Burning of cardinal’s effigy upsets Indian bishops

September 19, 2017 by  
Filed under India, newsletter-india

New Delhi, September 18, 2017: Indian bishops have urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stem hate attacks on Christians in eastern Jharkhand State after a Hindu group burned an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo.

Cardinal Toppo is based in the state capital, Ranchi.

A Sept. 13 open letter to Modi from the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, signed by secretary general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, warned of “spiraling hatred” that could spread more widely.

The bishops said vitriolic attacks on the Christian community had increased under Chief Minister Raghubar Das, of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which came to power in the state in 2014.

Bishop Anand Jojo, of picturesque Hazaribagh town, said the state government began to see the Church as its enemy after Christians defeated a plan to take land rights away from tribal people.

The response to the political loss was to terrorize tribal leaders.

“If the leader is attacked, it is easy to frighten the followers,” Bishop Jojo said.

The Hindu Jagran Manch (Hindu vigilante group) organized Sept. 8 protests in Ranchi.

They burned an effigy of Cardinal Toppo, alleging that some Christian books insult Hindu and tribal religions.

Church officials say that such accusations are fabricated to pitch Hindus and non-Christian tribal people against Christians.

Tribal people form 26 percent, or 9 million, of state’s 33 million people.

Of that only about 1.5 million are Christians, almost all of them tribal people.

Hindu groups claim all tribal people are Hindus and their religion is part of so-called folk Hinduism.

Bishop Mascarenhas, who is also auxiliary bishop of Ranchi told ucanews.com. that many tribal people rally behind the church to fight for their rights.

So it served political interests of the state government to project Christians as enemies of tribal and Hindu people, he said.

Bishop Mascarenhas said that the effigy burning was first of its kind in India.

In a deliberately insulting way, a cross — the symbol of Christianity — was put on the effigy before it was burned.

“We cannot allow this to continue,” he said.

The state government previously sponsored a local media advertisement projecting Christian missionaries as aiming to convert to tribal people as well as others who were also simple, illiterate and poor.

The ad appeared Aug. 11 when the state legislature passed a law criminalizing conversion by use of purported force, allurement or fraud.

Church leaders said their welfare service could be targeted as breaching the legal provisions.

“These state actions have emboldened Hindu groups to work against Christians on the streets,” Bishop Mascarenhas said.

“If they are not checked, communities will be pitched against each other leading to a social calamity.”

Nabore Ekka, president of the Indian Confederation of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples based in New Delhi, said that the insulting of Cardinal Toppo was an attempt to weaken Christianity in the state.

– ucan

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