Christians Expelled From India ‘s Famous Temple Town ; Hindu Marks Forced On Foreheads
BosNewsLife (07/20/06) Authorities in India’s most famous Hindu temple town, Tirupati, are expelling Christian families from the area and have ordered all temple employees to sport a ’tilak’, a Hindu mark, on their forehead, BosNewsLife learned from several Indian church sources Thursday, July 20.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) that manages the ‘Lord Venkateswara’ temple, issued the ’tilak’ direction Wednesday, July 19, to all its 10,000 employees to ensure they “express their firm faith in the Hindu religion,” said the news service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI).
The move came after the TDD and Hindu militants reportedly expressed outrage that “Christian missionaries” were carrying out “evangelical and conversion activities” in Tirupati, located in the southeastern part of Andhra Pradesh state.
Earlier in the week, backed by several Hindu organizations, the TDD also began expelling Christians from the region, said Sajan K. George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), an influential advocacy group.
George told BosNewsLife that Hindu officials were especially angry that Christians support Dalits, also known as the ‘untouchables,’ as they are seen as the ‘lowest caste’ in India ‘s ancient system of Hinduism.
Since Tuesday, July 18, there were several protests against Christian activities in the temple town, including the alleged “forced” conversions and distribution of Bibles and Christian pamphlets.
Evangelical Christians have strongly denied they are involved in “forced” conversions; “accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior” is a free choice.
“We are intrigued by the insensitiveness [of Hindu militants]… when all nation is trying to recover from the shock of the recent Mumbai bomb blasts carried out by terrorists,” in which about 200 people died, George said.
An official of the Hindu-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said in published remarks he would raise the issue of evangelical activities around the temple “and other major Hindu pilgrim centers in Andhra Pradesh” in Parliament.
The temple located on the Tirumala hills is one the worlds largest, and richest, Hindu shrines and often compared with Vatican City . The temple draws over 50,000 Hindu devotees daily.
BJP leaders say since the Christian politician Y S Rajasekhara Reddy became the Andhra Pradesh chief minister, the activities of Christian missionaries in the temple town have increased, the CBCI’s news service said.
“Christian missionaries were propagating their religion on the hills. Nearly 42 Christian families are carrying out religious activities in Tirumala,” BJP National Secretary Bandaru Dattatreya was quoted as saying, suggesting that at least hundreds of Christians could be expelled. He alleged that some employees of TTD were helping the missionaries in their activities.
“We are [therefore] happy that the temple authorities have now issued orders that all employees would put the ’tilak’ mark on their forehead,” he added in a statement distributed by the CBCI’s news service.
The incident comes amid growing concern among churches and human rights groups about the involvement of Hindu parties perceived anti-Christian policies such as the introduction of ‘anti-conversion’ laws in several Indian states.
This week 16 British Members of Parliament, signed a letter encouraging the Indian government to address concerns about anti-conversion legislation raised by leaders representing a range of religious communities in India , said UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which backs the initiative.