Thousands of Christians, Dalits court arrest in Delhi


New Delhi : At least 3,000 Christians, Dalits and rights activists from across the country courted arrest here Tuesday while protesting against the "silence" of the government on the alleged rise in anti-Christian attacks.

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At a rally, "Stop Violence on Christians", held at Jantar Mantar here, Christian and Dalit leaders, including All India Christian Council (AICC) president Joseph Dsouza, National Integration Council member John Dayal, Justice Party president Udit Raj and Mount Carmel School principal V.K. Williams, warned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that his silence could lead to killing of innocent people at the hands of communal forces.

"The protest is in the wake of attacks on Pastor Walter Masih in Jaipur, Rajasthan on April 19 and priests Ramesh Gopargode and Ajit Belavi on May 7 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, and a high incidence of communal assaults this year thus far," Madhu Chandra, an AICC leader, told IANS.

Chandra said that in 2006, the AICC recorded at least one incident of anti-Christian attack every third day, "but this rose to one attack every alternate day during the first four months of this year".

The participants, who were from several states including Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, shouted slogans against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, saying, "UPA government, wake up and stop atrocities on Christians."

Also present at the rally were victims of communal violence, including Masih and two Christians from Himachal Pradesh, Bernard Christopher and Ravinder Gautam, who were allegedly tonsured and forcibly "reconverted" to Hinduism in Kullu district May 23.

Dayal said Christianity had been reduced to a "daylight religion", because "the people of the community feel unsafe after sunset".

Expressing disappointment with the Congress party that leads the UPA, Dayal added that it was no longer only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that should be blamed for anti-Christian agenda. "Look at the Congress-government in Himachal Pradesh, which enacted the anti-conversion law," he said.

Dalit leader Raj told the Christians not to trust any political party including the Congress saying, "You must have hopes only from yourselves."

Offering Dalits' support to the Christian community, Raj added that they should "learn to identify their friends".

The crowd left the Parliament Street police station, where they courted arrest, at 2.15 p.m. after an official announced that there were not enough jails to keep such a huge number of people.

Christians in Mumbai also staged a rally at Azad Maidan to show solidarity with the protesters here.