New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The Andhra Pradesh State Assembly adopted a bill on Monday banning religious propaganda near sacred Hindu shrines. Endowment J Ratnakar Rao explained the new law is designed to ensure that feelings of the Hindu religious group were not offended and that public order was maintained. But State legislator Christine Lazarus (Nom) expressed fears that the Bill will be used as a “weapon against non-Hindus”.
The Bill was opposed by the Communist Marxist Party (CMP), the Communist Party of India (Marxists) and the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM) which tried to have the issue referred to a select committee. However the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), the Baharitya Janata Party (BJP), and Congress Party supported the bill.
Protesting against the bill, CMP leader M A Gafoor said on Monday that the bill could send a wrong message since it contained some ‘dangerous’ clauses. Similarly, MIM leader Akbaruddin Owaisi protested that “this is not a bill of a secular-minded government.”
Mgr Marampudi Joji, archbishop of Hyderabad, told AsiaNews that “the Christian Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy submitted to the will of Hindu extremist groups who have taken advantage of his Christian identity to blackmail him. He has buckled under the pressure of the [Hindu nationalist] Sangh Parivar. His government is engaged in the appeasement of the Hindu majority to ward off false accusations that it is favourable to minorities. Yet, it is only a minuscule minority in the Hindu community which is supportive of such unconstitutional communal demands while the majority is secular, pluralistic and open to other faiths.”
“This bill goes against many of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution and discriminates against non-Hindus,” the prelate said. “Under the Indian constitution, can a state government set up a body to propagate a particular religion?” he wondered.
“Not only their religious freedom, but also the right of movement, right to life and livelihood are denied to non-Hindus, especially to the Christians who are already targeted in these areas. We will challenge this bill.”
Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, criticised the state government for caving in to the “irrational and unconstitutional demands of the Sangh Parivar” and adopting a law that is anti-secular and “violates the freedom of non-Hindus.”
The ban covers the Tirumala Divya Kshetram, all the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, temples in Tirupati City, and 19 other major temples located across Andhra Pradesh.
Even before the latest bill was adopted, extremist Sangh Parivar groups had claimed exclusive rights and attacked Christians in these and other areas
Last year for example, the Sisters of Mother Teresa (Missionaries of Charity) were harassed in Tirupati where they cared for the HIV/AIDS patients in a public hospital.
Not long ago, a Protestant minister was beaten black and blue as he crossed Simhachalam Devasthanam Hill on his way home and then paraded in front of the media half naked.
“Ultimately this law violates Article 30 of the constitution, which recognises the right to practice one’s faith, and denies non-Hindus their mobility rights and the right to conduct their activities in the indicated areas,” Anthoniraj Thumma explained.
“Andhra Pradesh’s BJP leader Sri Bandaru Dattattreya is already claiming victory, and demanding that all non-Hindu officials be removed from the designated areas even though most non-Hindus are neither involved in religious propaganda nor employed by Hindu temples.”
“I hope,” he said, that “none of them are actually forced to choose between wearing Hindu clothes and symbols” and expulsion.