New Delhi (AsiaNews) – In Tirumala only Hinduism is allowed and political activities are banned. In a decision taken last Friday by Rameshwar Thakur, governor of Andhra Pradesh, the state government has banned all religions other than the one traditionally associated with local places of worship or prayer. The state’s chief minister, Y. S. Rajasekhar Reddy, told AsiaNews that a bill to that effect will be presented in the next session to the state assembly.
Missionary activities by Christians in Tirumala and surrounding areas are blamed for the government’s new policy which includes punitive measures against violators including three years in jail, fines of up to 5,000 rupees or both.
Mgr Marampudi Joji, archbishop of Hyderabad, told AsiaNews that “in the face of persecution, we stand by our faith and our conviction. No political power can prevent us from spreading the Good News of the Lord.”
In his opinion, “this ordinance is essentially political and our Christian chief minister is buckling under pressure. We believe that the Indian constitution guarantees us the right to spread our faith. It is a matter of urgent concern that Andhra Pradesh should introduce such an ordinance. The government should be sensitive to the sentiments of the Christian community which has so tirelessly served all classes of society, irrespective of caste and creed. As archbishop of Hyderabad I say that no Christian has ever entered a place of worship of another religious community to proselytise. The Church has been involved and spearheaded dialogue between religions and within civil society. We are not afraid. In spite of laws Christians’ faith is stronger than ever. People are more united and closer to the Church. We live our faith and in the face of persecution we stand with courage and unity in Christ.”
Fr Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches and deputy secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Bishops’ Council, told AsiaNews that the Council “strongly opposes the ban. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy yielded to the will of Hindu extremist groups who took advantage of the fact that he was Christian to blackmail him. This ordinance runs against many fundamental rights protected by our constitution and discriminates against non-Hindus. The Andhra Pradesh Bishops’ Council will take up its opposition when the issue comes before the state assembly.”
For John Dayal, chairman of the All Indian Catholic Union, “the ordinance violates the constitution of India and may go against the Supreme Court ruling in the Hindutva case which held that Hinduism was a way of life.”
The fact of the matter according to Dayal is that “the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and is affiliated organisations have targeted Reddy for his religion.” For instance, “RSS papers usually refer him by his Christian name, Samuel, rather than Rajshekhara.” But “no religion in the world claims a place exclusively as its own, where no one else can enter.”
“According to its constitution India is a secular state,” he explained. “So what is problem with religious freedom in a Tirumala? What happens to article 30 of the constitution [which recognises the right of minorities to establish and administer their own educational institutions]? What about Hindus’ right to choose where they want to get medical assistance and education? What happens to religious freedom for Dalits, Christians and other groups who live in the area?”