Cult of intolerance

The culture of communal intolerance that has gripped Karnataka in recent years has been laid bare again with the attack on a church at Hebbagudi in Bangalore on Thursday. Statues of Jesus and Mary were desecrated and window panes of the church damaged. The attack has come exactly a year after churches in Mangalore, Udupi, Bangalore, Davanagere and Kodagu were vandalised by suspected Bajrang Dal activists. Security for churches, including the one at Hebbagudi had been stepped up in the wake of last year’s attacks. However, with the threat of attacks being seen to have diminished, this security was reportedly reduced last week. Thursday’s attack indicates that this assessment was wrong. Places of worship remain vulnerable to violence. Outfits like the Bajrang Dal that have spearheaded several attacks on Christians and their places of worship in the past have sought to justify their vandalism on the grounds that Christians engage in conversion activity. Senior ministers have gone on record saying that the attacks are “reaction to the hostile climate created by conversions”. They would do well to realise that the ‘hostile climate’ in our society is being encouraged by politicians and activists like themselves, who draw on communal polarisation for their sustenance and votes.
Karnataka has the dubious distinction of being among the states where Christians are most vulnerable to attacks. In 2008, for instance, around 112 attacks on Christians are reported to have taken place, second only to that in Orissa. Some 20 attacks are said to have occurred this year; far less than those last year perhaps but still an unacceptably large number. Communal politics and religious intolerance is making the state a communal cauldron. Analysts have been warning that the state is fast becoming another Gujarat or an Orissa which are today synonymous with religious intolerance and communal violence.

State Home Minister V S Acharya has described the attack on the Hebbagudi church as ‘a minor incident’. It is not. It is symptomatic of the growing culture of religious intolerance in Karnataka. It cannot be dismissed as a one-off attack. A fair probe into the incident is required and stern action should be taken not only against those who carried out the attacks but also those who masterminded them. The government stands guilty of encouraging communal tensions in the state if it persists with appeasing those who carry out such attacks.

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