Hindus say Christians give aid to convert; Catholics say claims false
Pondicherry (AsiaNews) Mgr Michael Augustine, Archbishop of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, told AsiaNews that claims by Hindu fundamentalists that the Catholic Church is using the tsunami tragedy to convert is false.
The accusation was made by the VHP or Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and the RSS or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association) in Tamil Nadu. Both organisations claim that the Church's relief effort in favour of tsunami survivors is a cover for a programme promoting conversions among the local population.
"The accusations are false," said Archbishop Augustine. "They are based on false information."
"Just yesterday," he noted, "Mgr Pedro Lopez Quintana, the Apostolic Nuncio, visited the diocese and expressed his appreciation for our work in helping survivors".
In tsunami-hit villages, the Nuncio relayed John Paul II's special blessing and donated INR 3,000,000 (about 52,000) towards reconstruction.
Fr Jayaraij Mahimay, the diocese's treasurer, said that the Church was working "in close collaboration with [state authorities]. Tsunami-affected villages in the state of Tamil Nadu have been clearly demarcated and assigned to various NGOs for reconstruction and rehabilitation".
The accusations by the VHP and the RSS are directed at all Christians, Protestants included.
"In any case," Father Javaraj said, "the VHP and RSS are usually on high-alert whenever any missionary [carries out] social work [. . .] and quick to allege that conversions are taking place. It is the state government that has assigned specific villages to specific Catholic NGOs. The Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with it."
Moreover, "if Christians are being accused of conversions," Father Javaraj noted, "similar stories are going around about RSS and VHP activities in villages allotted to them for reconstruction and rehabilitation work."
Thanks to the tsunami, both RSS and VHP are in fact making inroads into the tsunami-hit coastal belt of Tamil Nadu, riding the goodwill generated by their relief work in the region. For the RSS, which received government approval to build 1,200 sheds for victims in Keechankuppam in Nagapattinam district, this is an opportunity to penetrate the coastal villages, which have been strongholds of the Dravidian parties. Enthusiastic RSS members, mostly from non-coastal areas, are planning to stay and help in rehabilitation.
According to Govinda, a pracharak pramukh or Hindu missionary, the RSS has set up 15 relief coordination centres to cover 215 villages. It has also asked the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, a Hindu nationalist organisation, to conduct a socio-economic survey of the villages.
"It is going to take a long time for the fishermen to get back to fishing. We are looking at the possibility of suggesting alternative sources of income," he said.
In Devanampattinam, Hindi film actor Vivek Oberoi, a rallying figure for VHP members, tried to defuse the controversy.
"Several organisations have come to help us, including the Red Cross, Christian Aid Foundation, and Christian Medical College," he said.
"I am not even aware that the VHP is participating. If they are there, it's good. It is Project Hope. Every NGO or group that wants to assist us is welcome," he added.