08/26/2006, 00.00
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No entrance to Tirupati temple town for non-Hindus

by Nirmala Carvalho

Under pressure from fundamentalists, a bill is being debated that will ban followers of religions other than Hinduism from professing their faith in Tirupati. The archbishop of Hyderabad: we will oppose with all our might, the Constitution is on our side.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – The local government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh is attempting to push through a law banning non Hindus from praying in the temple town of Tirupati. The authorities are buckling under pressure from Hindu extremists who are against the presence of Christian missionaries. The area has already witnessed violence against sisters of Mother Teresa and in comments to AsiaNews, the local Catholic bishop reiterated his condemnation about the aggressive politics of the Bharatia Janata Party (BJP).

The news was reported in the daily, The Hinduistan Times, of 21 August. The newspaper said the decision of local authorities to ban religions other than Hinduism followed remonstrations by Hindu fundamentalists who "expressed resentment about missionaries preaching Christianity near the temple".

The daily quoted Endowments Minister J.C. Diwakar Reddy saying that a bill was being debated at local level. If approved, the law would call for imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 rupees (43 US dollars). Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy said: "Attempts to convert in Tirupati would invite imprisonment of two years."

The BJP, which has nationalist-fundamentalist leanings, is currently in the opposition in India. It has accused Christians of converting Hindus within the temple town. On 25 June, a group of around 50 extremists attacked and imprisoned four sisters of the Missionaries of Charity while they were about their weekly visit – authorized by the government – to a town hospital, where they reach out to people with AIDS. According to their assailants, the sisters were bent on proselytism.

But the pressure exerted by fundamentalists goes further still. The weekly, The Organiser, which is linked to the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), said Hindu organizations have officially asked the local government to sack all non-Hindu officials in Tirupati's administration. The reason: "Freedom of religion as enshrined in the constitution means propagating one's religion among one's own religious community and not among people of other faiths and in their places of worship."

The archbishop of Hyderabad, Mgr Marampudi Joji, countered these accusations by recalling that all communities, including Christians, "have the sacrosanct right to practice and spread their faith, always together with the sacred duty to respect others and their religious freedom." Talking to AsiaNews, the archbishop warned: "If a law is enacted, we will oppose it as Christians and law-abiding citizens, and we will defend the rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution." Mgr Joji pointed to the hidden hand of right-wing extremist groups in incidents like the attack against the sisters and added: "These norms could become an instrument of oppression for certain groups of citizens."

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union, also expressed concern, and in a letter to the Chairperson of the National Minorities Commission, he called for a government inquiry into the intentions of the Andhra Pradesh authorities.

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See also
A Hindu al-Qaeda, religious fundamentalism as a political tool
At the desecrated shrine, the faithful pray for the vandals
Hindu extremists accuse world's largest floating book fair of Christian proselytism
President of Indian bishops slams Chattisgarh anti-conversion law
Government "should publish data on conversions and anti-Christian attacks"


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