WASHINGTON – Peace rallies demanding an end to the continual violence against Christians in India were held Thursday across the street from the White House as well as on Friday in India's capital city of New Delhi.
Dozens of people, mostly Indian-Americans, huddled under umbrellas at Lafayette Park as they held signs protesting the widespread persecution of Christians in India. The peace rally and subsequent prayer vigil were purposely organized to coincide with the White House visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"The Federation declared that it holds the Prime Minister and the Home Minister of India responsible for any lives lost and damage caused to the churches and properties due to their inefficiency in stopping this violence," declared one of the rally organizers, Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations of North America (FIACONA), in a statement.
FIACONA demands that the central government, rather than the state government, rehabilitate the victims and supervise their recovery because many of them are controlled by Hindu nationalist parties.
It also demands the Indian president to remove the state governments from power if they continue to "fail to respect and uphold the Constitutional rights of its citizens, in their respective state."
The group further called for the Indian prime minister to impose an immediate ban on radical fundamentalist groups such as Vishwa Hindu Parishand (VHP), Bajrandal and their parent ideological group the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, bipartisan federal agency advising the Administration and Congress, had also urged President Bush in a letter last week to raise concerns about religious freedom in India during his meeting with the Indian prime minister.
India has been hit by an unprecedented wave of anti-Christian violence since mid-August after the death of a Hindu fundamentalist leader.
Tens of thousands of Christians in eastern Orissa state have been forced from their homes by attacks from mobs of Hindu militants. These mobs are responsible for the torching of thousands of homes, churches, Christian-owned businesses, and faith-based orphanages in the state.
At least 20 people, mostly Christians, have been killed in the attacks, according to secular media reports. But FIACONA says at least 49 Christian priests, nuns and members of local congregations have been killed or burnt alive.
Even police were attacked on Wednesday by angry Hindu crowds, according to Reuters, after they shot at a Hindu protester to stop attacks on Christians. In addition to attacking authorities, Hindu mobs burned more Christian homes in retaliation, officials said Thursday.
Indian Christians protested the attacks against fellow believers in New Delhi on Friday.
The U.S. peace rally was coordinated by several non-profit advocacy and human rights groups, including the FIACONA, Jubilee Campaign, and Christian Solidarity International.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide sent a letter Thursday to the leadership of the European Commission requesting that the EU raise the subject of the persistent violence against the Christian community during the EU-India Summit on Sept. 29.