Violence continues

India | As Christians and Hindus clash in India, a group gathers in front of the White House to protest and pray
by Emily Belz
Posted 9/26/08, 12:00 am

WASHINGTON-Mobs threw stones into two churches on Monday in Bangalore, India, while 500 Hindus burned 50 homes and two prayer halls, part of a surge of anti-Christian violence that has consumed India for the last few weeks. In just the past week, Hindu extremists have vandalized more than 20 churches.

With a death toll of 27 during this period of clashes and the displacement of tens of thousands of Christians, Indians are saying the violence, which has spread to five states, could burn on until elections in May.

Unfortunately, some Christians have retaliated. On Thursday a mob of 50 Christians hacked a Hindu man to death in the state of Orissa, a maelstrom of the violence. Now the Associated Press is calling the violence "Hindu-Christian clashes."

Also on Thursday, about 50 people gathered in the cold and rain outside of the White House to hold a prayer vigil and rally on behalf of Indian Christians. The gathering coincided with President Bush's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

"If you shout it won't reach the walls of the White House," said Jaga Dish Christian, whose parents changed their last name to indicate they were Christians.

"You need a crowd and we are very few people," he said from under an umbrella at the rally.

Christians make up about 2.5 percent of India's 1.1 billion people. Hindus account for 80 percent of the population, which may explain the Indian government's inaction.

"The politicians have to please them," said Christian. "Their hands are tied."

Much of the violence stems from Hindu anger about converts to Christianity. Some Hindu nationalists, whose party leads the current government, have accused Christians of forced conversions, but most say the violence is politically motivated.

Faith McDonnell of the Institute on Religion and Democracy said at the rally that Christians' affront of the Hindu caste system, a rigid hierarchical society, was a main spark of the violence.

"We're standing up for the Gospel," said Leena Varghese at the rally. "Who knows who will hear?"

With the United States in the middle of a financial crisis, coverage of the attacks against Christians has been minimal.

McDonnell believes the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom should add India as a country of particular concern, a label that is reserved for nations with the most egregious violations of religious liberty. A member of the commission said Thursday that they would take India seriously in the next round of talks in March.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Emily Belz

Emily is a senior reporter for WORLD Magazine based in New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

Read more from this writer