In a renewed round of violence, Hindu extremists in India assaulted priests and nuns and ransacked Christian churches and schools. A growing atmosphere of religious intolerance in India is threatening to further damage relations between Hindu moderates and Christians.

Militant Hindu organizations such as the Rashtiriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Sangh Parivar (SP) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) receive support from members of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), thus fueling a campaign against religious minorities in India.

In November, about 400 VHP activists desecrated and forcibly took over a church belonging to the Evangelical Church of India in the Surat district, Gujarat state. They removed the church's cross from the altar, replacing it with Hindu idols. They also hoisted a saffron flag, symbolizing that the church had become a place of Hindu worship.

A five-member fact-finding team headed by John Dayal, secretary general of the All-India Christian Council (AICC), alleged that Hindu fundamentalist organizations were trying to convert the church into a temple. The matter, now a national controversy, is pending in court.

In the incident, about 80 Christian families, some 200 tribal Christians in all, were driven out of the village and took refuge in a nearby forest. VHP activists have warned that the Christians will be allowed back only if they embrace Hinduism.

Area Christians say the district police assisted the SP. "The situation in Gujarat has deteriorated," said Joseph D'Souza, president of the AICC. "We feel that the government is conniving with the Sangh Parivar outfits. We take very strong objection [to] the government's claim that the church land is disputed—and [to] the forcible takeover ...

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