Although the highest number of incidents took place in Gujarat, attacks have also been reported in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Manipur, West Bengal, and New Delhi. Most of the states are not BJP-led, but many in the north and west of India have strong sangh parivar networks. Some of the attacks, including the killing of an Australian missionary and his two sons in Orissa and the gang rape of four nuns in Madhya Pradesh, are described below. While they represent only a portion of the many incidents reported throughout the country, they are included to demonstrate that the events in Gujarat were part of a much broader pattern.151
A series of attacks took place between February 1998 and June 1999 in the state of Maharashtra. On February 14, 1998, a hospital run by the Catholic Hospital Association of India was attacked and ransacked, allegedly by members of the RSS in Latur, Maharashtra. On October 16, a prayer hall gathering in Kumbale village in Nasik was attacked. The prayer house was also destroyed. On December 25, armed activists from the Bajrang Dal accosted about 1,000 people attending a dance at the St. Francis School in Borivill, Bombay. The assailants were arrested and then released. In June 1999, the Shiv Sena launched a renewed series of attacks against Christian mission-run kindergarten schools, allegedly because they were not giving admission to the Shiv Sena activists' children. On June 26, suspected Sena members vandalized the Sacred Heart school in Worli, Bombay.152
A similar pattern developed in Uttar Pradesh. On September 23, 1998, the same day four nuns were gang raped in Jhabua district, Madhya Pradesh (see below), nuns in a Clarist convent in Bhagpat were attacked and robbed. The next day, a group of men smashed the front door of the F.C.C. Convent in Bhagpat, desecrated the chapel, assaulted several nuns, and ransacked all their rooms and belongings. On September 26, activists of the Hindu Jagran Manch, the Bajrang Dal and the Rana Tharu Parishad broke into the Union Church in Amaun in Udham Singh Nagar district. They placed an idol of the Hindu god Shiva in the church and conducted prayers for two hours.
In Bihar, Luke Putaniyil of Missionaries of Charity was murdered on March 25, 1998, in Noeada, a town near Patna, the state capital. On May 15, a headmaster of a Catholic school, Brother Modestus Tirkey, was attacked in Ranchi, Bihar, while in August, a Catholic church was demolished in Kobatoli village in Gumla district, the same district where two Catholic priests were murdered in 1996. On July 23, 1998, the Delhi government attempted to close down churches, claiming that the serving of sacramental wines violated liquor laws. On September 26, a statue of St. Bernard was hacked and thrown out of the compound of Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi.
Christians in India's southern states also came under attack. In Karnataka, a total of eleven Christian-run schools in Bangalore, Mysore, Hubli, Mandya, and Belari were attacked by Bajrang Dal activists on July 17, 1998. On November 22, the St. Thomas Evangelical Church of India in Kulai was attacked while a prayer service was in progress. The pastor and several worshippers were severely beaten. In Tamil Nadu, a group of Christians in Ayyampalayam in Erode district, were brutally attacked in February 1998, and the Bethany Fellowship Church was destroyed. In April 1998, VHP activists destroyed the Gibson Central Baptist Church in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh. In Kerala the same month the Little Flower Church was attacked and a crucifix was desecrated.
Graham Staines and the Wadhwa Commission
On January 23, 1999, in Manoharpur village in Keonjhar district, Orissa, a mob of Hindu extremists burned to death an Australian missionary, Graham Stewart Staines, and his two sons, Philip, nine, and Timothy, six, as they slept in their car.153 Over one hundred people reportedly poured petroleum on the station wagon and set it on fire. As the family tried to escape, the mob held them back while shouting pro-Bajrang Dal slogans and physically assaulted villagers who tried to come to their rescue. Staines had worked for over thirty years in a leper colony in the state.
Police officials initially arrested forty-nine people in connection with the killing154 and identified them as members of the Bajrang Dal. Police also claimed that they had a photo of Dara Singh, the leader of the mob and active member of the Bajrang Dal who had been leading a campaign against conversions by Christian missionaries in surrounding areas. The case was handed over from the local police to the crime branch of the state police. It was then transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation, which began its investigation after a first information report (FIR) was registered with the police on March 29.155 Seven days after the killings, a judicial commission of inquiry, headed by Supreme Court Justice D. P. Wadhwa, was also set up to probe the circumstances surrounding the incident. The commission, however, blamed the Indian government for failing to provide it with adequate resources for the inquiry and charged that the government was not "serious" about finding the culprits.156 The commission also criticized the Intelligence Bureau and the intelligence wing of the Orissa police for lacking information on mounting tensions in the area prior to the incident.157
Investigations by the CBI, the Crime Branch of the Orissa police, and the Wadhwa Commission have all concluded that the conversion of tribals was a motivating factor behind the Staines murders. According to CBI Superintendent of Police Loknath Behera, Dara Singh had encouraged his accomplices to "go and assault the Christian missionaries who have come to Manoharpur, as they are indulging in conversion of innocent tribals into Christianity and spoiling our religion and culture."158
While the BJP condemned the murders, India's defense minister claimed that the attack was part of an international conspiracy to defame India, while Home Minister L. K. Advani came to the Bajrang Dal's defense by proclaiming that he "knew" these organizations, and that they had "no criminality in them."159 The Bajrang Dal and related sangh parivar organizations denied any involvement in the killings, though the VHP acknowledged its opposition to conversion activities of Christian missionaries. The president of the Bajrang Dal also alleged that Staines had been engaging in mass conversions rather than social work, and that helping lepers was a mere cover for his proselytizing activities.160
Barely a month after the incident, at a meeting held in Bombay on February 21, 1999, members of the Bajrang Dal pledged to "uproot" Christian missionaries from India. Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain announced, "We will uproot you and your activities from this land. We will expose you completely,"161 as he accused Christians of attempting to convert all of Hindu-majority India to Christianity. On June 21, 1999, the Wadhwa Commission submitted its 250-page report to the Home Ministry.162 The commission issued a public statement decrying the incident as "an entirely unjustified act which was a slur on humanity and a blot on civilized society." Christian groups in India, including the United Christian Forum for Human Rights, demanded that the report be made public "so that the conspiracy behind the murders is unearthed."163 On June 22, the Central Bureau of Investigation charged eighteen persons with the killing of Staines and his sons. Eight of the eighteen accused were in judicial custody while one was released on bail.164 The remaining nine, including Dara Singh, are still at large.
In its report, the commission stated that Staines had been murdered for conducting "jungle camps" in Orissa and for preaching Christianity to converted tribals. The report defined jungle camps as "a congregation of Christians of a locality and some invitees. The purpose of the camp is said to be interaction among Christians and spiritual renewal. A jungle camp means four days of Bible teaching, prayer and fellowship." 165 Though some tribals were baptized at these camps, the commission found no evidence of forced conversions. Investigators also found that Staines himself had not been involved in a single conversion.166 The report also concluded that Dara Singh was directly involved in the killings, but it claimed that he acted alone and fell short of blaming the Bajrang Dal. Opposition parties labeled the report a "whitewash," while allies of the BJP largely welcomed the findings.167
Testimony solicited by the commission uncovered that on January 21, two days before the murders, Singh had revealed to his associates his plan to assault the Christian pastors who were converting people at Manoharpur. Eyewitnesses to the incident said that the mob had shouted "Jai Bajrang Dal" and "Dara Singh Zindabad" ("Praise Bajrang Dal" and "Long Live Dara Singh") after setting fire to the vehicle in which Staines and his sons had been sleeping. Singh had previously been implicated in eleven criminal cases, some against Muslim cattle traders under the pretext of protecting the sacred cow. The commission also found that tensions ran high between Christian and non-Christian communities in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts for some time prior to the incident.168
Singh struck again on August 26, 1999 when he led an angry mob to attack the garment shop of Sheikh Rehman, a Muslim trader in the state's Mayurbhanj district. In the presence of 400 eyewitnesses and in broad daylight, Rehman's arms were chopped and his body was set on fire.169 The incident took place a week before the start of national elections. With another massive combing operation underway, Singh continues to evade arrest-despite his numerous television appearances in the months following the Staines murder in January.170
The BJP and the Congress party have each accused the other of using Rehman's murder for political ends. In New Delhi the BJP demanded the resignation of Orissa Chief Minister Giridhar Gamang. BJP general secretary Narendra Modi told reporters, "This is the result of the incompetence and laxity of the Congress government in Orissa. Preoccupied with its own internal squabbles, the Gamang government is now busy trying to extract political mileage from its own failure." The Congress claim that Dara Singh had escaped to Uttar Pradesh "has now been shown to be a lie," he added. "He was all along in Congress-ruled Orissa. The Congress government is therefore guilty of criminal negligence and willfully misleading the people."171
One week later, on September 2, 1999, Rev. Arul Doss was killed by a gang of fifteen unidentified assailants. Doss was attacked while resting inside a makeshift church in Anandpur village, Keonjhar district. As he tried to escape, he was hit in the chest with arrows released from a bow and then beaten to death. The church was also burned down. 172 Voting in Orissa for the staggered general elections was scheduled for September 25. Doss had traveled to the remote village to minister to fifteen Christian families who lived there. A statement made by New Delhi-based Concerned Citizens claimed that, "As the electioneering is coming to a close, the forces of hatred and communalism are making their last bid to power by unleashing terror."173 At the time of this writing, no suspects had been identified by the police and no one had been arrested.174
Madhya Pradesh Rapes
One of the most egregious incidents involved the gang rape of nuns in the state of Madhya Pradesh. At about 2:00 a.m. on September 23, 1998, four nuns who operate a medical clinic in Preetisharan Ashram in Nawapura village, Jhabua district, were gang raped by more than a dozen men.175 According to Father Lucas, secretary of Indore Diocese, a group of about eighteen or twenty armed men tried to enter the convent by pretending to be the relatives of a sick boy who needed medical attention. When the four nuns refused to open the gate, the men forced their way in and looted cash (about Rs. 20,000 or US$476 worth) and valuables. They then proceeded to gang rape the four nuns who had taken refuge in a chapel inside the ashram.176
The district administration claimed that the incident was a random attack by local tribals, some of whom had criminal records. Tribals constitute 84 percent of the population of Jhabua district. The district collector stated that tribals often engaged in looting, theft, and dacoity,177 and that "there have been cases when they have committed rape. Only very often the rape cases have gone unnoticed."178 Others contend that tribals are often made the scapegoat in such cases because of their alleged "criminal inclination." Christian groups in India have also been reluctant to accept that the gang rape was merely a random attack by tribals and claim that the incident was part of a series of organized attacks against the Christian community throughout the country.179
The BJP condemned the rapes as "outrageous" and called for the offenders to be punished on a "most immediate basis."180 The VHP, however, accused the nuns of trying to convert local Hindus to Christianity, while VHP secretary B. L. Sharma claimed that the incident reflected the "anger of patriotic Hindu youth against the anti-national forces."181 The BJP did not criticize such inflammatory remarks and instead accused opposition parties of giving the incident communal overtones. Home Minister L. K. Advani made a statement in Parliament that twelve of the twenty-four accused rapists belonged to the Christian community, adding that the statement was based on information obtained from the Madhya Pradesh government. Human rights activist and journalist John Dayal of the United Christian Forum for Human Rights saw the FIR registered in the case and spoke to the DSP in-charge. He told Human Rights Watch that no one identified by the victims was Christian and that no Christians had been accused:
On day one, they said nothing happened. On day two a surgeon's report was issued saying the nuns had been raped. Baikunt Lal Sharma Prem, a former BJP member of parliament, deputy head of the VHP and head of the Bajrang Dal, said that the nuns were asking for it. On day three, Kanchan Gupta, the editor of BJP Today and a BJP spokesperson said, "It's only a rape." On day four, Gupta asked that we not read any religious meaning into it. They were not raped because they were nuns, he implied. Rather they were nuns who were raped. On day five, the superintendent of police [SP] arrested fifteen people and made a case against seventeen. The nuns identified all fifteen, and the SP told them that none of the accused tribals were Christian. One week later, BJP spokespeople quoted police and government sources as saying that twelve of the people were found to be Christian. We wrote to the papers to print a rejoinder, but they refused.182
The BJP also blamed the Congress-led Madhya Pradesh government for the crime, and accused the state government of "shying away from a CBI probe of the case."183 The National Commission of Minorities recommended a judicial inquiry and a CBI probe into the incident.184 While the NCM said it was satisfied with the action taken by the state government, and with the progress of the investigation, it pointed out that the local police had delayed the registration of the First Information Report and the medical examination of the nuns. To date, almost half of those accused are still at large.185
151 The cases are among those documented in the Indian Social Institute's State of Human Rights in India 1998, and the "India Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998," in U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1998 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, 1999).
152 Hemant Babu, "Sena attacks Christian mission-run Mumbai school," India Abroad News Service, June 28, 1999.
153 "Australian Missionary, sons burnt alive," The Hindu, January 24, 1999.
154 "49 Arrested for Orissa killings," IndiaExpress Network, January 25, 1999, indiaexpress.com/news/national/19990125-0.html.
155 "CBI chargesheets 18 in Australian missionary killing," The Hindu, June 23, 1999.
156 "Delhi hindering probe into missionary slaying: Commission," Agence France-Presse, March 16, 1999.
157 "Wadhwa panel unhappy over IB's failure," The Hindu, May 22, 1999.
158 "Conversion may have been behind Staines killing," The Hindu, May 21, 1999.
159 "Action, not Gimmicks! - BJP's Panicky moves do not impress," The Statesman, February 1, 1999.
160 Natasha Mann, "Burning down the mission," The Scotsman, April 16, 1999.
161 "Hindu militants vow to uproot Christian missionaries from India," Agence France-Press, February 21, 1999.
162 "Christian group demands that government release report on missionary's murder," Associated Press, June 23, 1999.
163 "Grp demands India release report on missionary's murder," Dow Jones International News, June 23, 1999.
164 "CBI chargesheets 18 in Australian missionary killing," The Hindu, June 23, 1999.
165 Ajith Pillai, "Staines Murder: Documenting a Crime," Outlook Online, July 5, 1999, http://www.outlookindia.com/previous/070599/frcontent.htm.
167 "Parties differ on findings of Wadhwa panel," The Economic Times of India (Delhi), August 7, 1999.
168 "Staines Murder...," Outlook Online.
169 "Missionary killer burns alive Moslem trader in eastern India," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 28, 1999.
171 "Stunned Orissa grapples with gruesome act," The Times of India, August 29, 1999, http://www.timesofindia.com/290899/29home1.htm.
172 "Police search for killers of Catholic priest in eastern India," Associated Press Newswires, September 3, 1999.
174 "Christian killed in bow and arrow attack in eastern India," Associated Press Newswires, September 2, 1999.
175 "Catholics protest against gang-rape of nuns," The Statesman, September 24, 1998.
177 Dacoity is defined under Section 391 of the Indian Penal Code as robbery committed by five or more persons.
178 "Catholics protest against gang-rape...," The Statesman.
180 "Indian church leaders blame violence on militant Hindu conspiracy," Agence France-Presse, September 29, 1998.
181 "Hindu militants justify attacks on nuns," Agence France-Presse, September 29, 1998.
182 Human Rights Watch interview, New Delhi, April 24, 1999.
183 "MP Government shying away from CBI probe into nuns case," The Hindu, October 8, 1998.
184 "NCM for judicial inquiry into rape of nuns," The Hindu, October 24, 1998.
185 "Are tribals being made scapegoat in Jhabua?" The Hindu, October 8, 1998.