India must protect its Christians

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester

Indian persecutionThe real cause of the violence against Christians in Orissa, and now elsewhere in India, is the fear among extremist Hindu movements that many “untouchable” and “tribal” people will turn to the Christian faith because of the appalling treatment they receive from their caste-ridden communities and the love and care they are shown by Christian humanitarian organisations. Some of those who receive such care, but by no means all, become Christians of their own free will. Is this so unacceptable in secular and democratic India?

Scores of Christians have been murdered. Their homes, churches, presbyteries, convents and charitable institutions have been destroyed, allegedly in retaliation for the murder of a Hindu swami and some of his followers, probably by Maoist insurgents. During this time, it seems that the state authorities have not allowed Christians from other parts of India, let alone elsewhere, even to bring relief to fellow believers. The Federal Government also appears to have been paralysed and ineffective.

There is an outcry when a single Hindu is killed, and Christian leaders have strongly condemned any such incident. Christians in Orissa are, however, rapidly running out of cheeks to turn. Extremist Hindus are accusing Christians of deception and murder. This would be risible if it were not tragic: the disenfranchised Christians of Orissa are in no position to force anyone to convert. Such accusations must be taken as threats of further violence.

I have already suggested a fact-finding mission by an international delegation of religious, political and civic leaders. I hope this happens quickly so that the world can know the truth.

In the meantime, the Government of India has a solemn responsibility to prevent violence against Muslims and Christians by extremist Hindu groups. Christians in Orissa should be allowed to return to their lands, under armed protection, if necessary.

Read comments in The Times.

Dr Michael Nazir-Ali is Bishop of Rochester. He grew up in Pakistan and was previously Bishop of Raiwind in Pakistan.

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali, 27/10/2008