'He needs to control his foot soldiers by taking either stern action against the over enthusiastic members of his group or convince them to stop causing him this embarrassment.'
'We know that most of these leaders are not going to be prosecuted by Indian authorities. So we are seeking alternate means to bring them to justice,' FIACONA President John Prabhudoss tells Aziz Haniffa/Rediff.com
The Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of North America has launched a concerted lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill to apprise US lawmakers about its growing concern over the escalation of violence against Christians and demolition of churches in India.
In a statement issued to the leadership in the US Senate, the House of Representatives, Obama administration officials as well as the Congressionally-mandated US Commission for International Religious Freedom, FIACONA said, it is 'deeply troubled by the escalation of violence against Christian institutions and its leaders in India again after a brief lull following the Delhi elections.'
'Though the rape of a 71-year-old Catholic nun at the Jesus and Mary convent in the town of Ranaghat in the Nadia district of West Bengal state last Saturday (March 14) was first reported as a common robbery incident,' FIACONA noted, 'people on the ground inform us that the reported robbery could be merely a cover.'
'We are concerned that law enforcement has been dragging its feet even after the CCTV images of the culprits were released. It makes us wonder if the accused are being protected by powerful political groups,' FIACONA added.
'While welcoming (Prime Minister) Mr (Narendra) Modi's reported interest in this case,' FIACONA said, 'We are disappointed that his government has been maintaining silence over another incident in another northern state of Haryana, where his own party is in power. There, a church under construction was demolished by members of the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party)'s sister organisations.'
These members, FIACONA said, 'replaced the cross on the site with an image of Hanuman -- a Hindu god -- and a saffron colour flag of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council or VHP).'
FIACONA quoted the Global Council of Indian Christians that, on Monday, March 16, VHP General Secretary Surendra Jain defended the demolition of the church.
The Federation further informed lawmakers that on March 17, 'the chief elected official of the state of Haryana Mr Manohar Lal Khattar, belonging to Mr Modi's BJP party, tried to turn the tables on the Christian priest Subhash Masih, accusing him of assaulting a Hindu youth in the village, triggering the action.'
'Mr Masih originally lodged the complaint about the desecration and demolition of the church. Mr Khattar said police received a complaint from someone saying that Mr Masih assaulted a youth for running away from a prayer meeting in which they claim Mr Masih insulted their gods,' FIACONA added.
'The Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations,' FIACONA told the US lawmakers, is 'increasingly suspecting the commitment Mr Modi made to the nation and the world last month.'
It implored 'Mr Modi and his government to end such hostilities carried out by the BJP's affiliated organisations,' and noted that 'statements like the one from the chief minister of the state of Haryana only creates the image that the BJP would try and protect the perpetrators of such hateful violence regardless of what Prime Minister Modi has promised.'
'FIACONA will hold individual leaders of these violent groups along with state and national leaders of the ruling BJP party personally responsible for this incident. We will hold them fully responsible for their tacit support to radical sister organisations and also for their failure to put an end to such violence,' the organisation added.
FIACONA President John Prabhudoss told Rediff.com that the organisation's concerns had been conveyed to "select members of Congress, members of the Senate International Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the TLHR (Tom Lantos) Caucus in the House."
This Caucus is named after the late US Representative Tom Lantos, the California Democrat, who chaired at one time and was the ranking minority member when the Republicans were in the majority in the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Lantos, an avowed human rights activist, was a Holocaust survivor.
FIACONA's concerns, Prabhudoss added, had also been conveyed to "some officials we keep in touch with at the State Department besides the USCIRF."
"Ever since (President) Mr Obama made his observations in Delhi," the FIACONA president said, "it has forced Prime Minister Modi to make the promise to uphold the Constitutional rights of all people, including that of the Christians in front of the entire nation and the world -- which he steadfastly refused to do all along in spite of so many people urging him to."
"What the prime minister needs to do is to walk the talk," Prabhudoss said.
"He needs to control his foot soldiers by taking either stern action against the over enthusiastic members of his group or convince them to stop causing him this embarrassment," Prabhudoss asserted.
"Mr Modi's election as prime minister has actually helped highlight the group's ideology to a wider audience worldwide. Today there is a greater understanding of what his party and their sister organisations have been doing in India," Dr K P Verghese, FIACONA's vice-president, felt.
Dr Verghese has just returned from an extended trip to India, meeting with church leaders and assessing the violence against Christians in recent months.
"I also believe had there been another person as the prime minister, there would not have been such an understanding of the issue among leaders of the international community starting from Mr Obama himself," Dr Verghese said, and argued, "Mr Obama's observations, both in Delhi and back in Washington a few days later, brought the issue to the right and center of US policy in a way."
"I see it as a sincere attempt to keep him (Modi) straight by getting closer to him, because what is at stake here is much more than a few trade deals and business," Dr Verghese added.
"FIACONA's strategy now is to collect the names and identities of people like Mr Khattar and Mr Surendra Jain so that we could seek justice in international forums against them," Prabhudoss told Rediff.com
"We now know that most of these leaders are not going to be prosecuted by Indian authorities. They have been getting away with such actions for a long time now. So we are seeking alternate means to bring them to justice," he added.
"Justice will catch up with them eventually," Prabhudoss said. "We should not let them get away with it."
In December, on the eve of President Obama's trip to India to attend the Republic Day celebrations and for his summit with Prime Minister Modi, FIACONA informed Congress and the administration about its concern over the forced conversion of Christians in India since the BJP government took power.
Sources told this correspondent that this had contributed to Obama's reference to religious intolerance in India in his Siri Fort speech and also at the National Prayer breakfast in Washington, DC, which some analysts felt took away some sheen from the euphoria that followed the Obama-Modi summit.
Image: Protesting Christians being detained outside the Sacred Heart Church in New Delhi. Photograph: PTI Photo