An Indian church leader has criticised the chief minister of India's southern Karnataka state for saying that those responsible for a continuing series of attacks on churches should have their hands cut off - writes Anto Akkara.
In apparent exasperation about criticisms of government action following the attacks in Karnataka, its chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, declared, "I am telling you, chop off the hands of these people if you catch them."
Yeddyurappa belongs to the Bhartiya Janta Party which controls the state government. Opponents say the BJP has a Hindu nationalist agenda. A national TV channel quoted the chief minister as making his comments during a public meeting on 27 January 2010.
"We do not want hands to be chopped off; we want the government to arrest the culprits and bring them to justice," Methodist Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India, told Ecumenical News International on 28 January.
Bishop Sagar, based at Bangalore, pointed out that the "virtual immunity" that existed following attacks on churches was at the root of the continued violence.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Bernard Moras of Bangalore, chairperson of the ecumenical Karnataka United Christian Forum for Human Rights, told ENI, "We are not asking for security for churches but when churches are attacked, let the government identity the culprits and punish them. It cannot absolve itself by saying that there is not enough police to protect the churches, mosques and temples."
Yeddyurappa commented, "You may wonder why a chief minister is saying such things but what can be done when people try to hit at the very basis of our society, that of peace and brotherhood?" His statement came after two churches were desecrated on 25 January - the eve of India's 60th Republic Day.
H.R. Bhardwaj, the state governor, who is appointed by the federal government, in his Republic Day address had expressed concern over continued attacks on Christian targets in the state.
Since the BJP assumed office in Karnataka in May 2008, the state has recorded scores of atrocities on Christian targets; there were more than 100 incidents in 2009 alone.
V.S. Acharya, the state's home affairs minister, struck a different note at a press conference on 27 January. "It is difficult to provide security at all places," said Acharya, who blamed anti-social elements for the latest attacks in Mysore and Bhatkal.
The minister told the media that Karnataka had 43,000 temples, and 3,000 mosques and churches in the state, while the government had only 90,000 police officers at its command. He therefore appealed to religious institutions to put their own security in place.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International  is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]