Mumbai (AsiaNews) - On the hill town of Tirumala (Andhra Pradesh), it is legal "to violate one of the fundamental rights of the Indian constitution, namely religious freedom," said Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), after the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD),a trust that runs local Hindu temples, arrested three Christians on charges of religious propaganda. Under a ban issued in 2007, non-Hindus are not allowed to propagate their religion in Tirumala temple area.
The three men arrested are Eswaraiiah, Krishnamma and Yasodamma. They work for the TTD, but apparently no one knew that they were Christian. Last Monday, TTD agents searched their homes and found posters, religious literature and other Christian material.
The three were suspended from their job, arrested for involvement in missionary activities, and interrogated. Under the Worship or Prayer Prohibition Ordinance 2007, they could get up to three years in jail and a 5,000 rupee fine.
For Christians, the ordinance is unconstitutional. Not only does it prohibit disseminating non-Hindu religious beliefs, but it also violates freedom of movement. The local government has not however heeded such arguments and repealed the ordinance.
Built on seven hills, the city of Tirumala is a major pilgrimage site. It is home to the famous Hindu temple of Venkateswara, the most visited place of its kind in the world with 50,000 to 100,000 pilgrims a day.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams is an independent trust set up in 1932 to administer all (economic or not) activities associated with the temple area.