2/16/2006, UCANews (www.ucanews.com)
BANGALORE, India (UCAN) — Criticism from Hindu radicals will not stop the church’s work among the poor in India, church officials maintain.
"The church will continue to empower the marginalized through education, whatsoever may be the challenges or objections from fundamental groups," said Bishop Isaac Mar Cleemis of Tiruvalla, second vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
Bishop Cleemis and other church officials addressed the press at the end of the bishops’ conference biennial plenary, held in Bangalore, southern India. Some 160 bishops from all over India deliberated on "Catholic education and the church’s concern for the marginalized" at the Feb. 8-15 meeting.
At the same time, the church’s work among tribal and other poor people came in for severe criticism at a religious fair radical Hindus organized in a remote area in Gujarat, western India.
K.S. Sudarshan, a top Hindu-nationalist leader, told people at the Feb. 11-13 fair to defeat "satanic powers" "re-emerging" from the West. He said that if church education has contributed to those powers, his people would set up "quality schools to provide an alternative to convent education." Christian schools in India are generally known as "convent" schools, because religious congregations run many of them.
Sudarshan heads Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS, national volunteer corps), an umbrella organization of Hindu groups trying to make India a Hindu nation. The organization often alleges that the church’s work among the poor is a facade to convert them to Christianity. During the religious fair, Sudarshan earmarked the year 2011 as the target year for making every Christian and Muslim "an Indian," which the RSS terminology equates with being a Hindu.
Asked for his reaction, bishops’ conference president Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi told the press the church need not react to provocative remarks the Hindu fundamentalists make. However, the church wants the government to "ensure religious freedom and security for the minority groups," the cardinal added.
"It is not a matter of competition with anybody, but it is our duty to educate the dalit and tribal, who form more than 60 percent of Catholics in India. We have no escape from educating them," said the cardinal, who explained that Christians have a moral obligation to serve the poor that they will carry on unmindful of criticism.
The cardinal identified himself as a tribal who benefited from Christian education. He said the Hindu groups never showed concern for his people until Christian missioners began working for tribal advancement. Dalit groups, at the bottom of India’s traditional caste system, once were called "untouchables."
"The church has been involved in the empowerment of the dalit and tribal from the beginning of its presence in India," the cardinal noted.
Earlier, speaking with UCA News, Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes of Gandhinagar, newly elected bishops’ conference general secretary, said the Hindu fair was just a "political drama for survival" of the pro Hindu political parties. He added that the church "is not afraid of such movements."
Gandhinagar is the capital of Gujarat state. The Jesuit archbishop said the Hindu onslaught never threatens him. According to him, the fundamentalist groups are not really against "conversion," as they say, but against the "empowerment" of dalit and tribal groups.
He said the dalit and tribal groups would turn to the church once they realize the Hindu groups’ "hidden agenda."
Hindu-dominated Indian society segregates people according to the caste of their birth. There are four major castes and hundreds of sub castes. The priestly Brahmin caste is the highest, followed by Kshatriya, the warrior caste, Vaisya, the trader caste, and Sudra, the menial worker caste. The dalit are "outside" the system, while tribal people do not figure in it at all.