Church attacks dent Karnataka’s civilised image

September 24th, 2008 - 3:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata PartyBangalore, Sep 24 (IANS) Karnataka’s reputation as a communally harmonious state has taken a severe beating following brazen attacks on churches widely blamed on rightwing Hindu groups. The widespread revulsion over the vandalism that began Sep 14 in coastal Karnataka is giving way to concern that the violence as well as allegations that Hindus are being converted may be used by fringe groups to create a gulf between Hindus and Christians.

This is the first time in Karnataka that such a largescale assault on churches and prayer halls has taken place, including in cosmopolitan Bangalore.

The vehemence of the Christian protest in the coastal city of Mangalore, which bore the brunt of the vandalism, was also unprecedented.

The attacks have caused severe embarrassment to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because they happened just three months after it came to power in Karnataka — and in south India — for the first time.

With the Bajrang Dal reportedly owning responsibility for some of the attacks, the BJP has been exposed to criticism that Hindu groups linked to it are emboldened because the party is in power.

Industry leaders, writers, expatriates and even the man on the street IANS spoke to in Bangalore are furious that the authorities failed to prevent the attacks.

“Such violence is not acceptable in a civilised society. Differences, disputes and grievances have to be resolved in a peaceful manner and through dialogue, not by taking law into hands,” said Infosys Technologies board member T.V. Mohandas Pai.

“It is ridiculous to attack places of worship whatever be the cause or provocation. The incident shows the state’s law and enforcement machinery has failed,” he added.

Biocon chairperson Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw said from Spain: “It is very shocking that such things are taking place in a cosmopolitan city like Bangalore. The government should have pre-empted them in the wake of similar attacks in other parts of the state.

“Such incidents in a global IT hub like Bangalore bring a bad name, spoil the fair image of its citizens and cause apprehension in the minds of investors - in India and overseas.”

According to Jnanpeeth awardee U.R. Ananthamurthy, it appears extremists in BJP are doing this to unseat Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa and bring in “a Modi” — a reference to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who is a hero for Hindu groups.

Said theatre personality, playwright and another Jnanpeeth awardee Girish Karnad: “The perpetrators are testing the tolerance of our society. Violence, abuse and taking law into one’s hands is not justified, whatever the cause or provocation.”

Christians are also shocked that this could happen in Karnataka.

Said Mary Triza of Don Bosco Institute: “As devout Catholics or Protestants, we are never in favour of conversions, especially forcible. If such things are happening, let the law take its course.

“By attacking churches or prayers halls, they will not be able to stop such activities. Such acts will only provoke people and lead to counter-attacks.”

Expatriates in the IT hub, estimated to be around 18,000, including about 4,000 students, are simply stunned.

Stephanie Collins, a language trainer from Canada who has worked in Bangalore for two years, said: “Bangalore is one of India’s best cities and it offers everyone, even expatriates, a sense of belonging.

“But the recent attacks on Christians is making me think twice. Why in a secular country like India are Christians considered outsiders and are vulnerable to violence?”

Saba Khan, a student of biotechnology from Iran, said he came to Bangalore a year ago as the city provides the best - and safe - educational opportunities.

“But now I am scared. My parents in Tehran are worried,” said the 22-year-old pursuing a masters in biotechnology at Bangalore University.

Ester Rupa Sahu, a BPO employee from Shillong, felt such incidents were damaging the reputation of Karnataka, known across the country as an “oasis of peace”.

D. Muralidhar, president of the Federation of the Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FKCCI), added: “It is a bad dream. Karnataka is known for harmonious relations among different communities. Industry is concerned about such attacks as they do not take place in any civilised society.”

G.B. Atri, a former wing commander in the Indian Air Force and now the Brahmin face of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Karnataka, was of the view that the “level of patience in the society is coming down. Goondas (thugs) should not be allowed a free hand”.

(V.S. Karnic contributed to this story)

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