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Asia

2003-05-22

ASIA/INDIA - IDEOLOGICAL NATIONALISM OF EXTREMIST GROUPS STRIKES MISSIONARIES. NEW AHAD ASSOCIATION PROMOTES SOCIAL HARMONY. EVER STRONGER INDIAN BISHOPS’ NO TO ANTI-CONVERSION LAW IN GUJARAT

New Delhi (Fides Service) – Christian missionaries in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India, are threatened and impeded in their mission to evangelise. A local Catholic priest, Father Matthew Vattakunnel, denounces that an authentic intimidation campaign against missionaries is being waged by activists of ideological nationalism.
Among several alarming episodes the priest recalls that on Easter Sunday two militants of the Movement of Gonds entered two Catholic churches in the village of Deori and desecrated crucifixes and other Christian symbols. A group of fundamentalist leaders in the area – local sources tell Fides Service – told over 30 Catholic rural families they must renounce their faith. Missionaries are accused of obtaining conversions by fraudulent means among the Tribals in the area. “But how can a priest remain silent when people ask him to speak about Jesus Christ?” asks the priest.
Father Anthony Rocky, director of the Office for Social services in Jabalpur diocese, says: “I stopped going to villages to see for myself the state of people’s living conditions after I received threats. The villagers have also be warned not to have anything to do with us and they are now afraid.”
To counter the growing phenomenon of fundamentalist ideological nationalism which exploits and transforms into violence India’s rich cultural heritage of the ancient Hindu civilisation in Gujarat the Jesuits have started the Act Now for Harmony and Democracy ANHAD movement. Head of the movement, Father Cedric Prakash explained that a number of organisations have united to eliminate social violence and to protect the secular nature of India and its Constitution. The movement aims at creating awareness at the cultural and social level, promoting respect for the civil freedom of Indian citizens. ANHAD in Hindi means ‘no limit’: “We want no limits to be set for tolerance, dialogue, liberty and harmony” say the organisers.
Gujarat state was also recently the centre of attention for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Indian which voiced concern over a local law in which subject conversion to a civil magistrate. The Bishops say the law violates freedom of religion guaranteed by India’s Constitution, as an inalienable right of the person. The Bishops wrote: “It is unacceptable that the government should appoint a state official to control the conscience of a private citizen” and they call for the withdrawal of law out of respect for India’s nature as a pluralistic and multicultural country.
Disapproval at the anti-conversion law was also voiced by the All Christian Council, which represents all the Christians in India. The Council has appealed to the Federal Supreme Court, contesting the constitutional validity of the anti-conversion bill. PA (Fides Service 22/5/2003 EM lines 35 Words: 406)

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