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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK

World: South Asia

India under fire over Christian rights

Attacks on Christians prompted a protest demonstration in New Delhi

By Religious Affairs correspondent Jane Little

The US-based Human Rights Watch has accused the Indian Government of failing to prevent violence against Christians, and of exploiting sectarian tensions for political ends.

In a 37-page report, the organisation says that attacks against Christians have increased "significantly" since the Hindu Nationalist BPJ party came to power in 1998.

It accuses right-wing Hindu extremist groups close to the BJP of being responsible for most of the attacks.

The uncompromising report will be welcomed by Christians in India who have consistently accused hardline Hindus of creating a climate of religious hatred in which attacks against minorities go unpunished.

Killings and rapes

Christians are the new scapegoats in India's political battles according to the report's author, Smita Narula, with over a 100 cases of anti-Christian violence according to India's parliament.

Chairman of India's National Commission for Minorities Tahir Mahmood: "During the past two years the situation has aggravated"
They include the killing of priests, the raping of nuns, and the destruction of churches, schools and cemeteries.

While much of the tension has been generated by accusations of forceful conversions to Christianity, the report notes that thousands of Christians have been forced to convert to Hinduism.

It concludes by stating that - as with attacks against Muslims in the early 90s - attacks against Christians are part of a campaign by right-wing Hindu groups to exploit communal clashes for political ends.

Religious hatred

It points the finger at several groups close to the governing BJP, which it says has not only failed to protect minorities but offered tacit justification for the attacks.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who has called for a national debate on conversions, recently said that reducing communal violence was one of the main achievements of his government.

But Christian leaders believe religious hatred lies behind many cases, including the murder in January of an Australian missionary and his sons, and the recent murder of a priest and abduction of a nun.

They are angry that the perpetrators remain at large and some strongly hinted to their congregations that they shoudn't vote for the Hindu nationalists in the current elections.

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