The bust of Fr. John Baptist Hoffmann stands outside the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Sarwada. He fought to protect the tribal lands. Hindu radicals, however, associate him with British colonial rule and the martyrdom of a tribal hero.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Some groups of radical Hindus in Jharkhand are demanding the removal of the bust of a German missionary, Fr. John Baptist Hoffmann, because it would be "an insult" to a tribal hero who fought against British rule.
The news is reported by the Hindustan Times, which cites local sources of the BJP party (Bharatiya Janata Party). Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told AsiaNews: "The right-wing factions in the tribal area want to divide the indigenous community. This polarization has a specific purpose, which is to create an anti-Christian atmosphere and ruin the harmony between the same tribals in view of the elections ".
The statue of the Jesuit is located outside the church of the Immaculate Conception in Sarwada, about 20 km away from Ranchi. The area is inhabited mostly by tribal ethnic Munda, the original population of the Chotanagpur region.
Born on 21 June 1857 in the German village of Wallendorf, Fr. Hoffmann is known for having worked in the Khunti-Sarwada area and for defeating the Chotanagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act of 1908, which protects tribal lands and prevents them from being non-Adivasis.
The radical Hindu groups instead, led by Ram Kumar Pahan, president of the BJP in Jharkhand, argue that the missionary represents an offense to the tribals. He is in fact associated with British colonial rule, and in particular with the martyrdom of the tribal icon Birsa Munda.
Sajan K George explains: "This is not the first time [a similar dispute] has taken place. In 2014 it had already happened to a statue of the Virgin with tribal characteristics, with dark skin and dressed in red and white saris, with the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes ".
Finally, the Christian leader reports that "the Church of Jharkhand is under strict surveillance by the far-right factions, which constantly mount anti-Christian sentiments. All of this is part of a broader plan of Hindu nationalists to project [an image] of India as a Hindu nation, especially in view of the upcoming general elections. "