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 own safety.
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 and play.
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 outside India.
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 nationalist party.
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 bonded labour.
“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
May-June 1999