INDIAN JESUIT SAYS HE’S TOO BUSY TO WORRY ABOUT DEATH THREATS
AHMEDABAD, INDIA (CNS)
Jesuit Father Cedric Prakash said he’s too busy to worry
about the death threats he receives as Gujarat state coordinator of the United
Christian Forum for Human Rights.
In the midst of an anti-Christian campaigh by extremist Hindus
in Gujarat, Father Prakash received telephoned death threats, and warnings about
his safety were phoned to local police,. Yet after just three days, the priest
dismissed police sent to protect him.
His March calendar was too full to give much thought to his
The director of the St Xavier’s Social Service Society
organized the eighth annual cricket tournament for teenage boys from the slums
of Ahmedabad March 10 and was overseeing preparations for the society’s
annual festival at which 5,000 slum dwellers would gather to sing, dance, eat
At the same time, he coordinated the centre’s daily work
among 50,000 people in the slums: six primary schools, a nurses’ training
programme, mother and infant health care, community organizing and the constant
battle against evictions.
Father Prakash also was involved in a court battle against the
Gujarat government’s attempt to conduct a “criminal census” of
Christian institutions in the state. He also was defending himself against a
contempt of court charge the government filed when he spoke out about the census
while the matter was before the court.
A preliminary court ruling March 5 halted police collection of
data for the census, which included questions about the number of Christians in
each town and village; the names, addresses and phone numbers of all Church
workers; and information about donations and grants provided by Christians
The census also asked police to report to the Gujarat
government, “In your district, what type of trickery is being used by the
Christian missionaries for their defilement activities?”
Father Prakash said the question refers to the Hindu
extremists’ claims that Pentecostal healing services and Christian schools
and clinics are a front for inducing Hindus to convert.
Although Father Prakash was beaten twice and nearly killed by
Hindu extremists in the early 1990s, in March he was fairly certain he would be
safe in the latest wave of violence.
A Hindu group of the Jesuit’s supporters has made it
clear that chaos in the city would follow any attempt to harm him.
Members of the Rabari caste, the herders of the sacred cattle,
have vowed to avenge any attack on the Jesuit priest, who helped them expose a
government attempt to sell public grazing land to private developers.
“I told them I don’t want any violence, they must
not cause harm, even if I am harmed,” Father Prakash said in an interview
before going out to catch the last minutes of the cricket final, played on the
groomed pitch of a Jesuit high school .
Congratulating the winners, a mixed team of Hindu and Muslim
youths, Father Prakash said the match showed how inter-religious harmony and
cooperation lead to success.
Inter-religious tensions are at the heart of the wave of
violence against Indian Christians that continues, although not at the pace it
reached in November, December and January.
Of the 139 cases of violence against Christians reported in
India in 1998, 84 of them occurred in Gujarat, a state where Christians are only
0.5 per cent of the 45 million population and the government is led by the Hindu
The state has long been the site of Hindu extremist violence,
although until recently the main target was the Muslim community, which makes up
about 10 per cent of the state population.
While preservation for the Hindu faith is the
extremists’ rallying cry, Father Prakash said their favourite targets
clearly show that their growing inability to exploit India’s lowest castes
is the real motivation for their action.
“Empowerment of the tribals and slum dwellers through
education established by the Christians” is the key, he said. “With
education, they can question and challenge. They will not remain in positions of
“It is true there are fundamentalist Protestant groups
which give them the excuse of alleged conversion campaigns,” Father
Prakash said. But the extremists are not going after the Christian
fundamentalists. Instead “they are destroying schools, burning down
churches, attacking priests and nuns,” he said.
A Monthly of Catholic Information and News