INDIA -Bishops denounce latest incident against Christians
India’s Catholic bishops have issued a press release strongly condemning the violent police disruption of a Good Friday service at a small parish in the south of the country. The press release stated:
“The Catholic Church in India is very distressed and saddened by the happenings in Sogandi, Tamil Nadu, on Good Friday, a day very sacred to Christians everywhere”
“The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses its full solidarity with the people of Sogandi and condemns in very strong terms the brutal action of the Tehsildar.”
The bishops expressed concern at rising intolerance in India toward people of all religions from “fundamentalist fringe” groups, calling on the government to ensure that everyone in the country continue to feel safe and “enjoy the basic right to worship freely and without fear.”
The statement, signed by the secretary general of the bishops’ conference, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, added that they are proud of their country and the major part of the Hindu community has always treated them with respect and goodwill.
The Dhalit Catholic community in the village of Sogandi was holding a liturgy for the Passion of the Lord on 14 April.
The Catholic parish there, under the patronage of St. Theresa of the Child Jesus, was built 10 years ago by 125 families, who also make up the population of the village. In order to help foster strong Marian devotion, the priest also built a little grotto with a covering and a statue of Our Lady on a nearby hill in 2007. Ever since, the grotto and other public religious symbols have been at the center of the clashes between the Christian village and a nearby Hindu village, also of a different caste identity. The Hindu village is known to have temples and houses erected on the other side of the same hill.
As the the parish gathered at the grotto at 3 PM to celebrate the Lord’s Passion service, the police and the Tehsildar ( local tax and revenue officers) disrupted the Veneration of the Cross and distribution of Holy Communion,, not allowing them to finish. The disturbance and subsequent disorder resulted in most of the local men, as well as some priests being booked for serious offences by the police said Bishop Neethinathan.
The following day, April 15, the revenue department bulldozed large ditches around the grotto area to prevent access.
The recent incidents are thought to be the result of planned and systematic operations by anti-Christian Hindutva and anti-Dhalit caste fundamentalists who are putting pressure on the police and revenue departments.
The event in Sogandi on Good Friday was only the latest in a string of escalating anti-Christian incidents in the village. Other recent actions include the demolition and removal of many of the statues and crosses of the parish from the hill on 31 Dec 2016 by more than 500 police officers “under the pretext of illegal occupation,” according to Bishop Neethinathan. The statues were not returned until April 19. In February, every stone and boulder on the hill was found marked with the Hindu symbol and the Palm Sunday procession, though able to conclude, was also interrupted by objections and disturbances.
Concern about religious intolerance has grown across India particularly since the May 2014 election of Narendra Modi as prime minister. After Modi took office the country saw a sharp rise in attacks against Christians and Muslims and their property , most of them perpetrated by the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS, or the “the Sangh.” The right-wing group, which has been described as “fundamentalist” and “violent,” has no official, legal registration in India. However they maintain strong ties with India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi has been criticized for his silence regarding the numerous mostly small-scale attacks.