Anti-Christian violence in Mangalore was planned: rights groups

By news desk,

New Delhi: A fact-finding team of human rights activists visited Mangalore (Karnataka) on October 10-11 to investigate the attacks on Christian institutions and the community and found the anti-Christian violence was planned.

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A team of 17 human rights activists from Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Karnataka and Maharashtra visited the city and investigated into the attacks on Christian institutions and persons in and around the city.

The team visited Adoration Centre, Milagres, St Sebastian Church, Peramannur, the CSI Church, Kodical, Holy Cross Church, Kulsekhar and St Joseph The Worker Church, Vamanjoor. The team also spoke to the IG of Police, Western Range. At each of the above places the team spoke to a number of witnesses and victims of the violence that took place on September 14-15.

Following are the observations of the team:

“We are of the view that the attacks are a collusive act of the Bajrang Dal, the Srirama Sene etc on the one hand and the police led by the Superintendent of Police Dakshina Kannada on the other. A planned attack by the Bajrang Dal aimed at causing hurt and resentment among the Christians was used as a pretext by the police to let lose a savage assault on the community and its sacred institutions. In the assault by the police there was direct participation of the Bajrang Dal. On the 14th of September the Bajrang Dal persons attacked the Adoration Centre at Milagres and the CSI Church at Kodical without any provocation whatsoever. The two attacks took place almost simultaneously at about 10.15 am. At Kodical there was nobody in the church because the mass was scheduled for 3 pm. About 30 to 35 persons who had masks covering their faces came on motorbikes and ransacked the church hitting at every object with iron pipes, cricket stumps and sticks. They shouted ‘Bajrang Dal ki jai’ and ‘Bharat mata ki jai’. By the time the neighbouring members of the church rushed there the assailants had fled. And without any intimation from the victims, the police arrived within five minutes. They cleaned the debris and took it away without performing any inquest. It was clearly intended to suppress the evidence.

At Milagres, at about the same time about 15 persons came on motorbikes shouting slogans of Bajrang Dal and entered the Adoration Centre and attacked it with lathis desecrating even a plaster of paris figure of Christ on the cross. They damaged the holy sacrament which fell into the cloistered chapel where the nuns were praying. Andrew and Irene, wife and husband who had come to pray were beaten. The assailants shouted abusive words and went away. The police who came there after a complaint was given were more interested in interrogating the nuns than in investigating the assaults. They wanted to know whether the Centre had a license and whether the nuns regarded themselves as being of the national community or the international community. One of the policemen warned them not to allow the media to take photographs or videographs.

We may add that these were two of the 17 attacks that took place at the very same time in Dakshina Kannada and Udipi districts. At all the places, the attacks were done by motorcycle borne persons who shouted slogans in praise of Bajrang Dal, Bharat Mata, Sri ram etc.

It is understandable that the Christian community was upset and undertook protests in the form of road blockade and dharna at various places including Mangalore city. The police who acted either collusively or casually when the Bajrang Dal attacked Christian institutions, now became active and imposed prohibitory orders. At Milagres there was further trouble when the police chased and fired tear-gas shells at the protesting Christians. When the latter ran into the compound of the Adoration Centre and threw stones at the police, the police not only threw back the stones but also glass bottles and caused further damage to the Centre.

On 15th September the Christian public who were very much upset gathered at various churches, probably with the intention of discussing the situation and planning further protests. Since prohibitory orders apply only to public places, there was nothing illegal about their gatherings. But the churches, in particular the St Sebastian Church at Peramannur, the Holy Cross Church at Kulasekhar and the St Joseph The Worker Church at Vamanjoor were surrounded by a large posse of policemen who insisted that the Christians should disperse. This led to further conflict. Bajrang Dal and Srirama Sene activists were with the police and they too provoked the Christians. Making an excuse of alleged stone-throwing by the Christians, the police rushed into the church compound in all the three cases and indulged in the most brutal lathi-charge and tear-gas shelling. They entered and beat people in the church and school at Kulasekhar and the church at Peramannur and Vamanjoor. Many of the persons received severe injuries including elderly sisters Denizia (71) and Selma (61) at Kulasekhar. Hemmed in by the police and the Bajrangis outside the compound and the brutal lathi-charge inside the compound, the Christians were in a terrible scare.

A large number of youth were arrested at all the three places and it took much persuasion from the leaders of the community to get at least some of them released. At St. Sebastian Church the police made the arrested youth sit on the ground and challenged them: ‘say your prayers now’. In total about 170 appear to have been booked in offences of rioting, criminal intimidation, causing injury and were sent to jail. Whereas only about 60 activists of the Bajrang Dal and Srirama Sene have been arrested for the wanton assault on places of worship in Mangalore and about 80 in the two districts taken together. It is notorious that the Bajrang Dal leader Mahendra Kumar who announced in public on 14-9-2008 was arrested only on 20-9-2008 and that too only after considerable pressure was put on the State Government by the Central Government and Central Organisations.

These events and responses clearly make out a case of complete license given to the Bajrang Dal by the police who have conducted themselves as activists of the Bajrang Dal and not as officers of the law, under the benign gaze of the very friendly State government.

In sharp contrast is the arrest of four Muslim persons in the district within hours of intimation from the Mumbai police about confession allegedly made by some leaders of the Indian Mujahideen.

In the early hours of 3rd October, police arrested father and son Mohd. Ali and Javed Ali from their house at Mukkacheri in Ullal police station limits, Naushad in Pandeshwari in the limits of Mangalore city and Ahmed Bawa at Haleyangadi in Mulki police station limits, at about the same time. Police in large numbers raided their residences and took away these four persons. We do not wish to say anything about their innocence or guilt but it has to be pointed out that the police acted contrary to the law and the directions of the Supreme Court. They did not identify themselves, they did not issue any arrest memo, they did not inform the relatives of the arrested persons, and did not tell them where they were being taken. These are not empty formalities but essential ingredients of a transparent procedure which is intended to protect citizens from needless harassment in the course of crime investigation. The police say that these persons were arrested in connection with investigation of offences of a terrorist character. But it is strange that similar urgency has not been shown in arresting the Bajrang Dal persons who have equally terrorized the entire community of Christians in these two districts. This divergent attitude towards terror on the part of the State depending on the community and political identity of the alleged perpetrators is nothing but sheer hypocrisy. In particular, the Bharatiya Janata Party is most vociferous in demanding action against alleged perpetrators of terror when they happen to be either Muslims or Maoists but is the protector of the terror unleashed by the Bajrang Dal and other Sangh Parivar outfits across the country from Gujarat to Madhya Pradesh to Orissa and Karnataka.

In this context we would like to add that our organizations have also undertaken a visit to the Kandhamal district of Orissa and will soon bring out a detailed report on the assault on the Christian community by the Sangh Parivar outfits under the aegis of the BJP rulers of the two States.

Insofar as the allegation of forced conversions goes, the IG himself says that there are no complaints. With reference to the abusive booklet which the Bajrang Dal has made much of, the police are still investigating who published it. It is not any body’s case that they have seen it being sold or distributed. In any case no such aberration can be made an excuse for attacks on places of worship.”

The human rights team has placed the following demands before the administration.

1. All the incidents of attacks on Christian institutions must be expeditiously and fairly investigated. Since the local police have shown themselves to be partisan, the investigation must be handed over to the CBI.

2. The attacks on Churches at Peramannur, Kulshekhar and Vamanjoor must also be registered as criminal offences against the S.P and the concerned inspectors and they should be kept under suspension while the offences are investigated by the CBI.

3. The State Government must pay full compensation for the damage caused to the churches and other Christian institutions.

4. Full security must be provided for the Christian population. As recommended by the Sachar Committee, it is necessary to post adequate number of police officers belonging to the minority communities in such areas.

5. The police must strictly abide by the law and Supreme Court guidelines while making arrests.

6. The State government should make it clear to all concerned that any complaint of forcible conversion must be made only to concerned authorities. Nobody can be allowed to make it an excuse for attacks on places of worship.

The members of the team were Dr B Ramulu, K Balagopal, SM Basha, VS Krishna, A Chandrasekhar, V Vasantha Lakshmi (Human Rights Forum-HRF, Andhra Pradesh), R Ram Kumar, M Srinivasulu (Organisation for Protection of Democratic Rights-OPDR, AP), Anand Teltumbde (Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights-CPDR, Mumbai), Prof A Marx (People’s Union for Human Rights- PUHR, Tamil Nadu), K Kesavan (Centre for Protection of Civil Liberties-CPCL, TN), G Sugumaran (Federation for People’s Rights-FPR, Puducherry), G K Ramaswamy (People’s Democratic Forum-PDF, Karnataka), P B D’Sa and Suresh Bhat (People’s Union for Civil Liberties-PUCL, Karnataka), Debranjan Sarangi (Social Activist, Orissa) and Mohd. Shafi, Abdul Razak and Ayaz Ali (Popular Front of India, Mangalore).