Christian groups have expressed dismay at attempts by India’s Karnataka state government to take action against hundreds of church educational institutions after they closed for a day to protest ongoing violence against Christians in eastern Orissa state.
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), in an appeal to India’s National Human Rights Commission on Sept. 2, urged it “to take steps to see that the Christian institutions [in Karnataka] are not penalized for this action of solidarity and peaceful prayer for the victims of violence in Orissa [state].”
More than 30,000 Christian schools and colleges across the country remained closed on Aug. 29 to protest what they said was orchestrated violence against Christians in Orissa that claimed more than 20 lives and left more than 50,000 Christians refugees fleeing their homes to escape attacks by Hindu extremists.
The same evening, Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri, the education minister of Karnataka government, which is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party –a party accused of having a Hindu nationalist agenda – declared that the government would take disciplinary action against Christian educational institutions that closed for the protest.
Sajan K. George, president of GCIC, which is based in Bangalore, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that hundreds of schools under Hindu management often shut down when Hindu groups call on schools, as well as businesses, to close in protests relating to political issues.
“But no such punitive action [by the government] is ever taken,” said Mr. George, pointing that Karnataka is the only state among five BJP-ruled states to initiate such an action.
Hmar Tlomte Sangliana, a Presbyterian member of the Indian parliament who was recently expelled from the BJP, told a press conference the government action aimed at punishing Christian institutions “smacks of communal hatred” and shows the BJP government’s “lack of awareness of social issues.”
“The whole world knows why we closed our institutions on the day,” Bishop Vasant Kumar, who heads the Church of South India’s Karnataka central diocese, told ENI.