Indian bishops want charges dropped against Christian protesters

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BANGALORE, India — Meeting with the top government leader of the Karnataka state, 14 Catholic bishops called for the withdrawal of dozens of “false cases” against Christians protesting a series of 2008 attacks on three dozen churches.

Led by Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, the prelates urged Chief Minister Sadananda Gowda Oct. 28 to withdraw all pending cases against “innocent Christian youth, who are still made to suffer by going to the courts and are being harassed by the police investigations.”

The protests followed a series of attacks in September 2008 around Mangalore by Hindu fundamentalists. Witnesses said police broke into churches and beat the protesters, including nuns and women. Charges were subsequently filed against them.

An investigation by a retired Catholic judge discovered the church attacks were preplanned and sponsored by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, known as BJP, which rules Karnataka.

Gowda, who was sworn into office Aug. 4, inherited the sensitive issue after being chosen by BJP officials to succeed B.S. Yeddyurappa, who resigned July 28 in the midst of a political corruption investigation. The attacks occurred under Yeddyurappa’s administration.

The bishops told Gowda they wanted the government to step up efforts to protect Christians.

In a memorandum, the bishops said they demanded “adequate and just compensation to all the victims and the churches or places of worship” and an impartial federal inquiry into the church attacks.

Archbishop Moras, chairman of Karnataka Region Catholic Bishops’ Council, told Catholic News Service after the meeting in Bangalore, the Karnataka capital, that Gowda promised to look into the possibility of withdrawing the charges against the protesters and “has assured that ‘untoward incidents’ will not happen.”

“We hope that this promise will be kept,” Archbishop Moras said.

Christian groups say that, since the BJP assumed power in 2007, Karnataka has recorded the highest rate of anti-Christian violence in India, with more than 400 incidents.

The Catholic bishops have also urged the new chief minister “to grant the (necessary) permission for the construction of prayer halls, churches and other related institutions without harassment and delay”and “to ensure that no disturbances are caused to our prayer meetings and worship services.”

The appeal comes in the wake of attacks by unidentified assailants Oct. 23 on two Catholic institutions in Mangalore: St. Theresa School and Padua College.