Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Jhabua (Fides Service) – After days of tension and violence the situation appears to have returned to normal in Jhabua, Madhya Pradesh state on the border with Gujarat. In the past few days Jhabua has been the scene of riots led by Hindu fundamentalists belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajragdal and Durga Vahini nationalist movements, looking for an excuse to attack Christian communities and spread false information with regard to followers of Christ.
The fundamentalists accused the Sisters and headmaster of a Catholic school in Jhabua of being responsible for the death of a young tribal girl brutally murdered in the school grounds on 11 January. After a few days investigation, during which extremists instigated acts of violence, the police arrested the murderer and the emergency was over.
The events gave rise to concern in the local Church. In a press conference in Delhi, Cardinal Telesphore Toppo Archbishop of Delhi, recently elected president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said “the violence in Jhabua would not seem to be accidental. It would appear to have been purposely planned by fundamentalists to keep tension high. The situation is serious”. Eyewitness said that most Hindu extremists involved were not local people, they were seen to arrive from Gujarat; a fact which would confirm the suggestion that the events were planned.
Bishop Chancko Thottumarickal of Jhabua sent a letter to Fides expressing deep concern for an ideological anti-Christian propaganda campaign in his diocese.
It all began on 11 January with the murder of the girl in the grounds of the Catholic school. On 13 January Hindu fundamentalists organised protests in various parts of the city, distributing anti-Christian leaflets and posters. Infuriated crowds attacked Catholic places of worship and institutions and the police had difficulty in calming the rioters. A few priests were taken in custody for questioning by the police. On January 14 more than 1.000 people attacked Jhabua school holding the 10 priests, 10 Sisters and 75 girls inside hostage for several hours.
On January 15, chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Uma Bharti, a member of the Baratiya Janata Party nationalist party, visited the district and called for calm and harmony. He called a number of meetings at which the Bishop was also present.
Later that day the police said they had identified and arrested the murderer, Manoj Yadav, who works in an office not far from the Catholic church. But this did not stop the violence. In Amkut village 80 km from Jhabua a Hindu and two Christians died in clashes between Hindus and Lutherans. In Alirajpur Salesian Father Stanny Ferreira was beaten savagely by fundamentalists and abandoned with severe injuries.
“For the moment the situation appears to have returned to normal,. But this is only an appearance: tension is still brewing and could explode any moment” local sources told Fides.
“In the meantime the defamatory anti-Christian campaign continues. Shameful anti-Christian posters have been pasted on walls all over the city, blackening the name of the Church. There is a danger of fresh outbreaks of violence” Bishop Chancko Thottumarickal told Fides.
(PA) (Fides Service 21/1/2004 lines 52 words 619)