Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Indian church leaders hope poll clips Gujarat's Hindu extremism

This showed up in my inbox, with respect to the Gujarat elections ...
Ecumenical News International Daily News Service 14 December 2007 Indian church leaders hope poll clips Gujarat's Hindu extremism ENI-07-0973 By Anto Akkara Bangalore, India, 14 December

(ENI)--Church leaders in India's western Gujarat state have expressed optimism about the outcome of an ongoing election in the state, due to a higher number of voters turning out which they hope will signal a decline in Hindu extremism. "It seems the people are taking the election seriously. The higher voter turn-out gives us hope," Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Ignatius Macwan of Ahmedabad told Ecumenical News International on 12 December. More than 60 percent of the votes were cast in the first leg of the polls for 87 of the 181 constituencies of the state legislature on 11 December, already exceeding the number cast in the 2002 elections in which the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) retained power. "We have been waiting for this opportunity [elections] to register our protest," said Bishop Macwan who noted that Christians and Muslim minorities in Gujarat had "to suffer a lot" under BJP rule. In February 2002, more than a thousand Muslims in Gujarat were massacred by people thought to be Hindu fundamentalists following the torching of a train carrying Hindu pilgrims. The state administration, under BJP control, was accused of condoning and later even protecting the perpetrators in the carnage. Prior to that, Gujarat under BJP rule had witnessed a number of instances of anti-Christian violence including the burning down of churches, desecration of cemeteries, assaults on Christian workers and harassment of church institutions by the government. "We will continue to pray for good results and exercise our precious votes," Church of North India Bishop Vinod Kumar Malaviya told ENI. On 16 December, during the second phase of the voting, Bishop Malaviya said he would go to the polling booth to cast his vote before heading to church for the Sunday service. "The people are well aware of the choices before them and we hope they will exercise their voting rights," replied Bishop Malaviya, when asked whether the CNI had issued any pastoral guidelines in the run up to the elections. Christians number slightly more than half a percent of Gujarat's estimated 55 million people. The Catholic Church had taken a clear stand against the ruling BJP administration with a joint pastoral letter by four bishops in Gujarat reminding voters that exercising the franchise is a "God-given responsibility". "Even routine government permission has become difficult for us under this government," pointed out Bishop Macwan. "Another five years under them [the BJP] will be too much for minorities," he added. [422 words]

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