The rally, called "Stop Violence On Christians", was organized after two recently televised attacks on Christians and an increase of anti-Christian incidents in the first few months of 2007.
The rally started at 10am at Jantar Mantar near the Parliament in New Delhi. Rally organizers had expected 2,000 people, but attendance was estimated at 5,000. Speeches demanded human dignity and constitutional rights for the Christian community and other repressed minorities. Minorities are facing harassment from Hindutva fundamentalists and, in many cases, local government officials.
The Station House Officer, Parliament Street Police Station, said he had "arrested" approximately 4,000 people at 1:05pm and released them at 2:10pm. It is standard practice for protestors who obstruct traffic to be detoured into the police station yard. They are temporarily detained for their own protection and allowed to state their demands to police authorities.
"This was the first time since November 1997 that such large numbers of Christians have been arrested in the Parliament Street Police Station. It was incredible to see Catholic nuns, Protestant pastors, civil society activists and more singing Christian songs of liberation within the police station," said John Dayal, Secretary General, All India Christian Council.
Large numbers of Catholics and Evangelicals were joined by Muslims, Buddhists and progressive Hindus, leaders of various women's organisations, students groups from several universities, and Christian lawyers, teachers, and professors. Rally organisers reported attendees from at least seven states in India.
Dr. Joseph D'souza, President, All India Christian Council, said, "The diversity of protestors, from several religious communities, different Christian denominations, and even civil society groups, show that India's citizens want a truly secular India. People should be able to practice their faith without violent attacks. The government's silence in the face of recent anti-Christian incidents is not only an injustice, it is dangerous."
Christian leaders fear copycat attacks could come in the future due to silence by government authorities after recently televised beatings of pastors. Throughout the morning crowds chanted, "Prime Minister, your silence kills".
At 12:15pm, crowds began a march to present a memorandum of demands to the Prime Minister of India. However, a majority of the attendees were detained at the Parliament Street Police Station. Organisers said that they decided not to submit the memorandum as originally planned. Instead, it will be released as an open letter to the government.
Recent victims of anti-Christian violence spoke, such as Rev. Walter Masih from Jaipur, Rajasthan, whose beating by masked attackers on April 29, 2007 was broadcast nationally. Rev. Masih walks with a limp due to the attack and shared his experience with the crowd inside the police station with the help of a police PA system.
Throughout the day, other speakers protested the recent wave of violence, demanded immediate implementation of the Misra Commission recommendations, and even proposed new legislation.
Bishop Karam Masih, Bishop of Delhi, Church of North India (CNI), said, "Today I don't come as a CNI leader. I come as a Christian. All denominations should unite until all the anti-Christian atrocities stop."
Dr. Ms. Begum Fatima Shahmaz, India Peace Organisation, said, "Those parties and groups who are persecuting Christians should be treated as terrorists. It is unacceptable to attack others based on a difference in spiritual beliefs."
Dr. Udit Raj, National Chairman, All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organisations, said, "Today there is a special unity of Christians and Dalits around the country. We, Dalits, have been attacked for thousands of years and you have been recently attacked. Christians have given much to this country so I want to teach you how to be united, and, if you are united, we can stop the attacks."
Mr. Mudra Rakshas, noted Hindi writer and theatre artist, said, "Because of the increasing attacks, we need a new law that tells police how they should handle people who are mistreating Christians. We should agitate until the new law comes."
The Misra Commission, officially called the National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities, recommended last week that the Union Government change a 1950 law which restricts government benefits to Scheduled Castes who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. Millions of poor Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians would benefit from the change and the recommendations will likely affect pending cases before the Supreme Court of India.
The aicc said meetings similar to the Delhi gathering were planned for today in Mumbai and smaller cities like Nagpur and Pune. They also confirmed that yesterday, in 23 of 25 districts in Andhra Pradesh, protest marches were held under the leadership of local aicc chapters.
In 2006, there was an incident of harassment or violence against Christians approximately once every three days. In the first four months of 2007, there has been an attack every other day on average, according to records kept by the aicc. In addition to the televised attack on Rev. Masih, an attack by Hindutva activists on two pastors in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, was televised on May 9, 2007.