Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Office of the Prime Minister
Dear Prime Minister Vajpayee:
We are writing to express our deep concern about recent attacks on Christian communities, particularly in Gujarat, Orissa and other states. According to local human rights groups, incidents of violence, including assaults on church workers, nuns and priests, and arson attacks on churches and other property have increased sharply since December 25. In the most recent incident in Orissa, an Australian missionary and his sons were killed when a mob reportedly led by a local leader of the extremist Bajrang Dal group set fire to their van.
While we were gratified to see that your government has condemned that incident and other acts of violence and that a number of people have been arrested in connection with the attacks, we are greatly troubled by the fact that the attacks have continued.
We are also greatly troubled by allegations that local officials, including police officers, have given tacit support to rallies organized by groups that have fomented the violence. State and local officials have also attempted to downplay the destruction to Christian property, dismissing the burning of churches as attacks on mere "temporary structures." By characterizing the violence as a "communal clash" between local communities, some authorities appear to be suggesting that the attacks were spontaneous eruptions, but there is some evidence to suggest that they have been well-organized under the leadership of extremist Hindu groups. In Gujarat, the Bajrang Dal reportedly threatened local newspaper editors and journalists that they would be "taught a lesson" if they continued to publish reports about the incidents.
We are concerned that the communities affected represent some of the poorest in these states and include former Dalits and members of local tribal communities. These recent attacks fall into a pattern of abuse against such marginalized communities. They represent a clear failure on the part of both the central and state governments to take the necessary steps to ensure that such communities enjoy the full protection of their rights.
Despite the ongoing nature of the violence, local police have not provided adequate protection to villagers in the affected areas, even though there have been early warnings about the possibility of violence. According to reports we have received, in some cases police have refused to register complaints by members of the Christian community although they have registered complaints by others against the Christian community. Some who have filed charges with the police have reportedly been pressured to withdraw their complaints. We have also received reports that officers who have taken action in response to the attacks have been threatened with transfers.
While we have not investigated these incidents ourselves and would welcome an opportunity to visit Gujarat and Orissa to gather first-hand information from both sides, the public perception in targeted communities is that elements of the government have been complicit. Your government should make every effort to reverse this perception by ensuring that senior officials at the state and local levels issue unambiguous directives that are widely publicized that any civil servant or security officer found to be complicit in the attacks will be punished and that association of civil servants with groups preaching communal intolerance is strictly prohibited.
While we are aware that arrests have been carried out in connection with a number of these attacks, we are unaware that any of the leaders of the groups involved in the attacks has been arrested. If your government is going to stem the violence, it is essential that those organizing the attacks, as well as those carrying them out, be brought to justice.
We also urge you to encourage state governments to establish vigilance committees at the local level to monitor and report on incidents of violence and provide a mechanism for affected villagers to register complaints. The powers of the National Commission on Minorities could be expanded to enable it to establish branch offices and legal cells in affected states to investigate incidents and assist affected communities.
We thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and look forward to learning more about what your government has done to end the violence.
Sidney R. Jones
Executive Director, Asia Division
cc.: Gujarat Chief Minister Mr. Keshubhai Patel
Orissa Chief Minister Mr. J. B. Patnaik