Town in India Plans Ban on Preaching Non-Hindu Faiths

Friday, August 25, 2006

Christians term the move in Andhra Pradesh state as unconstitutional and fear abuse.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, August 24 (Compass Direct News) -- The Congress Party-led government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has decided to enact a law banning preaching of any religion other than Hinduism in Tirupati, a "temple town" in large measure under the administration of its shrines.

National daily The Hindustan Times reported on Monday (August 21) that the state government had made the decision under pressure from Hindu groups that had “expressed resentment over missionaries preaching Christianity near the shrine.”

The daily quoted Endowments Minister J.C. Diwakar Reddy as saying that a bill would be introduced in the state assembly’s current session. He said the law would call for imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 rupees (US$43).

Tirupati, shrine of Hindu god Venkateshwara, is situated on the hills of Tirumala in Andhra Pradesh’s Chittoor district.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy reportedly visited the shrine on Saturday (August 19) and warned, “Attempts to convert in Tirumala would invite rigorous imprisonment of two years.”

The temple administration has jurisdiction over two of the township’s seven hills. The daily said the state government was planning to bring all seven hills under the purview of the temple administration.

Albert Lael, organizing secretary of the All India Christian Council (AICC), told Compass that the move contravened the India Constitution, which promises religious freedom to people of all communities.

Lael asked how such a law could be enacted, as several churches have been operating within the township since the 17th century, and there are about 1,000 Dalits working in the temple administration.

“There are about 40 Dalit families with Christian members in the area – we wonder how they will be treated,” Lael said. “We fear that even those who carry Bibles in the town will be prosecuted for preaching.”

The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has claimed that Christian missionaries have been active in conversion efforts within the temple town. On June 25, a mob of Hindu extremists attacked and detained four nuns of the Missionaries of Charity at Ruiya Hospital in Tirupati. The extremists had accused the nuns of converting people.

RSS Demand

The BJP claimed that some workers of the Tirumala Tirupati Devaswom (TTD), the committee that manages the temple, were helping to preach Christianity in the town.

According to The Organiser, a weekly of the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hindu organizations had passed a resolution in a meeting on July 16. It demanded that the state government enact a new law to increase the jurisdiction of the township to the seven hills and that the TTD “dismiss all non-Hindu staff members.”

“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,” claimed the Hindu groups.

But A.P.V. Narayana Sharma, executive officer of the TTP, told regional daily The New Indian Express on August 11 that “no religious conversions are taking place.”

‘Reconvert’ or Die

In neighboring Karnataka state, police on August 16 threatened a 22-year-old Christian convert, saying that he would be killed if he did not “reconvert” to Hinduism.

Santosh Nayak, who lives in the tribal village of Soulanga in Honnali Taluka, Devangere district, fled the village without informing anyone about his whereabouts on Saturday (August 19).

Dr. Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, told Compass that Nayak’s friends found him yesterday (August 23). “He is safe and has temporarily moved to another district,” George said, “but he had not eaten anything for the last three days.”

A local policeman had called Nayak and pressured him to follow the Hindu religion and its customs. The office told him that if he failed to follow Hinduism, his life would be in danger.

George said villagers beat another Christian convert, Venkatesh Nayak, about two weeks ago.

Inspector P.S. Murgananavar of the Namthi police station told Compass that he had not heard of anyone in the village by the name of Santosh Nayak. “But there is one Venkatesh Nayak, whom we have given protection,” he said.

Asked why Venkatesh Nayak was given police protection, he said, “The people belonging to the Lambadi tribe do not want anyone converting to any other religion. However, there is no tension in the village.”

Soulanga village, dominated by the Lambadi tribal people, has a long record of opposition to Christian conversions. On June 11, Hindu extremists beat an independent pastor, Sunder Rao, in Namthi village, near Soulanga. (See Compass Direct, “Hindu Extremists Beat Pastor in Karnataka State,” June 15.)

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct News