The year 2000 was marked by a series of tragedies that have largely been forgotten by the ordinary citizen. It has been 19 years after all and incidents which do not fit into a certain narrative often has a weird way of being discarded by public memory.
During the rule of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, there was a series of bombings in Churches in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Goa. Along expected lines, Christian priests blamed Hindu right-wing groups for it but the reality could not have been more different.
Gulbarga, Hubli and Bangalore in Karnataka, in Ongole town and Tadepalliguddem of Andhra Pradesh, Vasco in Goa were cites of a series of bombings that targeted Churches in the states. There were numerous other attacks in various other places in the states as well. While the Central government suspected Islamic terrorists with ties with Pakistan’s ISI to be behind the attacks, Christian priests appeared convinced that Hindus were to blame for the attacks. Sajan George, national convenor of the Global Council of Indian Christians, opined that radical Hindus tend to go unpunished by the regime for crimes committed against marginalized groups.
“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.
Numerous other Christian padres were of the same opinion. Reverend Vijay Kumar, president of the Hyderabad Baptist Churches Association, shared similar sentiments. He too suspected Hindus to be behind the serial bombings. Bishop D’Silva said that the blast in his diocese could be the result of the national agenda of some militant Hindu groups. In Goa, Church officials suspected that the blast was part of an upcoming industrial firm’s retaliation to a Church-backed protest. Leonardo Lobo, general secretary of the Vasco Citizens Association, said that the blasts were an attempt to instil a sense of fear among the country’s minorities, including Muslims.
Consequently, a narrative was carefully concocted that the attacks were linked to the campaign of Hindu groups against Christian missionaries. An impression was created that the attacks were somehow linked to the campaign of Hindus against the demographic subversion by evangelicals. By creating such a narrative, one can safely speculate that the greater agenda was to blackmail the government and invite international pressure to initiate a crackdown on Hindu organizations working to prevent conversions. Truly, it is a perversion that only Christian missionaries could be capable of.
It ought to be remembered that the Christian religious leaders were demonizing an entire community before any investigation was even completed. Their first instinct was to play politics over the heinous attacks instead of comforting the attendees of their Churches and safeguard their evangelical interests. As time would go on to prove, they were all horribly wrong.
On the 9th of July, the same year, after the spate of serial bombings, bombs in the vehicle of the perpetrators exploded while they were returning after churches in Jagajeevanramnagar. Two of them died on the spot while third sustained injuries. And as their names indicated, they certainly weren’t Hindus. Zakir and Siddiqi died instantly while S.M. Ibrahim suffered injuries. Soon after, the Police raided Ibrahim’s residence and seized documents and a hard disk that led to the arrests of several others across the three states.
In November 2008, 23 people were convicted by a special court for the heinous terror attacks and not a single one of them was a Hindu. All of them belonged to an Islamic terrorist organization called the Deendar Anjuman, an unknown entity at the time. The names of the convicted persons are Hasnuzama, Shamshuzama, Sayed Abdul Khader Zilani (all brothers), Mohammed Ibrahim, Shaikh Hasham Ali, Mohammed Farook Ali, Abdul Rehman Saith, Mohammed Siddiqi, Abdul Habeeb, Shaikh Fardin Vali, Amanath Husain Mulla, Mohammed Giyasuddin, Mohammed Sharfuddin, Meerasab Koujalagi, Sayed Muneeruddin Mulla, Rishi Hiremath, Mohammed Akhil Ahmed, Basheer Ahmed, Mohammed Husain, Ijahar Baigh, Sayed Abbas Ali, Mohammed Khalid Choudhary and Sangli Basha.
Of the 23 convicted, 11 were given death sentences while 12 were given the life sentence. The court had convicted them on charges of waging a war against the State (Section 121 of Indian Penal Code), conspiracy to wage a war (Section 121A of IPC) and sedition (Section 124A of IPC). Some were found guilty under the provisions of the Explosives Act.
The terrorists believed that the spate of serial bombings would cause a civil war in the country between Hindus and Christians. Ultimately, a religious leader from Afghanistan would invade India which would then be turned into an Islamic country. Deluded fantasies, yes, but delusions form the entire basis of Global Jihad.
It is worthy to note that Christian Padres were playing right into the hands of the terrorists. They behaved in a manner as exactly predicted by the terrorists themselves. They demonized an entire community, they put immense pressure on the NDA government which they believed was a manifestation of radical Hindutva and they were using the attacks to further their own political agenda. Due to the great work by the investigative agencies and the utter stupidity of the Jihadis, the perpetrators were soon caught and the Christians could no longer blame Hindus for it.
If one believed that Christian padres would have learnt from their previous follies, they are obviously quite wrong. In 2015, after the heinous rape of an elderly nun in Ranaghat, Maria Fernandez, vice chairperson of the state minority commission, said, “I will not be surprised if investigations reveal that the motive of ‘ghar wapsi’ was behind it.” Propaganda also ensued that sought to politicize the entire issue and give it a communal colour. In the end, Bangladeshis were found guilty of the crime and were convicted for it in 2017.
Islamic attack on Christians is a pretty routine affair. However, whenever such an incident happens in India, the first instinct of Christians is to blame Hindus even before any investigation has been concluded. It’s not a surprise that the narrative around the 2000 Church Bombings has been buried six feet under. It shows how Christian Padres chose to play petty politics in the aftermath of terror attacks in Churches. It was buried so that they can do so again when a similar incident happens the next time. Like previous occasions, it is extremely likely that they will be proven wrong again. But that won’t stop them from playing the same card again in the future.