The attacks on churches in Karnataka in September 2008 and the others that subsequently occurred were “pre-planned” and “State-sponsored” by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Government, according to a report by Michael F. Saldanha, retired judge of Karnataka High Court. Mr. Saldanha released it here on Tuesday.
The report was the outcome of a public inquiry conducted at the instance of the People's Union for Civil Liberties and Transparency International India (TII), Karnataka Chapter.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Saldanha said that when Karnataka appointed Justice B.K. Somasekhara Commission to inquire into the attacks, Christian organisations had told Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa that his candidature “did not inspire confidence”.
“We, therefore, decided to have a people's inquiry which would be free, frank and unbiased,” Mr. Saldanha told a press conference. The incidents in Karnataka “are representative of the hidden agenda of the party in power, the BJP. Every one of the attacks and incidents were instigated and pre-planned. They were State-sponsored and not only supported by the State but were covered up by the State. The responsibility of this devolves on Home Minister V.S. Acharya and Mr. Yeddyurappa,” the findings conclude.
The report also indicts the State police force for “coercing” the perpetrators of violence and allegedly even guiding assault in some places. In one instance, “the police storm[ed] the church at Pemannur, obstruct[ed] and stopp[ed] the Mass, assault[ed] the celebrant priest, and standing on top of the altar, direct[ed] the assault,” the report alleges.
“As far as the saffron activists are concerned, the Bajrang Dal leader and the leader of the Sri Rama Sene have at all times boldly and openly admitted that it was their organisations which had undertaken all the attacks. The evidence clearly established that as far as Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts are concerned, the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh] was involved,” the report states alleging “total collusion” between the BJP Government and these organisations.
Mr. Saldanha said that he visited 431 places and spoke to over a thousand witnesses, besides collecting material from journalists, and from press clippings and television footage.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias said the people of Karnataka had called for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation. He said the guilty must be brought to book and compensation to victims must be given at the earliest.
“It is time for us to stand up for a cleaner society. The credibility of the country and inquiry commissions is at stake. Mistakes have to be rectified,” he said. Christian NGOs condemned the Somasekhara report for being “biased” against Christians and for being “a sham to whitewash the crimes of the BJP Government and protect the Hindutva brigade.” They demanded expunging the “false allegations” on conversion and misuse of funds against Christian organisations.
“The Karnataka riots are part of a wider plan of radical Hindutva elements targeting the Christian community after the Muslim community. You have seen this in all the BJP-ruled States,” Joseph Dias of The Catholic Secular Forum said.