By Santosh Digal, BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)-- An official of one of India's largest evangelical umbrella groups says his organization recorded over 1,000 anti-Christian attacks in 500 days in the southern Indian state of Karnataka and that the number is growing "by the day".
"It is regrettable to report on physical attacks on Christian workers and believers, vandalism of church property, desecration of statues of Jesus, and arrests of priests on frivolous complains of conversions in Karnataka," said Richard Howell, the general-secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
Most recently, he said, on March 17 some 150 people allegedly led by right-wing Hindu extremist groups stormed the funeral of a 50-year-old Christian man at St. Thomas Church near Arsikere town in the state's Hassan district.
"The mob pulled the coffin apart and desecrated the cross the relatives of the deceased were carrying. They threw the body in a tractor and dumped it outside, saying his burial would have contaminated the Indian soil and his body should be buried in Rome or America."
The 1,000th attack in Karnataka happened in Mysore city on January 26 when India celebrated the enforcement of its Constitution on Republic Day, according to a report of an independent enquiry by former judge of the Karnataka High Court, Justice Michael F. Saldanha, cited by EFI.
In a report, seen by BosNewsLife Monday, March 22, EFI said anti-Christian violence increased in Karnataka since September 2008 after clashes broke out in Orissa, another southern state, where “Christians were being hacked to death and their houses burnt” by Hindu militants.
The Orissa violence followed the murder of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, the leader of the nationalist grouping Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or 'World Hindu Council'. Maoists reportedly claimed responsibility for the killing, but Hindus blamed Christians.
Saldanha has reportedly suggested that Karnataka authorities are trying to downplay the incidents by buying up strategic local media, while “national media is shockingly silent' about the "unprecedented" persecution of minority Christians in Karnataka.
One exception was last year in January when television networks showed footage of Hindu militants storming a pub and ejecting women, accusing them of “behaving outside” the permit of Hindu tradition. Two of the women were hospitalized.
Karnataka – once a symbol of India’s economic progress and of freedom – has now become a hub of right-wing Hindu extremism, according to EFI.
Christian investigators say Christian persecution increased after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) became Karnataka's main ruling party in 2008.
Howell told BosNewsLife that his organization has urged the local and national governments to intervene, amid concerns it could risk India's international reputation at a time when it is seeking closer ties with the West for its further economic development.
Christians comprise less than three percent of India's mainly Hindu population of nearly 1.2 billion people, according to official estimates.