Hindu nationalist politics fuels anti-Christian campaign in India

October 13, 2008

Christians at New Delhi protest against Orissa violence, 2 Oct 2008/Vijay MathurOne of the weakest responses when someone reads about religious strife in a developing country is to mutter something about “ancient enmities” or “religion is the root of all evil” and turn to the next story. It takes only a little scratching beneath the surface to find there are often clear present- day political motives behind the violence and religion is being used as a pretext to help press one group’s claims.

Alistair Scrutton from our New Delhi bureau has just done a bit of that scratching in Orissa, where at least 35 people — mostly Christians — have died in religious strife since late August, and he got a very direct response. Look at how his analysis “Religious card being played in India election game” starts off:

“Asked when he thought attacks by Hindu mobs against Christians would end in this remote part of eastern India, local Christian leader Ranjit Nayak replied immediately, and with a resigned smile. “March,” Nayak said, referring to a general election due in early 2009. “This is all totally politically motivated.”

It’s not only about the oppression of Christians in Orissa, either. The Hindu- nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is accused of trying to exploit the Orissa strife to rally Hindu voters, is also suspected of pressing a tough line on terrorism as a way to stoke Hindu mistrust of Muslims. The BJP denies any part in the attacks, but many people blame its grassroots organisations for them. The government is considering banning one such group, Bajrang Dal.

Corpse of Christian woman burned in Orissa orphanage attacked by protesters, 28 August 2008/stringer “It is not by accident that these incidents are increasing,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is from the Sikh minority, told the National Integration Council on Monday. “We need to collectively consider whether short-term narrow political ends are driving some of us to encourage forces of divisiveness.”

While in Orissa, Scrutton also took a look at the issue of forced conversions and produced a grim account of the strife in his story “Tit-for-tat conversions haunt India.”

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