06/13/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Christians challenge ban on their faith in Tirumala

Legal actions are expected against the state ban on non-Hindu religions in a Tirumala and other areas in Andhra Pradesh. The measure violates constitutionally-guaranteed rights and will affect Christians’ freedom of movement and livelihoods. Father Thumma laments that since a Christian has become chief minister, Christians face more problems.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC) has strongly protested the ban against non-Hindus practicing their faith in Tirumala. In a statement released to the press the Federation said that it was “preparing to take legal recourse to remedy the situation if those concerned succumb to the pressure of communal forces and continue to deprive [others of their] constitutional rights in violation of [of the Constitution’s] secular nature.”

The APFC communiqué, which was sent by its executive secretary Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, noted that the “present moves of the Andhra Pradesh government go against many of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and discriminate against non-Hindus. Not only religious freedom, but also the right of movement, right to life and livelihoods would be denied to non-Hindus, especially Christians who are already targeted in these areas.”

The issue came to the fore on May 24, when the state’s governor, Rameshwar Thakur, signed an ordinance banning non-Hindus from conducting any religious activities in Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) areas and temples with violators risking jail or fines.

Despite being a Christian, the state chief minister, Y S Rajasekhar Reddy, defended the measure arguing that it guaranteed respect for people’s sentiments and promoted law and order. He added that a bill would be tabled in the next session of the state assembly so that the ordinance could be turned into law.

“Chief Minister Dr Y S Rajasekhara Reddy has submitted to the will of Hindu extremist groups who have been taking advantage of his Christian identity to blackmail him. He has buckled under the pressure of the Sangh Parivar and the Peetathipatis who built up a movement around Tirumala. Christians in the State are facing more troubles under his rule,” said Father Thumma.

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