Father Raymond J. De Souza: The sad plight of India's flock
September 08, 2008
by Kelly McParland
Last Friday, Sept. 5, was the
anniversary of Mother Teresa's death. Eleven years ago, Indians lined the
streets to honour her state funeral procession. This year, her sisters, the
Missionaries of Charity, encountered a rather different crowd on the
Four sisters were attacked by about 20 Bajrang Dal (a Hindu nationalist youth movement) activists and forced off a train in Chhattisgarh, a province in central India. The small mob marched the sisters to the police station, chanting anti-Christian slogans, threatening to beat them up and accusing the sisters of kidnapping the children in their care.
A Hindu nationalist mob threatening violence against religious sisters who run orphanages? Sadly, that there were only threats must today be considered a blessing. In the neighbouring state of Orissa, the past fortnight has seen an outbreak of deadly anti-Christian violence - the latest episodes in an ominous trend spanning several years.
In India as a whole, and in Orissa as well, Christians represent slightly more than 2% of the population. Two weeks ago, a Hindu nationalist leader named Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was killed in Orissa. Responsibility for the assassination was claimed by Maoists guerrillas. Despite that, the followers of Saraswati blamed Christians and went on a rampage.
At least a dozen people have been killed, including a young woman missionary burnt alive in an orphanage. (When the mob torched the building, she ran inside to try and rescue the children.) A priest at the same orphanage was locked in a room to suffer the same fate - though he escaped with grave injuries. In scenes of pure barbarism, a Catholic layman was hacked to pieces, a young nun was raped. Christian schools, churches and hospitals have been sacked.
"There is a climate of intolerance against Christians that is growing in the country, and it will have serious drastic long-term effects on Indian society," said Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, accusing Hindu nationalist leaders of "poisoning minds" with anti-Christian propaganda.
On Aug. 29, India's Catholic bishops closed all the Catholic schools in the country - many of which are sought out by India's non-Catholic elite for the quality of the education - in a one-day protest "against the atrocities on the Christian community and other innocent people."
Yesterday was observed throughout the Indian Catholic Church as a Gandhi-esque day of prayer and fasting for "the promotion of communal harmony and peace in India." But otherwise, anti-Christian violence in the country seems to have attracted little notice.
Ignoring this phenomenon would be mistake, both for India and Indian Christians.
The growth of Hindu nationalism in India, both in its democratic political form and in its mob-terrorist form, threatens to put the country on a path of sectarian conflict and religious violence. The more extreme Hindu nationalists want to overturn India's official secularity in favour of an explicit Hindu identity. In such an India, the public life and even presence of Muslims and Christians would be severely circumscribed.
Muslims in India, numbering some 150 million, are simply too numerous to be a plausible first target. Christians, on the other hand, are a tiny minority and, with the apparent global ignorance of their plight, can be subject to harassment and violence with relative impunity.
Yet if Hindu nationalist violence grows, it will one day turn against Muslims in large numbers - threatening to inflame religious tensions on the subcontinent, within India and with India's Muslim neighbours, Pakistan and Bangladesh. A religious conflagration could be massively destabilizing for global politics.
The Christian world ought to pay attention on Christian grounds, too. No flock is too small to be expendable; and in any case, India's Christians are not a small flock. There are 18 million Catholics in India - more than in Canada and England combined.
The Church in India is vibrant. In 2006, I was in Bombay for the installation of the new archbishop and was struck by the sheer vitality of the Indian Church. Cardinal Gracias told me then that Bombay, with "only" 500,000 Catholics, is actually comparable to cities such Chicago or Milan in terms of actual church-goers, with Mass attendance above 80%. Certainly, the Church in Bombay is more vital and important to the shape of global Catholicism than the Church in Toronto or Montreal - a sobering reality for Canadians to consider.
So in terms of India's future and the future of global Christianity, it is a pressing concern that anti-Christian violence be checked. But it cannot be checked if it is not at least noticed.
Crosses desecrated in Goa
by Nirmala Carvalho
21 July, 2005
(AsiaNews) – Four crosses were desecrated in seven days in Ponda
Parish, in the state of Goa, the former Portuguese colony on India West
“Desecrating the crosses conceals an ulterior motive, namely sowing the seeds of communal suspicion and unrest in Goa,” said Father Loiola, secretary to the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Mgr Filipe Neri Ferrăo, Patriarch of the East Indies.
“There have been sporadic cases of communal violence,” Father Loiola noted, “but Archbishop Ferrăo has refused to view them as instances of anti-Christian violence. He left any action or official complaint with the State Administration to local parish priests.”
Two crosses were struck on the night of July 13-14. The cross near the Mount Carmel Chapel was completely destroyed; the other one, which is on private property, was damaged.
Another cross was found damaged at Farmagudi Ponda this week and it is worrisome that it should so close to the other to acts of vandalism.
Some weeks back, a cross at Opa was also found to be desecrated.
The small state of Goa is dotted with crosses rising along public roads and on private properties. Christians often meet at these sites in May to recite litanies when the feast of the Holy Cross is celebrated.
These acts have not however raised sectarian tensions among religious groups, which are united in their condemnation.
“The Church and the clergy are highly respected in Goa. Our educational institutions are most sought after by people of all faiths. They are considered prestigious, not only because of the level of academics, but because of the values that are transmitted to the students,” Father Loiola said.
Ponda has a Hindu majority and law enforcement is checking out whether the incidents are motivated by religious hatred or a feud between families.
For Father Loiola, it is too early to label what happened as a fundamentalist attack against the Catholic Church even if there have been cases of anti-Christian intolerance in the past.
Institute Condemns Planned Distribution of Anti-Christian Booklets by Hindu Extremist Group in Orissa; Calls on Police to Monitor Activity of Dara Sena
To: National & International Desks
Contact: Ben Marsh of the Institute on
Religion and Public Policy
WASHINGTON, July 21 /Christian Wire Service/ -- The Dara Sena, a Hindu extremist group dedicated to the promotion of convicted murderer Dara Singh, is planning to distribute anti-Christian booklets in Orissa, India. Dara Singh was convicted in 2003 and sentenced to life in prison for murdering missionary Graham Staines and his two sons by burning them alive.
"Dara Singh and the Dara Sena are violent thugs seeking to intimidate growing non-Hindu populations in Orissa," said Joseph K. Grieboski, President of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy. "Rather than protect Hinduism their stated objective - they have harmed and embarrassed the international Hindu community by promoting violence and intolerance."
Dara Singh has repeatedly stated that he wishes to run for public office in Orissa despite a law prohibiting convicted criminals from holding public office. His followers in the Dara Sena hold Singh as a godlike figure and a leader in the fight to protect Hinduism against "foreign" religions such as Christianity and Islam.
The Superintendent of Police in Mayurbhanj District, where Singh's prison is located, has publicly stated that the police will arrest anyone caught distributing anti-Christian publications.
"We encourage the government in Orissa to uphold role of law and fundamental rights, and to combat the atmosphere of intolerance and religious-based violence espoused by groups like the Dara Sena," continued Mr. Grieboski.
Hindu extremists slander the Church but send their children to Church-run schools
by Nirmala Carvalho
26 July, 2005
False charges of “forced conversions” are levelled at a Catholic priest. For the local bishop, this is a plot by Hindu extremists, backed by the state government that provides the legal instruments. Behind it, there is an attempt by extremists to get free access to high-status Catholic schools.
Jhabua (AsiaNews) – The growing anti-Christian campaign in states controlled by Hindu fundamentalist administrations has fallen upon another Catholic priest. For the bishop of his diocese who has come to the clergyman’s defence, this is another example of how the Madhya Pradesh’s Freedom of Religion Act can be used as a “legal instrument” for every kind of abuse.
The main character in the story is Fr Thomas P.T., a parish priest at St Michael’s Church in the diocese of Jhabua (Madhya Pradesh). He was arrested on July 21 on false charges of favouring the conversion of local Tribals. The facts are quite different.
The Father’s troubles go back to July 8, when Rusmal Charpota, an activist with the Hindu paramilitary group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), and six other people pressed charges against the priest in the village of Jhaapadra for violating the state’s Freedom of Religion Act, which bans forced conversions.
On June 25, Mr Charpota had already publicly accused Father Thomas with raising fees at the mission school he runs in order to discriminate against Hindus.
On that occasion, the RSS activist warned the Catholic priest that his organisation would decide what steps to take against him at its next meeting and would inform the authorities.
Father Thomas was eventually charged with demanding very high tuition fees whilst offering parents who couldn’t pay them with the option of converting to Christianity in order to have the fees waved. The parents are said to have refused and so their children were not allowed to attend school.
In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Chaako Thottumarickal, Bishop of Jhabua, the diocese in which Father Thomas’s parish is located, rejects the charges as false, a plot by Hindu extremists.
“These accusations are completely false. Sister Pratima and the teachers are in charge of admissions. The priest is the overall administrator but he is not involved in the day-to-day affairs of the school,” Bishop Thottumarickal said.
According to the prelate, “Father Thomas’s arrest is part of a conspiracy by the Sangh Parivar (an umbrella group, a ‘family’ of organisations and parties to which the RSS belongs). In the RSS’s agenda, there is a campaign to foment anti-Christian hatred among Hindus and cause social unrest as a means to increase its popular appeal and slander the Church and its missionaries”.
What is more, for Bishop Thottumarickal “the attitude of Hindu extremists towards Christians is inconsistent. First, they attack us and then they want to send their children to our schools because of the high quality of education.”
The problem, he laments, is that often these families “demand their children pass the admission exams and be exempted from the fees”.
The situation is made worse by the tacit support of the state government for these anti-Christian acts.
“The Freedom of Religion Act is a legal instrument offered by the authorities to extremists to persecute missionaries whom they accuse of ‘forced conversions’,” he said.
“Being persecuted is the price the Church must pay to pursue its mission, but at the same time our voice must be heeded. We need justice and those responsible for these odious crimes should be punished to prevent future violence.”
Still, there is a silver lining in all of
this, namely “solidarity among Christians in such a critical time.”
None the less, ”everyone is angered by the false charges brought against Father Thomas and are determined to obtain justice,” Bishop Thottumarickal stressed.
After the priest’s arrest, Jhabua Catholics in fact submitted a memorandum to the local and district administrations demanding that” the charges against Father Thomas be dropped and that his accusers be charged with unjustly attacking Christians and their institutions, which provide a valued service to the population in the social, educational and health fields”.
The state of Madhya Pradesh is administered by the Bharatiya Janata Party, a Hindu fundamentalist party.
India: priest arrested under "anti-conversion" law
New Delhi, Jul. 25 (CWNews.com) - Church leaders in India have decried the arrest of a Catholic priest who now faces charges under a new state law restricting religious conversions.
Father P. T. Thomas was arrested on July 21, in the Madhya Pradesh state, and charged with promising admission to a local Catholic school, and waiver of fees, for Hindu families who embraced Christianity. Father Thomas has been released on bail pending trial.
The complaint against the priest, brought by local Hindu activists, cites a "Freedom of Religion" act that prohibits the use of force or allurement in an attempt to encourage religious conversions.
But Bishop Chacko Thottumarickal of the Jhabua diocese insists the charges against Father Thomas are false. "The accusers never come to the priest for admission," he said, "as admission is done by the headmistress." He added that "the priest never had any role in the day to day running of the school."
The central Jhabua region has seen clashes between Christians and Hindu groups who charge that Christians are offering inducements to poor Hindu families to convert. A controversial report issued by the government recently said that acts of violence against Christians were triggered by the "massive" conversion campaigns.
Praying and fasting to counter anti-Christian violence
by Nirmala Carvalho
4 August, 2005
Praying is the best weapon against rising persecution in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, says the Archbishop of Bhopal. Catholic Tribals attend the prayer meeting in great numbers.
Bhopal (AsiaNews) – People gathered for a prayer meeting to counter “the deliberate and rising tide of anti-Christian violence” in Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh, Indian states ruled by the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In both places, local legislatures have adopted anti-conversion laws.
In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Pascal Topno, Archbishop of Bhopal, where the day of prayer was held two days ago, said that “all Christians from the two states came together to fast and pray as a result of the atrocities inflicted on our community by the anti-conversion law”.
“The Council of Bishops of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh chose a day of prayer and fasting as the best means to counter the increasing persecution we are now facing,” he noted.
As one of the promoters of the event, Archbishop Topno explained that Christians from all denominations arrived in Bhopal from both states, including Protestant ministers and Catholic bishops following Eastern rites.
“We prayed for those who persecute us and for the enemies of Christianity, whose lives have not been enlightened by the ‘Light of Truth’,” he said. “Many of the participants have been themselves victims of anti-Christian violence perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists. As spiritual guides we called on the faithful to forgive their attackers, explaining that prayer and forgiveness are the response to injustice.”
“The plight of [Christian] Tribals is pathetic,” the prelate lamented. They are poor, unemployed and “at the mercy of rightwing extremists who try to reconvert them to Hinduism using intimidation and threats”. The presence of many Catholic Tribals at the event is good though, “a sign, an indication that is encouraging and makes us more confident”.
Tribals from Jhabua—where a catholic priest was charged and arrested for alleged forced conversions—were among those who came.
Local police provided security but were unprepared for the lack of fiery speeches or inflammatory remarks. “They were surprised,” Archbishop Topno said, “by the atmosphere of serenity and spirituality of the day”.
For him, August 2 was a “marvellous ecumenical experience”. He noted that “despite the monsoon rains, people came [. . .] from far and wide to express their solidarity and voice their concern over the escalating anti-Christian violence”.
Archbishop Topno said that he prepared a memorandum for Madhya Pradesh’s Chief Minister, Babulal Gaur, in which it is made plain and clear that Christians are guilty only of bearing witness of Christ, not of forcing anyone to convert to their religion.
The document also denounces the conditions of discrimination and threat in which Christian Tribals live.
Sidney Morning Herald
March 28, 2006
Deepa Mehta's work provokes violent reactions, writes Garry Maddox.
The word controversial hardly does justice to director Deepa Mehta's trilogy on Indian life.
The acclaimed first instalment, Fire, prompted fundamentalist Hindus to violently attack cinemas in 1998.
Seeing it as an example of corrupting Western influences, they broke windows, tore down posters, threatened Mehta and forced the Government to send the film back to the censors. It took a Supreme Court challenge before Fire, which dealt with a lesbian relationship, could be re-released. But that was nothing compared with the responses when the third film, Water, started shooting in the holy city of Varanasi two years later.
A day into filming, an angry mob of 2000 Hindu protesters burnt sets, threw others in the Ganges and made death threats against the director and the then lead actresses, Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das. Mehta, who was rehearsing, was not on set.
For two weeks, protesters burnt effigies of her in cities across the country. With the Government denouncing the riot and the army providing protection, authorities shut down the production after a protester attempted suicide by jumping in the Ganges tied to a rock. He was in intensive care and there were reports the inflamed protesters planned more violence.
"It was insane," says Mehta, who is in Sydney for previews of Water. "It was like something out of Kafka."
Set as Gandhi is coming to power in 1938, the drama follows an eight-year-old girl who becomes a social outcast when her husband from an arranged marriage dies. Like other widows, she is dispatched to an ashram for a life, according to Hindu tradition, of poverty and prayer.
Even though the script had been approved by the Government, the protesters believed Water was anti-Hindu.
While they were clearly unhappy about the interpretation of sacred texts on the treatment of women, Mehta believes the "self-proclaimed protectors of the religion" really wanted publicity.
"I was hurt and angry and dismayed," she says of the fury directed at the production. "But mostly I was really angry. It had a lot to do with the increasing climate in the world and in India at that point of intolerance in the name of religion."
Mehta, who grew up in India but is based in Canada, cites the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the fatwa on writer Salman Rushdie as other instances of religious extremism affecting art. "When Clint Eastwood makes something like Million Dollar Baby and Christian fundamentalists are up in arms, it's happening all over the world," she says.
It took five years to get Water back into production, eventually shooting in Sri Lanka amid tight security under the anonymous title Full Moon. The film has opened in Canada, running for 25 weeks, and is headed for India soon after an encouraging response at a recent film festival.
Mehta believes Water will face a better reception as India continues to modernise. The theme of the trilogy, which emerged with Fire and continued with Earth in 1999, is "the tug of war between modernity and tradition". The final instalment has the support of Rushdie, who has called Water a magnificent film that has "serious, challenging things to say about the crushing of women by atrophied religious and social dogmas".
Extremists Threaten Lovers In India With Violence on Valentine's Day
February 13, 2007
by Playfuls Team
Lovers who kiss in public on
Valentine's Day in India must live in fear, if an unusual alliance of extremist
groups has its way, reports said Tuesday.
The alliance was formed to protest declining Indian values and the Westernization of society.
Fanatical Hindu and Maoist rebels and Muslim groups have warned couples not to show each other physical affection on Valentine's Day, to be celebrated on Wednesday.
An influential, radical Hindu group said they would blacken the couples' faces, if they caught them.
Every year, fanatical groups in India protest against celebrating Valentine's Day which is gaining popularity. In the past years, businesses selling Valentine's Day cards were demolished and couples were attacked in the streets.
The extremists claim that showing emotion in public contravenes Indian cultural customs.
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