Pressure mounts on BJP govt for action against anti-Christian violence
BARIPADA, India, Jan 26: India's Hindu nationalist government was under pressure from political allies and foreign governments Tuesday to punish the killers of an Australian evangelist and his two sons, the first victims of a Hindu extremist campaign against Christian missionaries, reports AP.
The month-long attacks against missionaries appeared to be building towards a political problem for Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's fragile coalition, with several partners demanding swift action to steam the anti-Christian violence.
In a funeral procession led by the lepers he cared for, Graham Staines and his two sons were buried in a common grave Monday, three days after they were burned to death in a nearby village by a mob screaming slogans of a radical Hindu movement.
The procession ended on the edge of town in a Christian cemetery where Staines' widow and daughter were the first to throw handfuls of pebbly earth, landing with a dull thud, on the three wooden coffins.
Policemen with guns slung over the shoulders guarded the funeral.
Police have arrested 49 suspects linked to the radical Bajrang Dal, a group affiliated to the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party that governs India. The Bajrang Dal denied its activists were involved in the killings.
Anti-Christian activity began Christmas Day in western India, where dozens of churches, schools and other Christian properties were destroyed. Hindu activists claimed the missionaries were bribing or forcing poor Hindus to convert to Christianity - a charge the missionaries deny.
Three regional parties supporting the protested the inaction against the Hindu radicals spearheading the anti-missionary campaign.
Mamata Banerjee, leader of the Calcutta-based Trinamul Congress Party, demanded the resignation of the powerful home minister in charge of security, Lal Krishna Advani, for his "failure to protect the country's minority communities."
Advani denied that Hindu organisations linked to his Bharatiya Janata Party were responsible for the attacks. "I have known these organisations and they have no criminal record," an Indian news agency quoted him as saying.
In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, the Telugu Desam Party demanded a meeting of a national council to formulate a consensus on how to deal with the issue, and reminded the government that it could withdraw it support. The powerful leader of the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, J Jayalalitha, demanded that the killers be hunted down like terrorists.
Prime Minister Vajpayee has condemned the violence and called for harsh, quick punishment for the attackers, but his response failed to satisfy his regional allies.
The withdrawal of any of Vajpayee's partners would throw the BJP-led coalition into a crisis that could lead to an early election or a takeover by the opposition Congress Party.
The United Christian Forum for Human Rights counted some 100 incidents ranging from the rape of nuns to Bible-burning in 1998. The figure represented more violence against Christians, the group said, than in any year since India's independence in 1947.
Some Christian leaders say it is no coincidence that violence has increased with the coming to power of the BJP, which they say has emboldened the fringe groups.
Staines embraced Indian culture and was embraced in turn in Baripada. The mayor spoke at his four-hour funeral service as did friends and ministers from several denominations.
Staines, who was 58, and his wife, Gladys, natives of Beaudesert, Australia, had three children born and raised in Baripada.
Staines settled here more than three decades ago, living in a simple concrete-floored house behind Baripada Baptist Union Church. He dispensed drug treatment to lepers from a church-run clinic, preached on occasion and led Bible-study camps.
"The way he lived his life has been an inspiration to us all," said Father Anand Pal, a Catholic priest.
In Australia, Foreign Minister Alander Downer, said Staines devoted his life to serving others and it said it was unconscionable that he and his sons should have been killed in this horrific way.
Even before the slaying, the European Union had voiced its concern over the wave of attacks.