India's general election was expected to tighten the grip of Hindu nationalists on the world's largest democracy and lead to escalating persecution of religious minorities. Instead, the results, announced in May, are being hailed with headlines reading "shock and awesome." Despite pre-election polls predicting a comfortable victory for the incumbents, the secularist Congress Party, long out of favor, clobbered the rightist ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee.
But Joseph D'Souza, , president of the All India Christian Council (AICC), says religious minorities aren't completely safe yet. He expects a backlash of anti-Christian persecution from Hindu militants in the BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orissa, and Gujarat
Still, he says, Christians can expect more justice at the national level. "We expect the new government to reign in the [rightist] forces," D'Souza said. "The Christians should stay alert and united to carry on God's work."
D'Souza said he was surprised by the "spontaneous move of public anger" exhibited in last month's elections. He said the BJP, which ran on a program of high-tech economic growth and better relations with Pakistan, overlooked the plight of India's oppressed Dalits, hundreds of suicides by impoverished farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states, and the jailing of innocents under new antiterrorism laws. There have also been hundreds of attacks against Christians in the last six years, while the BJP looked the other way.
In February, for example, Hindu fanatics dragged six Christian women from their homes in an Orissa village. The women, including two 15-yearold girls, were beaten and had their heads forcibly shaved when they refused to convert to ...1
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