Thursday, September 10, 2009

Indian Jesuit Cardinal burned in effigy

T.P. Sinha (left) meeting Cardinal Telesphore Toppo on Aug. 30


RANCHI, India (UCAN) -- Rightwing Hindu groups in Jharkhand have condemned a government plan to use the Catholic Church's network of organizations to distribute grain to drought-hit people in the eastern Indian state.

On Aug. 31, some people burnt an effigy of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi and shouted slogans against the Church and state government.

The previous day, Cardinal Toppo had responded positively when T.P. Sinha, adviser to the Jharkhand state Governor K. Shankaranarayanan, met him to formally request the Church's help. Cardinal Toppo, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, said the government wants to use the Church's vast infrastructure in the state to bring relief to people suffering from a severe drought.

However, Hindu radical groups said they fear the government move would help the Church convert the state's poor tribal people to Christianity. On Sept. 1, a tribal outfit attached to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party) announced it would not allow the Church to distribute grain. The BJP is the political arm of rightwing Hindu groups.
The government plan "is a conspiracy to make Jharkhand a Christian state and help the Congress party in coming state assembly elections," said Ajay Tirkey, president of Kendriya Sarna Samiti, the central committee of tribal people who adhere to traditional beliefs.
The state, which is now directly ruled by the Indian president through the governor, is scheduled to elect its new legislative assembly soon. The BJP and Congress party are the two main contending parties.

Tirkey threatened to seal off all grains storage centers if the government goes ahead with its plan. "It is ridiculous that the governor's adviser sought Cardinal Toppo's help" to distribute grain, he said. According to him the state has several NGOs involved in social service. "Why didn't the government ask any of them?" he remarked.

Pramod Jaiswal, spokesperson of the Hindu Jagran Manch (forum to awaken Hindus), says Sinha's visit to the cardinal's residence "is part of a long drawn-out conspiracy to proselytize the vulnerable tribal people of Jharkhand." The government "is bent on helping the Church carry out its nefarious designs," but local people would neither allow the Church to distribute grain nor accept the grain it distributes, he told media persons in Ranchi on Sept. 1.

Another Hindu leader, Mithilesh Narayan, claims the entire plan is to appease Sonia Gandhi, an Italian-born woman who heads the alliance that now rules the federal government. Gandhi, a baptized Catholic, is president of the Congress party, the main partner in the alliance.
Narayan, president of the state unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national volunteers corps), says the Congress party wants to help the Church please Gandhi. The RSS is the umbrella body of radical Hindu groups. Narayan said his organization suspects the Congress party wants to influence tribal Christians through Christian missioners, who have "a strong network in Jharkhand." Such a sectarian plan would be dangerous for local people, he charged.
Raghuwar Das, president of the BJP in the state, said the government should have sought help from other groups also instead of approaching only the Church.

Cardinal Toppo, however, says the allegations stems from jealousy. He asserted that the Church would not use grain distribution to entice people to convert to Christianity.

The cardinal noted that the Church has educated people for centuries and many Hindu leaders, including BJP president L K Advani, had studied in its schools. "Was he forced to convert to Christianity?" he asked, and added that "the allegation that the Church uses force, fraud or allurement to convert people stands nowhere." He asserted that tribal people whom the Hindu groups describe as hapless and illiterate can easily distinguish between right and wrong.
Cardinal Toppo justified the government's move to seek Church help. "We have good infrastructure and network. So what is wrong if the government seeks our help, especially when the state is facing drought?"

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