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Card. Toppo: despite the fundamentalists, India will respect religious freedom

ICC Note: Catholic bishop comments on the US State Department’s new report on religious freedom in India, saying that the fact that Christians have been doing missionary work for years and yet are still a vast minority is proof of service without an agenda to proselytize.

by Nirmala Carvalho

9/17/07 India (AsiaNews) – Concern over the demonstrations of intolerance by Hindu nationalists, but hope and trust in the world’s largest democracy to maintain the founding principals of secularism and therefore, respect for religious freedom, “which is non negotiable” and without which India cannot become a true world power. These were the comments of Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, President of Indian Bishops Conference to AsiaNews in the aftermath of the US State Departments report on the State of religious freedom, according to which in some of the states in his country – those in which the BJP and its allies are in power – this fundamental freedom is severely limited.

“As president of the CBCI – he says – I am concerned about these anti-conversion laws. These fringe elements will always be present, in a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi ethnic, pluralistic country as vast and diverse as India, so on the one hand, while the fundamentalist elements are cause for concern, on the other hand, I am hopeful and optimistic that these are the birth pangs of modern India, we are in the 21st century and on the verge of being a global power. And we will emerge victorious with the essence of being a tolerant and non-violence society”. “But only religious freedom can guarantee that our beloved country reach this objective”. Recently in Chattisgarh, and earlier in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the governor returned the amendments to the Freedom of Religion Bill, so the Church in India has the Constitutional guarantee-Article 25 for Religious Freedom. “ India is a great country and our founding fathers envisioned a Secular country. And we hope and rely on our Constitution which ensures and assures us Freedom of Religion”.

“The Church in India – continues the prelate – has for hundreds of years worked selflessly for the uplifting and empowerment of the most marginalised of society in the remotest rural areas and yet even today Christians are a minority in India which is proof enough of our Mission of service without any agenda to proselytise”.

“The government has a secular agenda, but we have to understand that Hindus form more than 80 percent of India’s one billion-plus population and fringe elements continue to violate the religious rights of the minorities and spread false propaganda of distrust and hatred against Christian missionaries and for this we cannot blame the Government, we have to accept these act of persecution and pray for the perpetrators”.

Regarding the organisation of the violence, “Mahatma Gandhi – reveals the cardinal – was assassinated by a lone gun man, but he was part of an organised fundamentalist group, so in India , it is true that most often attacks on religious minorities are rarely spontaneous. If punishment does come, it is only to those who are used as mere manpower in carrying out these crimes, while the political bigwigs who plan and organise the violence backstage usually remain at large”.

“Christians – notes John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union – are the major victims of human rights violations throughout the southern Asian. In India – he adds – in this area no one political party is completely innocent. The BJP and its frontal organisations of the Sangh Parivar are guilty in the extreme as we have see in Orissa, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and other area. These are states where the police do not register cases when Christians are victim and Sangh Parivar is the aggressor and yet the same police accompanied Sangh aggression storm troopers when they attack home churches”.

“But – he adds in a conversation with AsiaNews – The Congress party however is no less guilty

Despite the confused secularism of the top leaders including cabinet ministers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singha and Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, and despite the effort of the National Commission of Minorities, it needs to be remembered that violence continues in Congress states such as Andhra Pradesh. The Union government has to ensure that the state remains secular and it does not encourage the mixing of religion and politics”.