August 24,2006, theindiancatholic.com
Pro-Hindu groups have launched a campaign in Tirupati recently that Christian missionaries are carrying out evangelical and conversion activities in the Hindu place of worship. Fr. Anthoniraj Thumma, Executive Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Christian Federation presents a few facts against this motivated campaign.
Tirupati is a famous pilgrim town in the Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh, which is at the junction of two states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. About 30 km away from Tirupati on top of the Tirumala Hills is the well-known temple of Lord Venkatewara visited by millions of Hindu pilgrims from all over India and abroad through out the year.
The Sangh Parivar groups have been working out a plan systematically for gaining political advantage and for mobilizing the Hindu vote bank by cashing on the great pilgrimage advantage of Tirupati.
They are trying to blow up the issues at Tirupati out of proportion to make it another controversy like that of Ayodhya, to arouse the religious emotions of the Hindus to serve their vested interests.
As part of this insidious plan they have been targeting Christians in Tirupati and other Hindu pilgrim towns. From the last two decades there has been a plan to make Tirumala Hills the “Vatican of the Hindus”. Late N.T. Rama Rao, the former Andhra Pradesh chief minister lent his support to this proposal in 1980s.
The Panchayat Raj Department of the Government of A.P. issued a notification under Government Order (G.O.) No: 338 on September 26, 2005, declaring the Tirumala Hills area as “Tirumala Township” which is nothing but the repetition of G.O. No: 1605 of Revenue Dept dated 02-12-1975, covering the Temple premises, its offices, pilgrim resorts, choultries, kalyana mandapams, etc., which is based on the orders issued during the British time.
This G.O. issued by M. Samuel, IAS, who is Principal Secretary of Panchayat Raj Dept. has become controversial for including only two hills out of the seven hills that are said to “belong to Lord Venkateswara”.
The Sangh Parivar groups allege that the notified area of 27.5 sq. km does not include the entire area of “seven hills”. They accuse D.C. Rosaiah, IAS, the Revenue Secretary and Specified Authority of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) appointed by the government for not rectifying the above government order restricting the Tirumala township only to 27.5 sq k.m. in collusion with M. Samuel, IAS, alleging that he is also a Christian.
According to Hindu pandits, the term “seven hills” indicates the seven spiritual stations along the footpath to the Tirumala temple. Much of the hilly area of Tirumala is reserved forest under the control of the Forest Department.
In April 2006, the Tirumala Tirupati Samrakshana Samithi (TTSS) and other Hindu extremists had got Visveswara Theertha of Pejawar Math of Udipi, Karnataka, constitute a fact-finding committee headed by Justice B. Bikshapathy, a retired judge of A.P. High Court, including other retired judges, vice-chancellors of universities and police officers to probe into anti-Hindu affairs said to be rampant in the TTD areas.
This Committee conducted enquiry in Tirutpati and Tirumala holding meetings with the residents, pujaris of the temples and TTD officials on June 21 and 22. It arrived at the conclusion that “propagation of Christianity with an ulterior motive of conversion is taking place in Tirupati and Tirumala.”
Two specific instances of distribution of religious pamphlets by Christians in the buses plying between Tirupati and Tirumala were mentioned in the report of the Committee. Complaints were registered against Pastor Balaraju and his associate Babu on April 9, 2006, and against two Christian women on April 26, for distributing Christian pamphlets.
They were booked under the Rule 198, promulgated under the Andhra Pradesh Chartable and Hindu Religious Endowment Act 1987, which prohibits possession of non-Hindu pamphlets and books, and non-Hindu religious propaganda and prayers on the Tirumala Hills.
The Report of the Committee also speaks about the 40 Christian families residing on Tirumala conducting prayers in their houses and some Muslim employees in the TTD. According to the Committee, only Hindus can be appointed as TTD employees. The Executive officers of TTD under their pressure have agreed to deport them from the Tirumala Hills and gradually shift them to some other government departments, without examining the rules and other Constitutional provisions.
Tirumala Tirupati Samrakshana Samithi (TTSS), which is led by Bajrang Dal leaders, and others demand that Government declare the 250 sq k.m. around the Hills as the area of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD).
This was endorsed by the host of swamijis and religious leaders led by Visveswara Theertha of Pejawar Math of Udipi, Karnataka, and Dayananda Sraswathi during the TTSS meeting and rally held on July 14, 2006 at Tirupati.
The main motive behind such a move as expressed by them is to ward off non-Hindu activities especially the evangelization by Christians. They also demanded prohibiting appointments of non-Hindus and the deportation of 40 Christian employees and other non-Hindus said to be residing on Tirumala Hills.
They alleged that the medical and educational institutions of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD) had become proselytisation centers and some of the Christian officials and employees are encouraging conversion.
The Committee also accused the government for its plan to install the ropeway to the Tirumala Hills to encourage tourism destroying the sanctity of the Tirumala Hills. The Sangh Parivar groups lay blame on Sri J. Raymond Peter, IAS, the Managing Director of A.P. Tourism Development Corporation for this attempt, who took charge of the Corporation only recently, though the project has been under contemplation even during TDP Govt. since last three years.
On June 25, 2006, evening, four sisters of Mother Teresa who were visiting the Government Hospital to care for the abandoned HIV/AIDS patients and orphaned children were harassed by the TTSS, BJP and Bajrang Dal militants and handed over to the police at night to be arrested. They were let off at the police station at 10.30 p.m. after much pressure was brought on the police through the timely intervention of Most Rev. Marampudi Joji, the Archbishop of Hyderabad, and Vice-President of Andhra Pradesh Christian Federation.
These Nuns have been taking care of the patients in the Government hospital for last twenty years on the written requests of the hospital authorities and the agreements signed between them.
The Vice-Chancellor of Sri Padmavati Women University, Tirupati, which is also a State university receiving some funds from the TTD, Professor Veena Noble Das, Christian staff members and students are being accused of promoting Christian preaching and prayers in the campus.
The Akhila Bharat Vidyarthi Parishat (ABVP), the student wing of R.S.S., is bent upon making many false complaints against them. Professor Violet who is also a hostel warden in this university campus was forced to resign from the post of warden after undergoing a week of torment by the uproar and abuses of the anti-Christian groups who staged a dharna against her accusing her of running prostitution racket in the campus. She was targeted because she is a volunteer and supporter of Mother Teresa sisters at Tirupati and stood by them during the recent attack on them. Some months ago, a pastor and group of students who were holding prayer service in their hostel room were severely beaten up in the campus of Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati, which is a State university partly funded by the TTD.
The A.P. Minister for Endowments and Panchayat Raj, J. C. Diwakar Reddy, on July 16, 2006, forthrigh
tly denied that other religions were permitted to practise and preach their faith on the Hills. He held a meeting with religious leaders including Visveswara Theertha of Pejawar Math of Udipi, the members of Justice Bikshapathy Commission, and the TTD officials and employees on July 21, 2006, at Tirupati, and conceded to all their demands and promised to implement their suggestions. He reiterated the clarification of A.P. government and the TTD officials that the above mentioned G.O. 338 was just a legal instrument to demarcate the boundaries of the Tirumala Temple, its offices, function halls, pilgrim utility centers and the surrounding residential areas, to prevent Panchayat elections, which was prayed for by some petitioners in the High Court and does not indicate the total area of the Tirumala Hills. He assured that the rest of the area under Forest Department would be included in the TTD after obtaining permission from the Government of India. The minister also asserted that evangelization will be prohibited in TTD areas as well as all the Hindu temple towns in A.P.
But the chief priest of the temple of Lord Venkateswara, Sri A.V. Ramana Deekshitulu, and other archakas made it clear on July 21, 2006, after their meeting with the Chief Minister in Hyderabad, that there was no religious propaganda by any Christian pastor, organization or mission on the Tirumala Hills. They also affirmed that some political parties and vested interests are waging a misinformation campaign and raking up the controversy to discredit the Chief Minister though he has made efforts to improve the Dharma pracharam and to establish the Vedic University at TTD.
The TTD Authority adopted a resolution on July 27, 2006, to recommend to the State Government to issue a fresh G.O. to bring 332 sq. km area under the purview of the Tirumala Temple covering all the “seven hills” including the forest area declaring it “a religious township”. On the same day, the State Cabinet made a decision to transfer the reserve forest area on the Tirumala Hills to the TTD to bring the “seven hills” under its control and not limiting to “two hills” as some alleged and authorised the Chief Minister to write to the Central Government seeking its permission on this matter.
When the TTD controversy seemed to be subsiding over the week, on the July 30, two persons by names Om Prakash Agarwal of New Delhi and Viswanand Damodar Rao of Tadepalligudem (A.P.) were caught red handed by the residents of Balaji Nagar on the Tirumala Hills while drawing the signs of the Holy Cross on the walls of their houses and writing the slogans like “Jesus Zindabad” in the area and videographing these inscriptions. The vigilance authorities and the police ascertained that the duo belonged to the TV Channel “Sudarshan” and were in contact with the leaders of TTSS in Tirupati and Udipi. They were let off by the police after two days for lack of solid proof of their conspiratorial activities. However, this incident let the cat out of the bag. Both the leading left parties in the State, the CPI and CPI (M), demanded a judicial probe into the episode to probe the hidden hand of the Sangh Parivar that was getting the drama enacted to whip up communal tension for gaining political mileage. Mr K. Murali, the District Secretary of the CPI (M), stated that the incidents taking place presently are part of the conspiracy hatched during the sadhu and santh sammelan led by the VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia held at Tirupati in March.
A motivated campaign is being waged by the B.J.P. and T.D.P. to gain political mileage out of the Tirupati controversy. The ultimate target of attack of the Hindutva forces is Dr Y. S. Rajashekara Reddy and Smt Sonia Gandhi, the Chairperson of U.P.A. and the President of the Congress Party. Being Christians, both of them are accused of conspiring to convert the whole of India to Christianity by encouraging the evangelical and missionary activities. In this whole vicious political game, the Christians have been made pawns and some of them have already become victims. Five pastors were ruthlessly killed and many others brutally beaten up from the time Dr Y. S. Rajashekara Reddy became the Chief Minister of A.P. in 2004.
Unless the secular minded groups join together and resist the divisive hate campaign of the Sangh Parivar being waged against the Christians and other Minorities again now as part of the Tirupati controversy, several fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution including freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and right to life and livelihood in Tirupati and other temple towns of A.P. will be jeopardized, thereby lending support to the deep rooted conspiracy of the Sangh Parivar groups against Christianity and the secular democracy in India to sustain its caste domination and exploitation of the marginalized.