mobilized with an ideology that called for elimination of minorities, mainly Muslims and Christians, he told Compass, adding that many of them were highly disappointed with the way the movement was being led.

He said the BJP was restricted when it led a coalition government at the federal level from 1998 to 2004, keeping it from effectively working towards a Hindu nation. A majority of the BJP’s allies in the National Democratic Alliance were not Hindu nationalists.

“One section of the [Hindu nationalist] movement believes in acquiring state power by participating in parliamentary democracy, and the other wants to create a Hindu nation by violent means,” Engineer said.

It is believed that the divide within the RSS family may deepen even further.

Analysts believe that Hindu nationalism is losing relevance in national politics, as was evident in the two successive defeats of the BJP in the 2004 and 2009 general elections. Consequently, the RSS and the BJP may distance themselves from the hard-line ideology or make it sound more inclusive and less militant.

After this year’s elections, the RSS increasingly has begun to talk about the threat China poses to India and the need for development in rural areas, instead of its pet issues like Islamist terrorism and Christian conversions. This has disappointed sections of the highly charged cadres even more, and the splintering may accelerate.

For the next few years, “we will see more new names and new faces but with the same ideology and inspiration,” said Anwar Rajan, secretary of the PUCL in Pune.

Whether the new groups truly have no connection with the RSS is not fully known – that appearance may be an RSS strategy to evade legal action, said Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of the Centre for Study of Society and Secularism in Mumbai.

He said relations between the RSS and the new groups can be compared with the ones between Maoist (extreme Marxist) rebels and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) in India. While the CPI-M distances itself from Maoist violence, it speaks for the rebels whenever security forces crack down on them.

At base, the newer rightwing groups surely have the sympathy of the RSS, said Pune-based S.M. Mushrif, former Inspector General of Police in Maharashtra, who has been observing Hindu extremist groups for years.

Report from Compass Direct News 


How Hindu extremist BJP will respond to surprising defeat, though, remains to be seen.

NEW DELHI, May 21 (Compass Direct News) – Christians in India are heaving a sigh of relief after the rout of a Hindu nationalist party in national and state assembly elections in Orissa state, a scene of anti-Christian arson and carnage last year.

The ruling centrist party won a second term, but concerns over persecution of minorities remain.

A local centrist party, the Biju Janata Dal (BJD), took charge of the government of the eastern state of Orissa today, and tomorrow the new federal government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be sworn in, representing a second term for the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by the left-of-center Indian National Congress, commonly known as the Congress Party.

“The election result is a statement against the persecution of non-Hindus,” Vijay Simha, a senior journalist and political analyst, told Compass.

“There were a string of incidents against non-Hindus, which were principally enacted by right-wing outfits,” added Simha, who reported on anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district of Orissa in August-September 2008. “Since the vote went against right-wing parties, the result is a strong rejection of extremist religious programs.”

John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council (AICC), said the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “defeated not by Christians or Muslims, but by secular Hindus.”

Over 80 percent of the more than 1 billion people in India are Hindu. Christians form around 2.3 percent of the population, and Muslims about 14 percent.

The Times of India on Saturday (May 16) quoted Rahul Gandhi, general secretary of the Congress Party, as saying that his party’s victory was a rejection of politics of caste and religion and acceptance of “clean and honest” policies symbolized by Prime Minister Singh.

“Internal criticisms within the BJP have brought out that it is losing popularity among youth as well as among the urban middle classes, two segments where it had been strong earlier and which represent the emergent India of the 21st century,” stated an editorial in the daily.


The BJP’s defeat at the national level is expected to compel the party to decide whether it turns to moderation in its ideology or more extremism in desperation.

“The BJP now faces a dilemma … Its appeal based on Hindutva [Hindu nationalism] and divisiveness stands rejected by the electorate,” wrote Prem Prakash of ANI news agency. “Where does the party go from here? … The party seems to be waiting for the RSS to provide answers for all this . . . The time has come for it to clearly define what kind of secularism it accepts or preaches.”

Hopes of Christians, however, abound.

“I am hoping that the BJP will learn that it does not pay to persecute minorities, and that civilized Hindus are disgusted with divisive antics of the RSS family,” said the AICC’s Dayal.

Father Dominic Emmanuel of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese is also hopeful.

“Let’s hope that the new government would work harder to protect all minorities, particularly the constitutional guarantees with regard to religious freedom,” he said.

Father Babu Joseph of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India said, “The Indian Catholic bishops are confident that the Congress Party-led UPA government will keep its promises of safeguarding the country from communal and divisive forces and restore confidence among all sections of people, particularly among the religious minorities for providing a stable, secular and democratic government.”

Threats Continue

The defeat of the BJP, however, may not bring much respite to those facing persecution at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups.

“One would expect a lessening in persecution of Christians and other non-Hindus – however, extremist groups often step up activities to garner funds and patronage when they are on the retreat,” warned journalist Simha. “So, one could also see a rise in anti-minority activities.”

The BJP, which began ruling the federal government in 1998, was defeated by the Congress Party in 2004, which, too, was seen as a mandate against Hindu nationalism. Prime Minister Singh said during his swearing in ceremony in May 2004 that the mandate for the Congress-led UPA was for change and “strengthening the secular foundation of our republic.”

After the BJP’s defeat, however, Christian persecution did not stop. According to the Christian Legal Association, at least 165 anti-Christian attacks were reported in 2005, and over 130 in 2006. In 2007, the number of incidents rose to over 1,000, followed by the worst-ever year, 2008, for the Christian minority in India.

Forsaking its extremist ideology could also be difficult for the BJP because there was a leadership change in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist conglomerate and the parent organization of the BJP, a month before the elections. On March 21, Mohan Rao Bhagwat, formerly general secretary, was made the head of the RSS.

On March 22, The Hindu quoted an anonymous leader of the BJP as saying, “Mr. Bhagwat has clarity in ideology; he is a quick decision-maker; he takes everybody along; and he expects 100 per cent implementation of decisions.”

A day before his ascent to the top position, Bhagwat had sent a message to RSS workers across the country to come out in full force and “ensure 100 percent voting” in “the interest of Hindus” during this year’s elections, added the daily.

Further, after the BJP’s defeat in 2004, sections of the cadre of the RSS and affiliated groups broke away from the conglomerate as they felt the organization was too “moderate” to be able to establish a Hindu nation. Among the known Hindu splinter groups are the Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), which operates mainly in the north-central state of Madhya Pradesh and the western state of Maharashtra, and the Sri Ram Sene (Army of Rama, a Hindu god), which recently became infamous for its violently misogynistic moral policing in the city of Mangalore, Karnataka.

Furthermore, there are pockets, especially in the central parts of the country and parts of Karnataka in the south, where the BJP remains a dominant party.

Embarrassing Defeat

Results of the general elections and state assembly polls in Orissa and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, which were held simultaneously between April 16 and May 13, were declared on Saturday (May 16).

Of the 543 parliamentary constituencies, 262 went to the UPA. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the BJP, got 160, while the Third Front, a grouping of smaller and regional parties led by communists, bagged only 79.

The Congress Party alone won 206 seats, whereas the BJP’s count was 116 – a strong indication that a majority of the people in Hindu-majority India are against Hindu extremism.

The UPA has the support of 315 Members of Parliament, far higher than the 272 minimum needed to form government.

The embarrassing defeat for the BJP came as a surprise. Hoping to gain from its hardcore Hindu nationalist image, the BJP had made leader Narendra Modi, accused of organizing an anti-Muslim pogrom in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, its star campaigner.

Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, spoke in around 200 election rallies, out of which the party could win only 18 seats outside Gujarat.

In Orissa, where the BJP had openly supported the spate of attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district following the murder of a Hindu nationalist leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by Maoists on Aug. 23, 2008, the party won not a single parliamentary seat – not even in Kandhamal.

The BJP candidate for the Kandhamal constituency, Ashok Sahu, contested from jail, as he was arrested on April 14 for making an inflammatory speech against Christians. Sahu hoped to gain the sympathy of Hindus by going to jail.

The BJP was sharing power with the ruling BJD in Orissa until March 17. The BJD broke up its 11-year-old alliance with the BJP over its role in the violence that lasted for over a month and killed more than 127 people and destroyed 315 villages, 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions, besides rendering more than 50,000 homeless.

Even in the state assembly elections in Orissa, the BJP faced a debacle. Of the 147 seats, it won only seven. The BJD swept the polls with 109 seats. The Congress Party managed to get 27.

The seven assembly seats won by the BJP include two from Kandhamal district. The BJP’s Manoj Pradhan, who is facing 14 cases of rioting and murder in connection with the Kandhamal violence, won the G. Udayagiri assembly seat in Kandhamal. In the Balliguda assembly constituency, also in Kandhamal, BJP sitting legislator Karendra Majhi retained the seat. Both G. Udayagiri and Balliguda were at the epicenter of the last year’s violence.

Even in Andhra Pradesh state, where Hindu nationalist groups have launched numerous attacks on Christians in the last few years, the BJP had a poor showing. Of the 42 parliamentary seats, the Congress Party won 33. The BJP’s count was nil.

In assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, the Congress Party won 158 of the 294 seats, gaining a majority to form the state government for another five-year term. The BJP did not get even one seat.

In the northern state of Uttarakhand, where the BJP is a ruling party, its count was zero. The Congress Party won all five parliamentary seats.

In Rajasthan state, also in the north, the BJP could win only four seats. The Congress Party, on the other hand, won 20. The BJP had passed an anti-conversion law in 2006 when it was a ruling party. The bill is yet to be signed by the state governor.

In the 2009 election, the BJP got 10 seats in the eastern state of Chhattisgarh, where the Congress Party got only one. In the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, the BJP won three of the four seats.

In the eastern state of Jharkhand, the BJP bagged eight seats, and the Congress Party only one. In Gujarat, the BJP’s tally was 15, whereas the Congress won 11. In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 16 and Congress 12.

Report from Compass Direct News