Thousands of men, women, and children dragged from churches and slashed. This has been India’s reality for the last four weeks. The genocide of the Christian minority in the country once called the world’s greatest democracy has been as much brutal as neglected by the international community.
Hinduism is believed to be one of the most tolerant religions in the world. But stirred in nationalism and traditionalism, it could produce an explosive mixture, similar to one that has so far claimed over 100,000 Christian lives in India. Earlier the same fate befell Muslims that comprised around 13 percent of the entire population, and who were forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring Pakistan. The problem that Indian Christians are facing is even more perilous as they have nowhere to go. The 20 million people who admit to believing in Jesus Christ are on the brink of physical extermination.
The massacre was triggered by the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati on August 23. Saraswati played a leading role in a chauvinistic organization that lobbies to eradicate all foreign influence in India, including non-Hindu religions. Although Maoist rebels quickly issued a letter in which they claimed responsibility for the murder, the nationalists shifted the blame onto Christians, who comprised a third of the population of the Orissa district where Saraswati was killed. “Christians will do anything to spread Christianity and convert more and more people,” read one comment published hours after the assassination. On the same day, the first Christians were butchered.
The exact number of those killed is difficult to estimate as very few foreign correspondents are allowed into the affected regions. According to Union of Catholic Asian News, over 100,000 Christian men, women, and children could have been killed between August 23 and September 4. In addition, around 50,000 people were reported to have found shelter in the woods whereas some 15,000 fled to refugee camps. The number of Christians raped and mutilated is unknown. The same source claims that almost every single Christian shrine in the Orissa district was destroyed within the first days of September. “The attacks have worn off because they have nothing left to attack,” said Archbishop Raphael Cheenath of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar.
Christianity is seen in India as a dangerous force. Unlike Hinduism, which accepts the caste system, Christianity preaches equality of all people. The rise of nationalism coincided with the ascendancy of the conservative Indian People’s Party (BJP) in the late 1990s. Between 1967 and 1996 authorities recorded only 40 anti-Christian attacks in all India, this number has risen to hundreds every year since the BJP formed a government in 1999. Although the party has been out of power for four years now, it still controls several districts, including Orissa where the genocide began.
The word genocide is not an exaggeration. In fact, the train of events in India closely resembles the prelude to the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus that shook Rwanda in 1994. There, too, the bloodshed began after an important political figure died under suspicious conditions. Soon people were dragged from their homes and burned alive in churches – the practices now repeated in India. The Rwandan genocide was also neglected by the world media which at that time was predominantly focused on civil wars in the Balkans. But as the United Nations and other human rights organizations called for an intervention in Rwanda, now they are conspicuous by their silence.
The slaughter of 100,000 people in a country of over one billion citizens may easily escape one’s notice. The massacre of Indian Christians in Orissa and other districts has sunk in the sea of other conflicts that recent months have abounded in: Georgia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq – to name only the few. Words will not resurrect the lives that are already lost. But they may stop further killing.
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