Hindu forces demolish protestant Church under construction, Lambaste Cardinal Toppo
Hindu leader says he will die before he allows another church to be built in his area.
UCAN (12/28/06) — Hindu radicals demolished a Protestant church under construction in Jharkhand on Christmas Day and accused a Catholic prelate of dividing tribal people in the eastern Indian state.
Activists of Hindu Jagaran Manch (front to awaken Hindus) and tribal groups associated with it pulled down a church being built on private property in Taapi, a village in Jharkhand. Later, during a meeting they held at the site of the demolished church, several Hindu leaders criticized Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo of Ranchi.
One of the activists, Suman Kumar, told the gathering that Church activities in Jharkhand have increased since Cardinal Toppo’s elevation. Church groups have extended their work to areas where no Christians live, he added.
Cardinal Toppo became the first tribal Asian cardinal upon his elevation in 2003. He heads the archdiocese based in Ranchi, the state capital, 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. Taapi is 25 kilometers north of Ranchi.
The cardinal “is trying to divide tribal and Hindu societies, which have lived together for centuries and have basically the same faith,” the Hindu leader said. He stressed the need to awaken Hindus against Church activities. “By all means we will stop conversion. We will die but not allow the church construction anymore,” he asserted.
The demolished church was being built on land belonging to Joseph Tuti, a member of Brethren Mission Church, a Protestant group based in southern India.
The militant meeting started with Taapi resident Jitram Munda narrating how Christian preachers from Chennai, a southern Indian city, came to the village a few weeks ago and told the villagers, “Jesus would look after us if we become Christians.” He went on to say that the visitors also claimed Jesus would give the villagers “everything we need and take away our sins and heal us,” and that the church construction started after they left.
Questioning the need for building a church in “a fully non-Christian belt,” Aditya Prasad, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party), said he suspects “a conspiracy” to convert local people and reduce animist tribal people into a minority in Jharkhand.
Tribal people who follow traditional animistic religious traditions are called Sarna. Right-wing Hindu groups claim them as Hindus, but Christian groups maintain that traditional tribal religions have no place in Hinduism.
Prasad alleged that Christian missioners lure “simple” tribal people with social services and “also give them money to make them Christians.”
Vishnu Munda, a tribal villager who presided at the meeting, told UCA News the Sarna committee has decided to occupy the 3.2-hectare plot where the demolished church stood and build there a dhumkuria, a tribal community hall for cultural and other programs.
Pramod Kumar Jaisawal, a Hindu leader, told reporters the tribal body occupied the church land after purifying the construction site according to Hindu rituals.
Vishnu Munda said the committee would return the land to Tuti only if his family agrees to return to their traditional religion. “We would not allow them to use the land in any way if they continue to remain Christians,” he warned.
According to the tribal leader, tribal law can be invoked to deny Tuti the land. He said Tuti inherited the land from his mother, the only child of her parents, whereas only sons are entitled to inherit parental property under tribal laws. But he reiterated that the tribal body would return the land to Tuti provided he abandons Christianity.
Tuti, 70, told UCA News he has no such plan. “Why should we leave our Christian faith? We will fight the legal battle. We have done no wrong,” he said, adding that he plans to build a school besides the church with help from his Church.
Tuti’s 35-year-old son, Nobel Tuti, says the villagers and the tribal body raised no problem when his family informed them about the church plan. “But some Hindu forces misguided the villagers into believing that we are building a church to convert them,” he told UCA News.
Father Peter Raposo, secretary to Cardinal Toppo, denied the Hindu leaders’ allegations against the prelate. “In fact, the cardinal knows nothing about the construction of the church. This does not belong to the Catholic Church,” he told UCA News. He also pointed out that the Catholic Church has a mission station and a school near Taapi. “There is no problem with us,” he added.
Cardinal Toppo said he was being blamed for no reason. “But demolishing an under-construction building is a crime,” the cardinal told UCA News. He also questioned why the Hindu radicals chose Dec. 25 to demolish the building.
“This shows that some anti-Christian elements want to create violence in the state, but the Christian community responded to them peacefully and patiently,” he added.