New Delhi (AsiaNews) - The Catholic Church in India has "expressed anguish and suffering" over what happened on Good Friday in Sogandi, Tamil Nadu, where police interrupted Dalit Christians from going up a hill to perform the Way of the Cross, said Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI).
Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate said that "not only was the small community of Christian Dalit prevented from honouring the day holy for Christians all over the world, but police, led by local authorities, used force and violence. Agents blocked the most sacred moment in the veneration of the Cross and communion."
The incident took place in Thirukazhukundram, an area famous for a temple dedicated to the god Shiva. Sogandi parish is part of Chingleput, said the local bishop, Mgr A Neethinathan. The diocese was established in 2007 and is dedicated to Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus.
Some 125 families attend the local church. To develop their spiritual devotion, the pastor erected a statue of the Virgin Mary, located in a cave on one of the slopes of the hill. According to Mgr Neethinathan, "the position was favourable because the statue on the hill draws believers of every confession."
Last Christmas and New Year's Eve, more than 500 policemen, on behalf of the Tax Office, came to the site to demolish the statues and crosses installed on the hill on "The pretext that it was an illegal occupation of the ground. Since then, the parish has not yet been able to re-place the statues." What worries the most "is that in February all the stones on the hill have been marked with Hindu symbols.”
Conversely, “The other side of the hill has been invaded by more than one temple and many houses are under construction in neighbouring villages, different from Sogandi’s Catholic Dalits in terms of religion and caste."
In the light of the facts and of the act of violence perpetrated against Christians on the day of Christ's Passion, "It is clear that anti-Christian Hindutva fundamentalism and anti-Dalit caste fanaticism operate systematically,” Mgr Neethinathan said. “These planned moves exert an undue influence on the police and the revenue department to put pressure on local Catholics."
"As a protest against this violation of the fundamental right to religious freedom and expression, the administration of the diocese is organising a fast and a large-scale demonstration with the support and the participation of lay people without distinction of caste, belief or language."
Those who interrupted the Mass "should have waited at least for the end of the celebrations and discuss the matter with Church authorities," Mgr Mascarenhas said.
"We are proud of our country, of its secular tradition, and of the Hindu majority that that has always treated us with respect and benevolence,” he added. “However, in recent times, some fundamentalist groups have been working to disrupt the traditional peace and harmony.”
“Many of our brothers and sisters have expressed concern about the growing intolerance promoted by extremist fringes. We call on the prime minister, the Home minister and the leaders of all parties to ensure that everyone in this country can continue to feel secure and enjoy the fundamental right to profess their faith in freedom and without fear."