10 July 2000 (Newsroom)-- Bomb blasts damaged two churches in India's southern Karnataka state over the weekend as Christians across the nation staged marches and rallies to protest sectarian violence.
Early on Saturday a low-intensity bomb exploded at the doors of a Protestant church in Hubli, about 270 miles north of the state capital, Bangalore. Police said the blast occurred between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. at St. John's Lutheran Church in Hubli's Keshavapura area, which has a 15,000-strong Christian population. The explosion damaged the church's steel gates and its belfry, but no injuries were reported, police said.
On Sunday an explosion left a small crater and shattered windows in the St. Peter and Paul Church in Bangalore.
The attack in Hubli came exactly one month after a bomb blast shook a Roman Catholic church in Wadi in the north Karnataka town of Gulbarga. Three other bomb attacks on churches occurred on June 8, in the coastal town of Goa and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. Police say that the attack on Saturday is similar to the June 8 blasts, which are still under investigation.
The federal government blames sympathizers of the Pakistan intelligence agency ISI (Inter Service Intellegence) and claims the neighboring nation is out to destabilize India and drive a wedge between Christians and Hindus.
Church leaders allege, however, that right-wing Hindu groups are behind a series of attacks against India's 23 million Christians, and may be responsible for the latest church bombings. Christians believe many of the Hindu groups are closely connected to the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which leads the federal government's ruling coalition.
A number of marginalized social groups have been victims of radical Hindus who go unpunished by the regime, said Sajan George, national convenor of the Global Council of Indian Christians. "It becomes clear from these attacks that whether it is Christians, Muslims, or Dalits, the attacks never end; they are part of the continuing spiral built into the sectarian ideology, out to justify acts of blatant violence and denial of fundamental rights to life, equality before the law, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression," George said after the Hubli church bombing.
In the BJP-ruled northern state of Uttar Pradesh a Roman Catholic priest was murdered last month as he slept in the town of Mathura, near the Taj Mahal. One of the key witnesses to the murder, a cook called Ekka, died mysteriously under police custody.
Bangalore was one of several state capitals where Christians marched on Saturday in remembrance of victims of religious persecution and in protest of continuing violence. At a rally in Hyderabad on Sunday the president of the All India Christian Council, Joseph D'Souza, read a list of demands to which a crowd of some 100,000 expressed agreement by raising their hands. The demands included state protection for church property and arrest and prosecution of all who openly engage in hate campaigns against Christians.
The Deccan Herald of Bangalore reported Monday that city police had been directed by the Congress Party-led Karnataka government to step up security near churches and other places of worship.
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