India Urged to End 'Culture of Impunity'

A Christian advocacy group Thursday unequivocally condemned the "culture of impunity" in India and said the inciters and perpetrators of communal violence must be brought to justice.

In a briefing highlighting the patterns of communal violence in India, Christian Solidarity Worldwide underlined the need for investigating the activities of extremist organizations responsible for instigating violence and the failings of law enforcement authorities in response to such violence.

The briefing, "Communalism, anti-Christian violence and the law," focuses on the aftermath of communal violence in the east Indian state of Orissa in 2008, and the "regular, frequent attacks" on Christians concentrated in six other states, typically in the form of well-targeted mob violence.

The group argued that the government should address systemic problems underlying this violence, and that a proposed law to deal with communal violence should not be passed unless further, meaningful consultation is held with affected communities.

CSW also called for the repeal of anti-conversion laws in force in five states, saying they are unnecessary, contrary to international law and have a damaging effect on religious minorities. Additionally, the penalization of Dalits who change religion should also be redressed.

Dr. John Dayal, a member of the Indian government's National Integration Council and secretary general of CSW partners, the All India Christian Council, said: "India has a proud tradition of religious diversity, but it is deeply sullied by communal violence. The government needs to do more to tackle underlying problems, and the current form of the bill on communal violence is a let-down which will do little to help victims."

Shabnam Hashmi, NIC member and director of high-profile campaign group ANHAD, said: "Communalization of the minds and hearts in India has reached unprecedented levels. Continuing attacks on Christians and Muslims in various states need urgent attention and affirmative actions by the Indian government to stop violence and targeting of these communities."

In the briefing, CSW urged the Indian government to take measures to ensure the full, consistent and effective implementation of legislation protecting minorities from religiously-motivated violence.

"India boasts strong democratic institutions and an excellent body of legislation protecting human rights," said Tina Lambert, CSW's advocacy director. "However, much more needs to be done to tackle the culture of impunity which exists for perpetrators of communal violence. This is evident not only in the aftermath of the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Orissa and earlier cases of mass violence, such as the 2002 anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat, but also in the regular, frequent attacks on Christians in certain states which are consistently met with indifferent, negligent or biased responses."

The group called for a CBI investigation into the assassination of Hindu fundamentalist leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati, whose murder sparked one of the worst attacks against Christians in 2008. Hindu nationalists accused Christians of orchestrating the murder, but Maoist rebels had publicly claimed responsibility for the swami's death while Christians vehemently denied any involvement in the incident.

CSW also urged the government to ensure that police unfailingly assist victims of violence to submit First Information Reports and investigate the cases thoroughly.

Additionally, it stressed the need for establishing internal and external mechanisms for increasing police accountability and increasing the capacity of police through recruitment, training and appropriate resourcing.

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