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Senator exhorts officials in India to protect vulnerable Christians

NEW DELHI (BP)–Visiting U.S. Senator Arlen Specter expressed concern over attacks on Christians in India and said New Delhi is not doing enough to contain the attacks, the Internet news site CNSNews.com reported on the senator’s comments after meeting with Indian officials Jan. 4.

“I am not satisfied by the steps taken by Indian government to curb such incidents,” the Pennsylvania Republican said.

Indian officials are concerned that further attacks on the country’s Christian minority could affect the recently improving relations with the United States.

A senior official in the foreign office said: “Issues of non-proliferation and other known differences between India and the U.S. can be tackled amicably. However, if churches continue to be a target and Christian minorities are attacked, it could damage relations.

“The Christian right wing within the Republican ranks is assertive and is likely to be more so with [President-elect] George Bush at the helm.”

Senior Indian officials said the senator had been told that incidents of violence against Christians were isolated and were not part of a general hate campaign against a particular community.

The United States is not raising this issue in public as it might needlessly annoy Hindu hardliners and make things more difficult for the Christian community in India, American officials reportedly told the Indians.

The group Human Rights Watch says the past two years have witnessed more incidents of violence against the Christian community in India than in all the years since independence in 1947.

Attacks were reportedly carried out by groups linked to militant Hindu organizations.

In 2000, India witnessed about 100 reported attacks on Christians and their institutions, according to figures published by the Indian government.

Human rights activist Anil Dewan said stern action should be taken against fundamentalist organizations that carry out systematic attacks on Christians.

Dewan said the incidents have included attacks on priests, nuns and evangelists, disruption of prayer meetings and the exertion of pressure on churches, hospitals and other Christian charitable institutions.

Mahesh Jha, a researcher into “the assertion of Hindu identity” at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, agreed that firm action needed to be taken against perpetrators, saying, “The attacks on Christians pose a serious challenge to India’s image of secular democracy.”

The National Human Rights Commission, which has asked state governments to submit reports about attacks on Christians, has advised Hindu fundamentalist organizations to denounce the hate campaign.

Christians make up just 2.5 percent of India’s nearly 1 billion, mostly Hindu population.

Christians say attacks against them and their churches have increased since Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Hindu nationalist BJP party took power in March 1998.

India was shocked in January 1999 when a mob burned to death Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons as they slept in their car in eastern Orissa state.

The murders were followed by a spate of anti-Christian violence elsewhere.

Specter also addressed the Kashmir issue during his visit, expressing optimism of a speedy resolution of the longstanding dispute.

India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars since 1947 over Kashmir, a majority Muslim territory divided between the two countries.

Specter will visit neighboring Pakistan on Jan. 7. He is expected to discuss the Kashmir issue with the military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf.

Shankar Singh, foreign policy analyst at Delhi University, said it appeared Specter was visiting the region to assess the views of the two governments on contentious issues and would provide valuable input to Bush before the new administration formulates its policy for the region.

Teresita C. Schaffer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes in the Asia Monitor Bulletin that the United States has “actively but discreetly” encouraged India, Pakistan and Kashmiris to move toward a peace process.

“Without attempting to mediate or broker, it has demonstrated the utility of backstage diplomacy and can be expected to continue in this vein.”
Ramachandran is a correspondent with CNSnews.com. Used by permission.

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  • Suryamurthy Ramachandran