Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda Maoists OR Christian missionaries

29 08 2008

Maoists deny role in VHP leader’s murder

Staff Reporter

Source: The Hindu

‘Some wayward cadre lured by some committed the crime’

Copy of the letter sent to VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders

Maoists also deny role in the murder of VHP activists at Jalaspata


The letter claimed that some wayward cadre of the Maoist outfit were lured by nefarious elements to commit the crime. Meanwhile naxal sympathizers of Orissa have also claimed that Maoists had no hand in the murder of the VHP activists at Jalaspata in Kandhamal district.

A copy of the letter was sent to the State joint secretary of the VHP and the State joint coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, Ramakant Rath. The letter was claimed to be written by the Kotgarh unit of the CPI-Maoist party.

Government sources tell NDTV that their assessment is that Christian groups did not kill VHP leader Swami Lakshmanand Saraswati.

In an Orissa daily, Maoist leader Azad has claimed responsibility for killing of the VHP leader.

As Kandamal continues to simmer with sporadic incidents of violence, 20 companies of CRPF have already reached the area.

Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda?

29 08 2008

August 28, 2008 17:38 IST
source: Rediff.com

Who killed Swami Lakshmanananda?

Not the Maoists, everyone except some senior state government authorities maintain.

Even the top brass of the state police say it is improbable that Maoists were responsible for the murder of the Swami and four others at his remote ashram in Orissa’s Kandhamal district on Saturday night. A senior state police officer said the modus operandi of the murders do not provide substantial evidence that the Maoists may be involved.

Here are the facts of the murder after preliminary investigations:

  • On Saturday, the ashram was celebrating Janmashtami, when around dinner time, a group of 30-40 armed assailants surrounded the place.
  • Eyewitnesses said about four of the assailants carried AK-47s and many others had country made revolvers.
  • Two of the four home guards stationed for security had gone to eat and only two of them were guarding the premises.
  • The assailants tied down the two guards, and gagged them.
  • They then sought out the Swamiji within the premises and opened fire on him.
  • The recovered bullets show they were from an AK-47, the police said.
  • The assailants then warned the guards not to raise an alarm and fled the scene.

Within minutes of the reaching the crime scene, the district authorities made a statement saying it was suspected Maoists who killed the Swami.

“Isn’t it far fetched? District authorities blaming a particular outfit within minutes of arriving at a crime scene?” asked Ashok Sahu, a retired IPS officer, who specialises in left wing extremism.

There are two reasons given as to why the state could have taken the Maoist line. The first is obvious, observers say.

“In December 2007, the area witnesses some of the bloodiest violence Orissa has even seen after the Swami was attacked by Christians. The state might have wanted to avert a repeat of the communal clashes and therefore could have pinned the blame on the Maoists,” one of them said.

Sahu said there could be more to the government’s action than this.

“Elections are coming in a matter of months. The state has failed miserably in tackling the Maoist insurgency. A government that has been terrorised by the Maoists may in turn be trying to terrorise the people in the name of the Maoists” he said.

Why are so many people ready to debunk the government’s Maoist attack theory so readily? The main reason is modus operandi of the execution.

“The central committee authorises the killings and the outfit issues statements owning up to the murders they commit. So many days after the murder, there has been no statement from the Maoists,” a senior police officer said.

Sahu points out the following: “The five attackers who the locals caught and handed over to the police are not Maoists. They are from the region.

“Moreover, I see no reason why the Maoists will spare the policemen on duty. They would have killed them. Then, there are the leaflets that were thrown around the ashram in a very amateurish way. The Maoists are very organised. If somebody is carrying an AK-47 he must be at least a commander. And if there are four commanders to marshal the mob, there wouldn’t have been indiscriminate firing like what we saw. And last but not the least, I have never heard or seen Maoists wear masks and hoods.

“They see themselves as revolutionaries. They never care about whether they are seen or not. In fact, I would say, they would very much want to be seen,” Sahu said.

Then, the most important question? Did the Swami’s activities in the jungle in any way make him an enemy of the Maoists? “Chances are very less. He was working for the welfare of the tribal people and against forced conversions in the region. There is nothing that suggests the Maoists would see him as a class enemy,” a senior officer said.

A local outfit, the Hindu Jagran Manch said the Swami had mentioned to an office bearer that some Maoists had joined him in a program he had organsied for the tribal people. “One day last year, I was talking to the Swami on phone, and that time there was a lot of concern about his security. So, he said, don’t you people worry. The Maoists are not a threat to me. In fact some of them are here with me,” said Lakshmikanth Das, an officer bearer of the HJM.

But do these factors clearly rule out the role of the Maoists? It is tricky, say many experts who have been following left wing extremism. “The best way this could be phrased is: ‘We do not rule out the involvement of the Maoists’.” Sahu said.

There are many reasons why the experts are undecided. “After the December 2007 clashes, even the Hindu outfits agreed that the Maoists are working in tandem with militant Christian outfits,”

Sahu agreed: “A lot of Maoists were converts to Christianity and were involved in the December violence. But this attack does not look like their work,” Sahu said.

The Maoists have long claimed that most of Orissa falls under the ‘liberated zone’. Kandhamal district with its desnse forest cover is a haven for them. In fact, the police had claimed that the recent attack on a police party in Nayagarh, where the Maoists dealt a spectacular blow to the Orissa police, was planned and coordinated from Kandhamal.

If not the Maoists, who could have killed the Swami? The needle of suspicion swings towards the militant Christian outfits. “Let’s face it, said Sahu, “even in times when the Maoist-militant Christian nexus was a possibility, there were numerous attacks and attempts on the Swami’s life.”

“There is a high possibility that this is the handiwork of militant Christian outfits. How they got such sophisticated weapons is something for the government to figure out,” said Sahu.

“The government’s responsibility to bring those responsible to book increases when you take into account the fact that the Swami received an anonymous threat only a week before he was killed. The local SP did not even register a case after the Swami lodged a formal complaint. They have to answer a lot of questions or this issue will snowball into a bigger issue than the December violence,” Das concluded.

The onus now rests on the government, which has been boxed in from almost all sides.

It has been shown up with regards to tackling Maoists, with consecutive attacks. It’s inadequacy in putting a lid on communal tension in Kandhamal have been exposed by the on-going violence in the district. And with elections looming, how it tackles the current crisis will go a long way in deciding its political future.

Interview: Navin Patnaik, (From TEHELKA)

7 07 2008

From: Tehelka

in cold blood

‘The Naxalites will die a painful death’

Orissa CM Naveen Patnaik tells BIBHUTI PATI that a police boat was sunk by Naxal rebels only by accident
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

You have often said the state government was fully geared to handle the Naxal menace?

This is nothing but terrorism. The attack was brutal. In the name of helping the poor, the Naxalites are murdering innocents in manner that is nothing but barbaric.

But if Greyhound soldiers cannot handle the Naxal firepower, do you think the state’s police force stands a chance?

It was an accident. Terrorist activities can take place anywhere in the country. That does not mean the state’s police force is not competent. We have launched a modernisation programme for the police. I recently had a discussion with Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil on this very issue.

Many are saying the Naxalites are now better trained and have better weapons?

No, I do not think so. I have told you it’s terrorism and incidents like these can happen anywhere in the country.

Which are the troubled zones in Orissa where the Naxalites have a distinct upper hand?

The undivided Koraput district is a major trouble zone. The Naxals have recently spread their wings to western Orissa because people living there are poor, illiterate and innocent. We are making efforts to reach out to the poor. I would say the situation is now gradually changing in our favour. In some places, the Maoists are losing their turf. But if you are seeking a big change overnight, that will not happen. The Naxalites have no specific operation zone and keep shifting from place to place.

With the Salva Judum coming under fire, is this counterviolence the only way to solve the crisis?

Who told you that the Salva Judum is not working? But I must say I don’t believe in counter-violence. But if they take law and order in their hands, then they will have to face the music. I cannot let my men die like this.

The rebels have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, demanding land and jobs. Is it not an issue the state governments need to understand?

They have chosen a very wrong path. I do not think violence will solve any problem. Who told you that they are working for agriculture labourers and the poor? In our state, there are several examples of how the Maoists have brutally killed many poor people and farmers. Is brutality the only way to fight for a good cause and help the poor? The state governments, which are often attacked by the media, have programmes for the poor. What package are the Naxalites offering to the landless? We are gaining in many places. Have you noticed how we have got many top Maoists leaders, including women, to surrender and work for governmental programmes?

Over the past few years, about 2,000 people — including policemen, militants and civilians — have been killed.

In the last couple of years, the state police has had a number of successful operations where we have busted Naxalite hideouts and confiscated arms. We have destroyed hundreds of Maoists camps and arrested some of their top leaders. No one writes a line about it. I am confident that once modernisation seeps in poverty-stricken areas, the Maoists and their great theories of helping the poor will die a painful death.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 27, Dated July 12, 2008

Also See links


Leftist-Islamist alliance in South Asia

30 05 2008

Amitabh Tripathi

Victory of Maoists in Nepal has two reactions in India. One which portray this victory as an opportunity for Indian government to pursue Nexalites in India to join mainstream and follow the path of their Nepali counterpart.

According to second reaction victory of Maoists in Nepal is going to deteriorate the security interests of Indian and Indian government should work hard to crush Maoist insurgency in Nepal as well preventing Maoists to make king of Nepal irrelevant in political context.

The most dangerous sign which people in Indian media have shown is that they are pleading for Maoists and it has some serious implications as well reasons. Indian media in general and print in particular has dominance of people who are indoctrinated with Leftist ideology and most of them were activists of Left in their college period. They belong to that period when Marxism was fashion for intellectuals and college campuses were full of these people. In India since 1989 social and political change took place. After Economic reform was initiated and some drastic changes came in existence at economic level it has some impact on society as well. In the mean time surgence of Hindu forces was witnessed and leftist ideology sidelined.

After demolition of Babri structure in Ayodhya in 1992 leftists collaborated with several anti Hindu forces in the name of secularism and in this composition they don’t have more say but were surviving in any way.

After 2000 situation has changed to some extent and social division of have’s and have’s not has come in debate again and it has given a chance to leftist to curse American policies as well some agencies as responsible for all this. In Indian context this development is very important because social disparity has created a vacuum in society and provided an opportunity for any organization to woo have-not’s to their side and Naxalites in India exploited this situation in very shrewd manner. They are active in remote part of India which is very poor, illiterate and geographically scattered and made of hills and forests. Because of its geographical conditions these areas are very much terrorism prone.

Two years back I journeyed one of Naxal effected area named Chhatisgarh and met with some Naxalites. They have clear edge on security forces because of geographical structure but most important thing is that Naxalites working on parallel political and social system. They have their own school in which they not only teach children of tribal but also give financial assistance to their parents. I have a chance to visit their schools also they have their text books and these text books teach that Hindus in India are in alliance with imperialistic America and we have to fight both communal and imperialistic forces because both are two faces of same coin. They talk about a new world order where there will be no disparity and there is equality. They also publish a magazine called Mukti Maarg [way of salvation]. In this magazine they have mobilized those writers and acamecians who have left inclination. Islamists also talk of new world order based on Qur’an and shriyat and both ideologies support repression and violence to achieve their goal.

This theme has also been adopted by Islamists in India against Hindu forces as well as America. This is a common point where Islamists and leftists in India come close to each other. After victory of Maoists in Nepal left academia and establishment in Indian see a chance of resurgence of communism in global perspective and this is the reason why they are pursuing Indian people and government to hail the victory of Maoists and take it as a golden opportunity to take Naxalites back in mainstream.

I want to draw your attention on one more important point about which nobody has discussed but it has serious implications on both India and America. In India leftists have very limited electoral appeal and they are confined to only three states West Bengal, Keral and Tripura and in other states their presence is negligible. In new scenario they are thinking about their resurgence with help of Naxalites. Naxalites have big presence in more than 100 districts of India with states, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, TamilNadu, Jharkhnd, Chhatisgarh, Andhra Pradesh. In these states they have more influence in some pockets. When two years back I visited Chhatisgarh and met with some Naxalites and their sympathizers I was told to have a close look on the developments of Nepal and told me about their plan that when they would be able to brought down system of Nepal and construct it with their plan they will sharpen their movement in India. These sympathizers of Naxalites are almost activists of Communists parties in India and with support of Naxalites and intimidation these sympathizers have a plan to broaden the electoral power of Communists in India.

As earlier I said growth of Naxalites in India have some effect on America also. After 911 we have witnessed several left ideologues overtly supporting Islamists but in India new nexus is building and leftists and Islamists have common enemy in India in the name of Hindu and America. If this nexus will get strength in India and south Asia finally it would damage America and West as well.

Four years back In India there were several people in Media with liberal-left inclination who were saying that Al Qaeda has launched a war against America and India has not to worry because Osama Bin Laden has said nothing against India. It was mischievous misrepresentation of facts. These are the people who want to see the victory of communist ideology at any cost and even they don’t hesitate to make an alliance with Islamists for this cause. Victory of Maoists in Nepal has emboldened leftists in India and they are dreaming of the resurgence of communism.

To counter this growing trend we have to take some initiatives. A parallel nationalist socialist movement should be promoted in India to fill the vacuum of dissatisfied people which ultimately culminates in strong anti imperialistic movement. Once nationalist socialist movement will take place Naxalites have no chance to woo dissatisfied people to their side. This is also true with Chinese hegemony in Asia. Coalition government in India of Congress and Left have some common agenda and congress is eyeing for next 10 years to stay in power. President of Congress Party Mrs Sonia Gandhi grooming her son Rahul Gandhi to hold the post of premiership for next 10 years. To make this happen Congress has to rely heavily on Left parties and this is why congress has adopted the policy of submission to leftists and Islamist. In this situation Indian government in near future is going to embolden the Islamist and leftist forces.

Taking into account the global scenario Indian and American interest has become very much common at least at strategic level. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and China could come close with a block in near future and it would have security implications for India. Nexus of Red green alliance as Dr Richard Benkin has predicted could become reality in South Asia. To prevent this India and America should come together and America should consider Hindu nationalists as their ally.

A new breed of missionary: Christian Science Monitor

9 01 2008

from the April 01, 2005 edition
See The original Piece at CSM

(Photograph) TRADITIONAL WAY: Students pray at the Catholic Mission School in Jhabua, India. Established churches like this one often focus their efforts on schools and hospitals.

A drive for conversions, not development, is stirring violent animosity in India.
Page 1 of 2
| Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Biju Verghese believes the end of the world is coming. This faith makes his work urgent: Convert as many Indians to Christianity as possible. Or, as he puts it, “reach the unreached at any cost.”

Mr. Verghese is a new breed of missionary, tied not to the mainline Protestant or Catholic churches that came with European colonizers but to expansionist evangelical movements in the US, Britain, and Australia. These newer Christians are now the most active here, swiftly winning over Indians like Verghese who in turn devote themselves to expanding the church’s reach, village by village.

Aside from an attraction to the Christian message, some converts welcome the chance to free themselves from a low-caste status within Hinduism. Some may adopt Christianity by simply adding it to their existing beliefs. To others, conversions are a positive statement that you can choose your religious identity rather than have it fixed at birth.

But the success of recent Christian missionaries and their methods of quick conversions have brought tensions with other religions, including some Christians who fear that certain evangelicals are contributing to a volatile – and at times violent – religious atmosphere. The new missionaries put an emphasis on speed, compelled sometimes by church quotas and a belief in the approach of the world’s end.

“Aggressive and unprincipled missionary work that exploits the distress and ignorance of marginalized groups … can constitute a catalyst to localized violence, particularly when they are brought into confrontation with other” creeds, says Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Institute of Conflict Management in New Delhi.

Nationwide, India has a growing reputation for intolerance toward its religious minorities. The US Committee on International Religious Freedom listed India with 10 other nations of “particular concern” – a legacy of the months-long riots in Gujarat state, when nearly 1,000 Muslims were murdered by their Hindu neighbors.

Colonial legacy

Religions on the Indian subcontinent have jostled with each other for millenniums. Invaders spread Hinduism and Islam through conquest, followed by British Christians who hoped to create “brown Englishmen.” The Christian zeal for conversions ebbed in India after a nearly successful Indian rebellion in 1857 and a theological trend toward good works, such as improving education and healthcare.

Some evangelical Christian groups in India are continuing in that tradition. The Evangelical Hospital Association, for instance, has taken over the management of many of the hospitals of Northern India that were built by mainstream Christian churches during the British colonial period. Graham Staines, an evangelical missionary, was famous for his work with lepers in the state of Orissa, before he was murdered in 1999 by Hindu mobs. His wife, Gladys Staines, this week accepted India’s highest award for public service, for continuing this work.

Yet many of today’s missionaries are returning to practices of proselytizing that were long ago abandoned by the mainline missionaries because they were seen as offensive.

“The church [during British rule] sought actively to communicate the values of the Renaissance with its Christian message,” says Mr. Sahni. “And while conversion was a significant fact of the British period, the schools and other institutions set up by the missionaries were not primarily driven by the objective of conversion.”

In recent years, however, conversion activity has grown more intense, driven by the evangelical Christians funded from abroad, and Hindu nationalists. Both are targeting the same groups: impoverished Dalits, formerly known as “untouchables,” and adivasis, or tribal citizens, who have long practiced a religion predating Hinduism.

Nationwide, adivasis number nearly 67 million, or 8 percent of the nation’s population. But here in the district of Jhabua, they are more than 80 percent of the population. Adivasis are also among India’s poorest citizens, earning perhaps $4 per capita per month.

Amid Jhabua’s rolling hills and low huts of mud stand Christian churches built 100 years ago.

But the conversion work that some call “aggressive” takes place outside the traditional places of worship. Evangelical and Pentacostal missionaries go village to village, holding prayer meetings in homes or preaching outdoors to all the villagers together.

Speaking in tongues, miracles

These events often mix emotional messages of personal salvation, speaking in tongues, shaking in trances, and miraculous healings. Some people come for the spectacle; others take advantage of free food. After these performances, whole families, neighborhoods, and even villages are sometimes converted. The missionary leaders move on to the next village, leaving behind money – but sometimes little other support – for new church constructions and pastor salaries .

Verghese is pastor of the Beersheba Church of God in Jhabua. He shows a recent video CD, produced by Indian Evangelical Team (IET) leader P.G. Varghis, which makes it clear that conversion, not development, is the priority.

For Verghese and others who believe the Apocalypse could come at any moment, there is little time to carry out the kind of slow, development-oriented missionary work that mainstream churches focus on.

In the video, Mr. Varghis proudly mentions that the IET’s 1,775 missionaries “planted” 2,000 churches in India in just five years, and planned to reach a goal of 7,777 churches by the year 2010.

In recent years, North India has been a key region of focus by informal networks of Christian evangelical groups in the West, with some churches drawing up quotas for new churches built, gospel literature handed out, and new missionaries trained.

“Christians are being killed,” Varghis admitted in the video, “But we are dedicated to build North India for Christ.”

A call for dollars

The video, which is narrated in English and is apparently aimed at a Western audience, makes an emotional appeal for funds, noting that it costs $3,000 to $6,000 to build a church, a cost that is far beyond the means of the mainly tribal population that IET hopes to convert.

The differing approaches also came to light during recent tsunami relief efforts. A host of small Christian groups headed to India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka to distribute humanitarian aid along with Christian literature. Many faith-based aid groups, from the International Committee of the Red Cross to the American Jewish Foundation, avoid handing out such religious materials because of the potential to offend those who are of different faiths.

After the tsunami, the US National Council of Churches issued a statement warning against the practice by “New Missionaries” of mixing evangelism and aid. “Often lacking sophistication about the lure of gifts and money, and wanting to be generous with their resources, they easily fall prey to the charge of using unethical means to evangelize. This creates a backlash,” the February statement read.

“You get this guy out of Texas who has no idea of the local culture, he is out to win souls, and he comes with a lot of money,” says Bob Alter, former Presbyterian pastor born and raised in the Indian mountain town of Mussoorie, and former superintendent of a missionary institution, the Woodstock School.

The problem with these newer churches, Mr. Alter says, is the tone of their message. “You have Baptists using the Diwali festival [the Hindu festival of lights], but they come to ‘spread the light to those in darkness.’ That is mighty offensive stuff, when you’re out to tear down another religion.”

Anti-Christian violence in India, while rare, can be brutal. Mr. Staines was burned alive with his two young sons, when a mob, led by Hindu activist Dara Singh, set fire to his car in January 1999. Later that year, Hindu activists attacked and raped Roman Catholic nuns in several states, including Orissa, Kerala, and Madhya Pradesh.

Christian missionaries in Gujarat have also faced numerous attacks, in a state where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has taken the ethos of Hindutva (or Hinduness) to extremes. The US State Dept recently denied a visa to the chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, to visit the US.

(Photograph) RELIGIOUS CROSSROADS: Hindu, Muslim, and Christian symbols are shown on this mural in Madras, India. The religiously diverse nation is 82 percent Hindu, 12 percent Muslim, and 2 percent Christian.

Discomfort among other Christians

In this charged atmosphere, mainstream Christian churches have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the tactics used by their more assertive brethren.

“Even the older Protestant churches are unhappy with the evangelicals,” says Bishop Chacko, head of the Roman Catholic diocese in Meghnagar in Jhabua district. “It is said that they are irresponsible. Consequences don’t matter to them. They put the fire and then they leave it to burn.”

In Jhabua, distrust of the Christian community led some Hindus to falsely assume Christian foul play in the murder of a 10-year-old Hindu girl named Sujata.

Her body was found Jan. 11, 2004, in the basement bathroom of the Roman Catholic Church’s Mission School in Jhabua, where nearly 2,500 students – most of them Hindus – attend. It was immediately apparent that the girl had been raped.

Police suspicion quickly turned toward the Catholic priests themselves, and several priests were held in police custody for 46 hours without being charged and without food or water, although no charges were ever placed.

Hindu activists mobilized

Two days later, after news of the murder began to circulate in local papers, Hindu activists began a campaign of agitation. One Hindu sadhu, or ascetic monk, planted himself in front of the church gates in protest. Thousands of Hindus joined him, some coming from neighboring towns and from as far away as Gujarat state.

Ram Shankar Chanchal Trivedi, a local schoolteacher and member of a Hindu nationalist organization called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps), says the brutality of the murder, and the appearance of Christian culpability, got local Hindus upset.

“She was a little girl who was brutally murdered, and people became emotional and aggressive; they couldn’t tolerate it,” says Mr. Trivedi sitting on a bed in simple middle-class home. He sighs. “People used to live happily here, but since the political leaders started taking advantage of the murder, it became a political issue.”

Now that police have arrested a young drifter – a Hindu from Indore – who admitted to killing Sujata, Trivedi says that the Jhabua riots are a closed matter. But the tensions between the Hindu and Christian communities remain.

The biggest problem, he says, is the new wave of Christian conversions, which offends many Hindus.

Adivasis are Hindus,” Trivedi says, using the Hindi word for tribal. “Tribal people are illiterate, they don’t know about religion. So Hindu people object because they are bothering tribal people who can’t defend themselves. The tribals can be tempted by money, they should not be exploited.”

He pauses. “It will become dangerous if conversion activity continues. It can be a big issue unless other churches don’t make it clear to these people that conversion must stop.”

For the Rev. Mahipul Bhuriya, a parish priest and a member of a major local tribe, the Bhils, there is danger from both the Hindu right and from the Christian evangelicals.

“I have been drawing a line between good churches that serve and bad churches that are only interested in conversion,” says Father Bhuriya. “I tell people, ‘I belong to a church that does not breed hatred,’ and my Hindu friends are beginning to understand.”

In his small Jhabua apartment, Verghese says that violence will not deter him from doing what he sees as God’s work.

He adds that RSS activists burned 25 houses in the town of Ali Rajpur in retaliation for the murder of Sujata, and 14 members of his church have been jailed, blamed for the shooting death of an RSS activist.

Far from being terrorized, Verghese says his followers have been strengthened by the riots.

“There is some fear, yes, but the believers have more fear of the Word of God,” he says, bouncing his 4-year-old daughter Praisey on his knee.

“There are some people who know very well that the moment Christian missionaries leave, their social development will stop. All the best schools, the best hospitals, are run by missionaries,” he says, referring to schools like the Catholic Mission School, built by older, mainstream churches.

“But there are also people who know very well that when the adivasis are better educated and have better lives, they cannot be exploited anymore,” Verghese says. “And that is the main reason for the violence against Christians.”

Hindu nationalist outreach

Many Christians agree that the Hindu reaction against Christian missionaries is more deeply rooted in economics than in religion.

Historically, higher-caste Hindus treated tribesmen as inferior, and reinforced this in their economic relations. Most tribal people were unable to own their own land, so they farmed land owned by Hindus. As illiterate sharecroppers, tribesmen were kept subservient. As worshipers of ancestors and animals, tribal people were seen as backward.

But in recent years, the RSS and other Hindu nationalist groups have begun to reach out to adivasis, partly to prevent their conversion to other faiths, and partly to expand their political bases.

Now, RSS activists distribute Hindu idols in tribal villages and teach adivasis how to worship during Hindu festivals such as Ganpati, the festival of Ganesh. Similarly, the RSS’s political ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has begun heavy recruitment of adivasis, an effort seen as crucial in winning state elections in Madhya Pradesh in December 2003.

Heavyweight political players like Narendra Modi of neighboring Gujarat state campaigned in Jhabua district, promising that a state BJP government would use Gujarat as a “Hindutva model” for its rule in Madhya Pradesh. BJP supporters say that he was referring to Modi’s strong economic record.

Critics saw something darker, the use of Hindu mobs to attack religious minorities, as occurred in the Gujarat riots of 2002.

Ajai Sahni says there is no short-term solution to the problem, as long as religious identity is a major tool for mobilizing Indian voters at election time, and as long as every major party uses religious fears and prejudices to organize their support.

“One measure that is needed, however, is a very harsh law to punish those who engage in communal violence,” says Mr. Sahni. “Such a law has long been overdue in India.”

(Photograph) COMMUNAL STRAIN: The Rev. Mahipal Bhuriya stands in front of a church that was stoned by Hindus after church members were falsely blamed for a murder.