By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T
Philadelphia – Mahatma Gandhi would be horrified. In India, the land of the 20th century’s foremost witness for nonviolence, anti-Christian riots continue, according to Jesuit Father Tony Uvary, a professor at the Xavier Institute of Management in Jamshedpur. Father Uvary, visiting Philadelphia, gave a presentation on the situation at St. Joseph’s University Chapel on Oct. 25.
“The majority of Hindus are not violent, but there is a small group of fanatics who are doing this for their own political advancement,” Father Uvary said in an interview.
Trouble had already started in mid-August when a priest was murdered in Andhra Pradesh. Later in August, Swami Laksmananda Saraswati, along with four other radical Hindus, was slain. Although Maoist communist guerillas claimed credit for the killings, anti-Christian fundamentalists in Orissa blamed it on Christians and incited mobs to go on a rampage of destruction, forced conversions to Hinduism, and murder.
“In Orissa,” Father Uvary said, “it is state-sponsored violence. The (local) state is linked to the fanatics.”
The persecution is not based entirely on religion, Father Uvary notes. The Kandhamal District, where most of the violence takes place, is very poor and spanided between two castes: the Pana, with about 109,000 people and the Kandha, with about 336,000 people. The Pana are mostly Christians, and because of superior Christian schools, are better educated and more prosperous than the Kandha, who are mostly Hindu.
India itself is only about 2 percent Christian, of which about two-thirds are Catholic, Father Uvary explained. Because of their greater numbers, it is Catholics who have suffered the most injury.
Although Hindus make up the major portion of the nation’s population, they have been alarmed by inroads made through Christian conversions. Using the excuse of the murder of Swami Saraswati, the radicals, who Father Uvary charges have been receiving financial support from Indian Hindus in America, have been deliberately stirring up hatred against Christians in the villages, thereby causing the riots and at the same time cementing their own power.
“The villagers are mostly illiterate and poor and don’t know what they are doing,” Father Uvary said. He stresses at no time has any Christian retaliated against the Hindus because of the riots.
So far, it is estimated more than 4,000 homes have been destroyed, at least 149 churches and 11 Christian schools and colleges attacked and more than 300 village chapels destroyed.
The death toll is now over 100. A Catholic nun was gang-raped, the local archbishop was threatened with death and many were injured or forced to flee to the jungle or refugee camps.
The violence has spread from the area around Orissa to other parts of India, even Christian strongholds in the South.
The Church in India is remarkably strong despite the trials it is undergoing. It does need assistance to rebuild the many churches destroyed, but more important, Father Uvary believes, it needs people to be made aware of the persecution so that public pressure will make the Indian government undertake the forceful measures that are needed to put a stop to the violence.
“The world community condemns these acts,” he said. “No group, Hindu or Christian, should be attacked this way.”
Donations for relief efforts in Orissa, India may be sent to Jesuit Missions P.O. Box 64818, Baltimore, MD 21264.
Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.