Panaji, March 1, 2015: The VHP’s decision to start a re-conversion drive for Christians in Goa has attracted widespread criticism, with Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar warning people not to make provocative remarks.
The opposition Saturday criticized Daba Vedak, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad secretary in-charge of Satsang division, for trying to foment communal trouble in the state with his remarks made Friday.
“I feel as the chief minister that nobody should make any statement that would disturb or affect communal harmony,” Parsekar said.
Earlier, ahead of VHP’s golden jubilee function in Goa, Dada Vedak told IANS that its senior leaders would discuss issues like re-conversion and how to approach them in next 50 years.
“Thousands of our brothers were converted to Christianity due to Portuguese oppression. We will, of course, make efforts to bring them back to the Hindu fold once we strengthen our organisation here,” Vedak said.
He added that the VHP would reach out to Christians converted during the Portuguese regime with “love and affection”.
Goa, a former Portuguese colony, has a population of 1.5 million of which 26 percent are Christians.
The opposition Saturday joined the protest against the remark.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) said that attempts were being made to “vitiate the peaceful atmosphere of Goa” and said that “radical elements” in the state should be put under close watch.
AAP also said that it was ironic for the VHP leader to make a communally insensitive statement on the same day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi told parliament that his government believed in only one religion – “India First”.
“This can mean only two things… that either Modi and the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) have lost all influence and control over the Sangh Parivar organisations or we are being fed the classic good-cop-bad-cop routine to allow Modi to establish an image of secular statesman while the so-called ‘fringe elements’ slowly but steadily going mainstream,” AAP’s Valmiki Naik said.
The Congress too condemned the VHP statement.
“Goa is becoming a testing laboratory for Modi and his government,” said Congress spokesperson Durgadas Kamat.
Kolkata, March 1, 2015: Condemning RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s comment on Mother Teresa, a forum of minorities organisations in West Bengal Saturday said the leader’s “malicious” allegations against the Noble laureate were either the result of his gross ignorance or a “well-calculated sinister agenda” to justify forced reconversions.
Bhagwat, while addressing a function of an NGO near Bharatpur in Rajasthan, had said the Nobel laureate’s service to the poor was aimed at converting them to Christianity.
The State Forum Of Minorities Organisations “strongly condemned the very mischievous intention and aims of Bhagwat behind his malicious allegation against her (Mother Teresa)”.
“It is either the result of his gross ignorance or a well-calculated sinister agenda to come under international limelight with no efforts, to justify or to help his fellow workers to justify their universally condemned programmes of reconversion by allure or force, to make false propaganda and create confusion at the cost of communal harmony and human relations,” a forum statement said.
In the light of his conversion remarks, the Missionaries of Charity had described Bhagwat as “uninformed”. The Diocese of Calcutta too termed the comments “unfortunate”.
The statement said that after Bhagwat’s comments, at least two incidents of Christian bashing have been reported in Bengal.
“Our honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rebuke to Sangh Parivar and assurance to the minorities in the assembly a few days back proved to be toothless.
“At least two incidents of Christian bashing in West Bengal have been reported to us since that occasion,” the statement said.
In the wake of these incidents, the forum is organising a public meeting March 3 in Kolkata.
It has also given a “clarion call to people of all walks of life irrespective of political affinity to get united against the intention and agenda of the evil force under the garb of patriotism”.
Mumbai, February 25, 2015: ‘Assisting the Elderly and Palliative Care’ is the theme of the 21st General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, scheduled to take place from 5 to 7 March 2015. For India, a country with an aging population but without proper health facilities, it is a “timely and challenging’ issue, Catholic doctor Pascoal Carvalho told AsiaNews.
On 6 March, the assembly will be open to the public, with the participation of academics, health professionals and students.
The workshop will be divided into three sessions. The first one will analyse the clinical care of the elderly at the end of life, taking into account a number of aspects: assistance in case of degenerative diseases and terminal patients, the use and abuse of analgesics in palliative care, and building a clinical therapy. The second will be devoted to anthropological and ethical perspectives, focusing on the central role of the elderly person’s relationships in the family, society and hospital. The third and final session will focus on spirituality and the legal aspects of the end of life.
Below, we publish Dr Carvalho’s reflection on the matter. He is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.
This General Assembly’s theme, ‘Assisting the Elderly and Palliative Care,’ is especially timely and challenging for our country India.
Despite rapid and consistent economic growth, India will have a huge ageing population who may be far poorer than their counterpart in the West.
The size of the elderly population has risen from 12.1 million in 1901 to approximately 77 million in the 2001 census. According to official population projections, the number of elderly persons will rise to approximately 140 million by 2021.
With the rapid changes in the social scenario and the emerging prevalence of nuclear family set-ups in India in recent years, elderly people are likely to be exposed to emotional, physical and financial insecurity in the years to come.
According to the 2011 Census of India, nearly 70 per cent of the country’s population lives in rural areas; hence, elderly and palliative care becomes all the more challenging and imperative, as nearly 30 per cent of the elderly are disadvantaged and live below poverty line.
The Indian Constitution (Article 41) provides for public assistance in old age. The enactment of the ‘Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007′ is designed to ensure the welfare and need-based maintenance for parents and senior citizens.
Other measures include old age pensions, income tax exemption/deduction, and travel concessions.
However, implementation is often an issue and with the growing commercialisation of health care and the deficiencies in the public health care system, the care of the elderly is inadequate.
India is home to millions of patients suffering from chronic and life limiting illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, dementia, as well as heart, liver and renal diseases and other debilitating conditions or incapacitating injuries.
In 2011, the National Policy on Senior Citizens 2011 placed special emphasis on senior citizens suffering from severely disabling diseases. However, concrete measure are yet to be put in place to deal effectively with the impending scenario of the growing elderly population.
Palliative care is a part of continuum of care services. Terminally ill patients have many medical, nursing, mental, social, spiritual and financial needs.
The health policy of the Catholic Church in India recognises that the elderly have special needs.
The Church runs 615 senior citizens homes across the country, providing free care to nearly 18,500, mostly ill elderly residents who have been abandoned by their families.
Without discrimination on the basis of caste or creed, the Catholic Church tirelessly serves more than 60,000 elderly on a daily basis, including 18,500 in its homes for the aged and 1,700 in its palliative care units.
Bhubaneswar, February 23, 2015: Christians in Kandhamal live fearing further violence in the district as Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has chosen to celebrate the golden jubilee of its foundation in the tribal dominated region, the center of the 2008 anti-Christian violence.
“There is fear and insecurity not just in Kandhamal, but around the districts too as VHP posters call for Hindu unity,” said Father Ajay Singh, a human rights activist in Orissa.
The priest, who won the Minority Rights Day Award of National Minorities Commission in 2003, said firebrand VHP leader Praveen Tagodia is scheduled to visit Kandhamal on Feb. 28 for the jubilee.
History shows that violence followed such events. Two years prior to 2008 attacks on Christians, Hindu hardliners chose Kandhamal as the place to celebrate centenary birthday of M.S Golwalker in April 2006. RSS leaders like K. S Sudershan, Ashok Singhal and others presided over it.
In December 2007, a major violence against Christians took place in which 5 people killed, 40 churches, several institution and nearly 900 houses destroyed, Father Singh said.
The following year Tagodia and Indresh Kumar went to attend the funeral Swami Laxmanand and instigated people. The violence that followed mobs of radical Hindus murdered nearly 100 people, torched more 5,500 houses and raped several women besides destroying 395 churches spreading in 14 districts of Odisha.
“Once Supreme Court had barred” Togadia from entering the state. But this time, he is leading the celebrations of VHP and they have again chosen to Kandhamal,” the priest said adding that Christians are living in fear of violence.
He said Christian leaders are looking forward to the government as well as civil society to address their concerns and protect Christians.
The miscreants vandalised the statue by breaking the glass casket which was installed on a pedestal near the Holy Cross. The incident had come to light on Sunday after a local resident saw the statue damaged with glass pieces strewn all round the cross. It is believed that the miscreants desecrated the statue on Saturday night.
Glorio Fernandes, who had installed the statue around a year and half ago, took the pieces of the statue home yesterday evening and later informed the local residents about the incident.
Our Lady of Rosary Parish Priest Fr Jose Roque Gonsalves and his two Priests, Fr Camilo and Fr Jovito, visited the spot around noon and expressed shock over the desecration.
“ What has happened is sad.
This is certainly not done by a drunkard or a lunatic, who too has respect for places of worship.
We do not want to point any accusing fingers, but at the same time, the police should try to bring the culprits to book”, Fr Gonsalves said.
He said that Navelim has not witnessed any such incident in the past as people from all communities live in perfect harmony. “ We can see that people used to lit candidates at the cross”, he added.
Margao PI Sudesh Naik and his team descended on the spot to conduct a probe.
The Bharat Hindu Munnani claims they have reconverted at least 50 people in the recent past back to their religion. They say they were brainwashed and converted to other religions. The outfit claims they will continue such activities until the anti conversion law is promulgated.
The Chennai police had detained members of the outfit and had tried to prevent the conversions. Dilli Babu, Secretary of Barath Hindu Munnani Party said “the police are not condemning the act if religious conversion is carried out by Muslims or Christians. So we will continue to do so Hindu religious propaganda until the other religious outfits stop doing it”.
Mangalore, February 25, 2015: A Catholic prayer hall on the outskirts of Karnataka’s coastal city of Mangaluru was vandalised by stone-throwing miscreants, police said Wednesday. A state minister said some anti-social elements were trying to “create insecurity and panic in society”.
“The incident seems to have occurred late Tuesday or in the early hours of Wednesday, resulting in the St. Josep Vaz prayer hall’s window panes being damaged. It is a case of mischief,” Mangaluru police commissioner S. Mururgan told IANS here, about 350 km from Bengaluru.
A case has been registered against unidentified persons on a complaint filed by the parish priest.
Clarifying that the incident was not an attack on the make-shift church, the police chief said statues of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus were intact and no damage was caused to the prayer hall or any objects inside it.
“We have set up a team to investigate the case and identify the suspects, who damaged the window panes under the cover of darkness,” Murugan said.
The prayer hall, adjacent to a cemetery, is located 15 km away from the city in a sparsely populated area.
“We have directed the pastor to fix lights around the prayer hall and engage a watchman to secure the place,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Minister U.T. Khader told IANS the church was attacked here by some “anti-social elements”.
The minister, who visited the site in the morning, said he hoped that the culprits will be nabbed soon.
“Some anti-social elements threw a stone and damaged the glass of a statue to create insecurity and panic in society,” Khader told IANS.
The minister said the site was littered with cigarette butts that indicated that the group might have been small.
He said police were looking for the culprits and citizens have also joined the operation.
“It is between good society and bad society. All 90 percent of the good society will join against them,” he said.
Khader said the church, located beside a graveyard in an isolated place, is 250 years old and was renovated some 10-15 years ago.
Bhubaneswar, February 23, 2015: Christian residents in the village of Tiangia (Odisha) have erected the first monument to honour seven martyrs, victims of anti-Christian pogroms in Kandhamal in 2008. Mgr John Barwa SVD, archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar, blessed the memorial plaque on 13 February, in the presence of priests and hundreds of faithful.
“These seven martyrs,” said the prelate, “are pillars of testimony for the people of Kandhamal and beyond. We thank God for giving us such men, who sacrificed their precious lives for the love of Jesus. Rather than give up their faith, they clang to Christ with passion. For us, they are a source of inspiration and hope.”
The seven martyrs, all from Tiangia, are: Fr Bernard Digal (died 28 October 2008), Trinath Digal (25 August 2008), Bikram Nayak (25 August 2008), Parikhit Nayak (27 August 2008), Darasantha Pradhan (25 August 2008), Dibyasing Digal (25 August 2008), and Dinabandhu Pradhan (27 August 2008).
On 23 August 2008, a Maoist group killed Hindu leader Saraswati Laxanananda in his ashram, in Kandhamal District, a fact the group readily admitted.
However, the followers of the radical Hindu cleric blamed Christians, whom he had criticised for a long time because of their social involvement with tribals and Dalits (outcaste) and had accused – along with bishops, priests and nuns – of proselytising.
In Kandhamal, Hindu extremists unleashed the most violent persecution against the Christian minority that India had ever seen.
Overall, the pogrom forced 55,000 Christians to flee, with 5,600 houses and 415 villages raided and set on fire.
According to government figures, 38 people were killed and two women raped. Scores of people were injured and permanently maimed.
The Church and social activists reported instead the destruction of almost 300 churches, plus convents, schools, hostels and welfare facilities. At least 91 people died, 38 immediately, 41 from injuries sustained in the violence, and 12 in police action.
“These seven martyrs gave their precious life to bear witness to their faith and die for Christ during the massacre of Kandhamal,” Fr Manoj Kumar Nayak told AsiaNews.
“The memorial is our little tribute,” the social activist added. “We hope that their life of faith and their testimony will not be lost, but rather inspire others to live in a heroic way.”
The Sri Lanka Navy will provide all facilities and security for the visiting pilgrims.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader the Navy spokesman Commander Indika Silva said that the Navy will provide fresh water, medical facilities, sanitary facilities and security for the visiting pilgrims.
Last year over 3000 pilgrims from India visited the shrine while over 2000 attended from Sri Lanka as well. Commander Silva also stated that accommodation will be provided for the VIP’s and clergy by the Navy and ferry services from Kurikadduwan to Kachchathivu will also be provided by the Navy for government officials.
Kachchatheevu is a tiny uninhabited island of 285.2 acres with not even a drop of drinking water, located ten miles northeast of Rameswaram.
- the sunday leader
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s observation that his government will act against any religious group inciting violence shows he has realized, albeit belatedly, that he cannot afford to maintain his “dangerous silence”, to quote the New York Times, on the intimidation of minorities by Hindu groups affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
During his prolonged silence, he may have presumed that his backstage counsels of restraint will be accepted by groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which have a long history of fomenting communal trouble.
That the VHP has chosen to give a contrary interpretation to Modi’s speech other than what is generally supposed, by saying that the prime minister was only cautioning the Christians, shows that it remains unrepentant.
However, when the prime minister saw that his quietness was being interpreted as either weakness or acquiescence, he decided to speak out in unambiguous terms.
Moreover, by reiterating the constitutional rights about the propagation of religions and of conversions, the prime minister has turned his back on one of the most provocative of antics conjured up by the saffronties in the name of the minorities returning to their “original” faith of Hinduism via a contrived ‘ghar wapsi’ or home-coming ceremony.
It is not Modi alone who has recognized the norms of personal liberty. The RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, too, has ticked off BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj for calling upon Hindu women to bear four children each. Hindu mothers are not baby-producing factories, Bhagwat has said.
However, this advice goes against the old saffron campaign cautioning against a demographic shift in favour of the minorities with Bhagwat’s predecessor, the late K.S. Sudarshan, asking Hindus to have more children.
What these deviations from the standard saffron line suggest is that the BJP may soon have a new face. The fact that it will bear a close resemblance to the “pseudo-secular” demeanours of the Congress and other non-BJP parties may be a cause of worry to the Hindutva camp, but the rest of the country cannot but welcome such a change.
It is not impossible that the latest electoral drubbing in Delhi has reminded the BJP that the people voted for it not to implement the anti-minority saffron agenda but to revive the economy which had ground to a halt under the Manmohan Singh government.
If Modi persists with his tough line against the trouble-makers of his own party and the RSS affiliates, there will be a new beginning for India in terms of both communal harmony and economic progress.
Such an initiation is likely to take the country towards the direction favoured by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who told the Jaipur literature festival last year that he wanted a “pro-market, pro-business party that does not depend on religious politics and does not prioritize one religious community over all the others”.
The BJP has a fair chance of becoming such a party if it can marginalize its loony fringe like Britain’s Labour party once did.
Now that the Congress has shown signs of pursuing a left-of-centre path since the “right-wing space does not belong to us”, as party general secretary Digvijay Singh has said, there is every possibility of a straightforward confrontation between the BJP and parties like the Biju Janata Dal and the AIADMK on one side and the Congress, the communists, the DMK and the caste-based parties of the Hindi belt on the other.
In that case, the political and economic scene will have much greater clarity compared to the present when Modi’s neo-liberal policies are opposed not only by the Congress, the communists and others but also by neo-fascistic elements of the Hindutva lobby.
Whether Modi will win or lose cannot be said for certain at present since he will be taking on elements that have an entrenched interest in opposing right-wing policies for varying reasons.
While the Congress opposes them because it does not want to abandon the Nehruvian concept of establishing a “socialistic pattern of society”, as a 1955 resolution adopted by the party said, the communists see the pro-market approach as a surrender to American neo-imperialism.
To the RSS, capitalism is the extension of a Western model of the economy and an accompanying governing style based on individualism and consumerism which can undermine the nation’s tradition-bound and abstemious heritage.
On the other hand, parties like the DMK, the casteist outfits of the Hindi heartland, the Trinamool Congress and others favour a controlled economy since, they believe, it will enable them to fill the public sector units with their party rank and file without any thought about efficiency and competitiveness.
In this Utopian, anti-American and self-serving world in which there is a curious meeting of minds between the Left and the Right, Modi remains virtually the only one among the top leaders who has recognized the need to shed the fetishes of the past and enter the present globalized economy.
He also seemingly has the tenacity of purpose to overcome the obstacles in his path such as those posed by the Hindutva Gestapo. If he succeeds, the BJP will have broken free from the shackles of the RSS.