New Delhi, March 28, 2014: With general elections round the corner, the National United Christian Forum (NUCF) has called upon the Christians to elect leaders supporting the concerns of the community, including Scheduled Caste status and equal rights for dalit Christians at par with those from the Hindu community.
The forum has requested all member churches to call up on political leaders at their respective constituencies to organize gatherings and make meaningful efforts towards this end.
The NUCF is a forum of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).
In a statement, the forum said that anti-conversion laws, enforced in some states, are used to intimidate and harass religious minorities, particularly Christians and there should be religious freedom in the country.
It noted that religious minorities run educational institutions even in the remotest villages as their primary purpose is to educate the poor and the marginalised.
“Minority rights should be upheld in its spirit and the government should continue its support to minority private schools and colleges,” it said.
The forum said that in the process of development and industrialisation, the tribal communities undergo displacement, losing their culture, identity and their livelihood.
It said that policies should be evolved to stop the mass displacement of tribes and protection be given for their livelihoods.
The forum underlined the need to strengthen anti-corruption laws and passage of Prevention of Targeted Communal Violence Bill in the Parliament. It also asked for reservation of 33 per cent seats in Parliament for women.
Mumbai, March 21, 2014: The high number of prison inmates from socio-religious minorities “is due to the attitude of some states, which target the most vulnerable sections of society,” said Arun Ferreira, an activist for Christian Dalits and tribals, who spoke to AsiaNews following the release of the 2012 Prison Statistics report by the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB).
According to the report, Muslims, who are 13.4 per cent of India’s population, represented 28.02 per cent of the prison population in 2012. Christians are in the same situation. Nationally, they are 2.3 per cent of the population but they constitute 6 per cent of the prison population.
For the activist, “We get these percentages because Dalits, Tribals, Muslims and Christians are often the victims of loopholes and sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Ferreira should know. He personally experience what it means to be behind bars. Accused of being a Naxalite (Maoist) guerrilla, he was arrested in May 2007 in Nagpur (Maharashtra) and indicted on 11 charges, under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
During his detention, he was tortured and interrogated twice after being treated with a “truth serum,” a psychoactive drug that is now illegal. After four years and eight months in jail, he was released on bail.
“My experience in prison is that every state tends to target minorities, showing some of its specific features,” Ferreira told AsiaNews.
“In states where Hinduism is strong, like Orissa (where the effects of anti-Christian pogroms still linger), many innocent Christians have been arrested and thrown in prison, falsely accused of being Naxalites. However, the same thing happened in Gujarat after the 2002 riots.”
“In Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, which are also under strong Hindu influence, the authorities have overtly attacked the Christian community, treating its members as the ‘criminal’ element in the Dalit and Tribal groups.”
All too often, Christians fall into the clutches of the justice system on false evidence because they back causes that embarrass the authorities.
“In Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa, some tribal Christians were arrested on false accusations of terrorism,” Ferreira noted, “when in fact the problem was their struggle against large-scale mining projects that required huge tracts of land to be expropriated.”
The same is true for Tamil Nadu, where Christians have been charged with ‘subversion’ for opposing the construction of the Kudankulam nuclear power plant.
“Sadly, neither the government nor the NCRB recognise political prisoners as a separate category, so there are no statistics about it.”
Pune, March 20, 2014: Father Salvador Pinto, parish priest at City church, Nana Peth, said the district election office is yet to contact them.
Pune district will not change its polling date of April 17, Maundy Thursday, but arrangements will be made to ensure church services go undisturbed, District Collector Saurabh Rao said.
Christians fear that some Church-run schools in the premises of the churches selected as polling stations and their activities would affect the solemn services of Maundy Thursday that commemorates the establishment of Eucharist beginning the three-day long Easter services.
Six churches, including Church of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception (City church), St Joseph’s church, Ghorpuri, St Joseph’s church, Khadki, St Francis de sales church, Shaanwadi, St Anthony’s church at Model Colony and St Sebastian church at Daund, will be affected as schools on their premises will be polling centers.
Diago Almeida, president of the Catholic Association of Poona, has threatened to boycott the general elections if the date is not changed, while the Bishop of Poona, Rt Rev Thomas Dabre, has sent letters challenging the date that clashes with Maundy Thursday to the EC and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan.
“We have not got any reply yet. We do not think it is fair to hold elections on a day, which is most holy for us. This is the day when Jesus Christ called his disciples, washed their feet, sat with them for supper and gave the command of service. This is the core of the observance of our faith,” said Father Malcolm Sequeira, Vicar General, Diocese of Poona.
Rao said that his team has visited the schools and alternative arrangements will be made, such as putting up special barricades and separate entrance and exits. He said he spoke to the state Election Commissioner and it has been decided to make special arrangements which will not inconvenience the community or the polling process. “We will request the Bishop if they can postpone the mass timings to 6.30 pm or 7 pm,” Rao said.
Father Salvador Pinto, parish priest at City church, Nana Peth, said the district election office is yet to contact them. “There has been an extension in the timings of polling from 5 pm to 6 pm. How can we conduct the mass when there will be no time to prepare the seating arrangements?” he said, adding that they will take up the matter with the state EC again.
- indian express
Odisha, March 03, 2014: A group of radicals threaten a catechist and his father in the village of Gudrikia. The area suffered major damages in the 2008anti-Christian pogrom. Since then, the local Christian minority has been living in fear.
A group of Hindu fundamentalists yesterday blocked the construction of a Catholic chapel in the village of Gudrikia, in the Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneshwar (Kandhamal District, Orissa), this according to a local lawyer, Ramakant Parichha, who spoke about it to AsiaNews.
The incident renewed fears and tensions in the village, which was badly hit in theanti-Christian pogroms that shook Orissa in 2008.
The incident apparently occurred at around nine o’clock pm, when the attackers threatened a number of Catholics and carried away the stones they had brought to start the work.
According to local sources, the extremist group threatened Bhagawan Pradhan, 44, a catechist in the village, and his father Danardan Pradhan, 63.
The two Catholics said that they are “frightened” but still plan to file as soon as possible a complaint about what had happened.
During the 2008 anti-Christian pogrom, the village church and the shrine were destroyed.
On that occasion, Mathew Nayak, a young clergyman in the (Anglican) Church of North India who had come to visit his family, was burnt alive in the church where he had taken refuge.
Another local Christian, Lalita Digal, was taken away and murdered, her body never found.
Since then, Catholics and other Christians have been denied free access to local land and forest.
Hindu fundamentalists now farm the land where the church once stood. In November 2013, some Christian leaders went to the police to complain about it, but the latter refused to register their case.
In addition, each year radical groups organise Ram Navami celebrations (honouring the birth of Rama) near the shrine’s ruins.
Months after the lecturer, T J Joseph was attacked in 2010, the Catholic management of Newman College in Thodupuzha had suspended him from service and sources within the family said his wife Salomy was dejected by the Church’s reluctance to reinstate him as he was the sole breadwinner of the family.
Her body was found hanging on Wednesday.
Despite demands from the state government, civil society and the university that Joseph be reinstated, the Church management had taken no action.
After being removed from service, Joseph had said the management’s move had pained him more than the attack he had faced from alleged Popular Front of India activists.
Sources said Salomy took the extreme step after she realized that Joseph would not be reinstated before March 31, the day he was to retire from service. In that case, Joseph would naturally be denied any salary or benefit.
Advocate Ramkumar on Wednesday said the management had tried to delay Joseph’s reinstatement until his retirement and that a criminal case should be filed against the diocese of Kothamangalam and the college management.
- indian express
Congress leaders in Kerala say party’s legislative member V T Balaram would be censored for his adverse comments against a Catholic Bishop in Kerala.
Balaram, MLA from Thrithala in Palakkad district, had made a sharp FaceBook posting against Idukki Bishop Mathew Anikkuzhikattil who had come down heavily on the section of the Congress leadership Saturday.
The party’s displeasure about Balaram should be seen against its struggle to win the seats in the upcoming general elections.
The issue started when Congress candidate for Idukki, Dean Kuriakose, called on the Bishop Saturday seeking his blessings. During the meeting, the Bishop said political leaders visit him when elections are round the corner but forget about their commitments when in power.
When his reaction was sought on the controversy, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy told reporters that he did not think Balaram would have made such a comment.
Chandy, however, added that Balaram would be censured if he had made adverse remarks against the bishop.
The issue also figured at the KPCC campaign committee meeting held here with the state party chief V M Sudheeran also expressing displeasure at the comment made by Balaram.
The bishop’s ire against politicians assumes significance in the context of the Congress’s decision not to field sitting MP P T Thomas, who had incurred the displeasure of the church over the Kasturirangan report on the Western Ghats.
Thomas had accused the church of indulging in politics and targetting him personally.
It was apparently in view of the fear of incurring the church’s wrath that Kuriakose was made the candidate for Idukki replacing Thomas.
Some dalit, Christian and Muslim groups have extended support to AIADMK in the upcoming general elections in Tamil Nadu.
Leaders of these parties called on Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary J Jayalalithaa at her residence on March 7 and expressed their solidarity with her party.
Those who had called on Jayalalithaa include All India Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam president N Sethuraman, Moovendar Munnetra Kazhagam president GM Sridhar Vandaiyar, Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam president P John Pandiyan, Puratchi Bharatham leader Poovai M Jaganmurthi M Prakash, Bishop and Synod of the Independent Churches of India.
They came along with the senior office-bearers of their parties and organizations and conveyed their support to the AIADMK.
INL national president Mohammed Sulaiman, party’s State president M Basheer Ahmed, All India Desiya League president SJ Inayathuallah, Tamil Maanila Muslim League leader S Sheik Dawood, Indian Union Quaid E Milleth leader MG Dawood Miakhan and Indian Tauheed Jamaat leader SM Pakhar also called on Jayalalithaa and expressed their support for the AIADMK.
Already, Madurai Adheenam Arunagirinatha Swamigal and leaders of many other parties have extended support to the AIADMK.
- new indian express
Bangalore, March 09, 2014: The Art of Living (AoL) centre near Pakistan’s capital Islamabad has been vandalised by unidentified gunmen, the city-based humanitarian and educational non-government organisation said Sunday.
“Around 15 gunmen entered the centre at Bani Gala on the outskirts of Islamabad late Saturday and vandalised it after tying up the security guards to trees in the complex,” the NGO said in a statement here.
People present at the centre were safe and no one was injured in the attack.
Though the centre has a capacity to house about 60 people at a time, the stress-elimination programme was shifted to Nankana Sahib, about 350 km from Islamabad, the statement quoted AoL Pakistan faculty member Shahnaz Minallah as saying.
The centre was unveiled by AoL founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in 2012.
- mid day
Bishop Paul D’Souza of Mangalore has requested the Karnataka state chief election commissioner not to depute Christians on election duty on Maundy Thursday, when elections are held in the state.
If the Christian government employees and schoolteachers are put on put on election they would be deprived of attending important Maundy Thursday service, held ahead of Easter Sunday, he said.
The Bishop has also requested the Election Commission that since many schools where polling is held fall in precincts of the church, the faithful should not be put to inconvenience due to security arrangements at polling booths.
In a letter to the election Commission, the bishop noted that the election commission has scheduled Lok Sabha election in Karnataka on April 17, which is Maundy Thursday when Christians across the world commemorate Last Supper of Jesus Christ.
If Christians are posted for election duty on the day their fundamental right to practice the religion will be violated and the right guaranteed under Article 25 to 28 of the Indian Constitution will be violated, the bishop maintained.
- times of india
Communist-backed Innocent seeks Cardinal’s blessings
Kochi, March 11, 2014: “I came only to seek his blessings,” the actor told media persons. Noted Malayalam film actor Thekkethala Innocent, who is contesting the Chalakkudy constituency backed by the Left Democratic Font, met Cardinal Mar George Alenchery, the head of the Syro Malabar Church, in Kochi on Saturday.
“There will be place for Innocent in my heart,” Cardinal Alencherry said after the meeting. Innocent said that the cardinal had visited him when he was in the hospital for cancer treatment.
“I came only to seek his blessings,” the actor told media persons.
“I am optimistic about winning in Chalakkudy constituency. The strong relationship with the people of the place will be a great advantage for me. People there have seen and known me for over 20 years,” Innocent said.
“If I win, I would like to do more things for the common people in the coastal and high range areas,” he added. Cardinal Alencherry also gave his best wishes for the candidate.
- new indian express
Kerala communists back Catholics in elections
The Communist party in Kerala has thrown its support behind five Christian candidates in the southern Indian state, a traditionally Christian stronghold, in the country’s forthcoming national elections.
The move highlights a bridging of the divide between communists and Christians in the state, as well as a growing disaffection between Christians and the ruling Congress party, particularly over the issue of the government’s plans to protect the Western Ghats, a hilly region that runs through Kerala.
Christians, who comprise less than 20 percent of the state’s 30 million population, have been politically decisive in some pockets of the state’s electorate and are traditionally strong backers of the Congress party.
The Left Democratic Front (LDF), an alliance of communist parties in the state and a perennial foe of the Congress party, says it has agreed to support the five Christian candidates.
“This is the first time that the communists have supported so many Christians,” said A Jayashanker, a political analyst based in the Kerala state capital Thiruvananthapuram.
It is not the first time that communists and Christians have found themselves on the same side of electoral issues, but this time “it is an attempt to take advantage of the current political situation,” as the Catholic Church is disappointed with the ruling Congress party on the issue of the Western Ghats, Jayashankar added.
Christian groups, led by a number of Catholic bishops, have been campaigning against government plans to implement recommendations of the High-Level Green Committee aimed at increasing environmental protection in the Western Ghats.
Christian leaders say the recommendations would, if implemented in their entirety, displace millions of farmers – the majority of them Catholics.
But MA Baby, a politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and a candidate for election from Kollam, denies that the communists are simply playing politics in their support of Catholic candidates.
“We field candidates based on their merits and capacity to garner the maximum number of votes,” Baby said.
A senior communist leader told ucanews.com that they had discussions with Catholic Church representatives.
“We have indicated that we would field a candidate of their choice,” he said.
Thekkethala Innocent, a popular Malayalam film star and member of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church is one such candidate, running for the Chalakudy constituency.
Innocent told ucanews.com that he was offered the ticket by the LDF as a token of his popularity among the common people.
“My father was a Catholic and a communist,” said the 69-year-old. “He told me that only communists fight for social equality.”
He said religion has nothing to do with politics. “We people in Chalakudy don’t think about people on the lines of their religion or color. We judge them by their qualities as human beings.”