Cardinal: Gandhi Wanted More for India

Says Anti-Christian Persecution Is Part of Bigger Struggle

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KKOTTONGNAE, South Korea, JUNE 16, 2009 ( If Gandhi would have lived longer, India would not be facing some of the human rights abuses it still confronts, according to the president of the Indian episcopal conference.

Cardinal Telesphore Toppo, archbishop of Ranchi, spoke with ZENIT about India’s Christian population and the challenges facing the nation, when he attended an international conference organized this month in Korea by the Catholic Charismatic Renewal.

India was the site of a wave of anti-Christian persecution last year, but the cardinal affirmed that Christians in India are still particularly committed to their faith.

India is a very religious nation, he said, where «Christianity is as old as Christianity itself.» And, he added, the work of the Charismatic Renewal there has brought the «faithful to love the Word of God, which before had not been greatly appreciated by Catholics.»

The cardinal explained that the faith in India dates back to the Apostle Thomas, but it is difficult to count the number of Catholics there today.

«In my state, when Belgian missionary Constant Lievens arrived in 1885, there were only 56 Catholics in all,» the cardinal recounted. «Seven years later, however, when Lievens was forced to leave because of ill health, he left 80,000 baptized Catholics and over 20,000 catechumens. It was an incredible explosion of faith known as ‘the miracle of Chotanagpur.'»

Fighting a cancer

Asked about May’s elections, which brought a surprisingly marked majority to the Congress party, Cardinal Toppo told ZENIT that the vote was «a fantastic success because it marked the defeat of the fundamentalists.»

«The new government is made up of people who follow the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, the best part of Hinduism,» he contended. «If India today can boast the biggest democracy of the world, it is because of the religiosity of the people of India: a very diverse population whose different components have in common their faith in God and in their fellow humans.»

But, the cardinal was less hopeful about an immediate halt to anti-Christian persecution.

«Persecution is difficult to contain,» he said. «It is like a cancer.»

In fact, the cardinal noted his fear that persecution might grow worse precisely because «fundamentalists are no longer in power and can no longer infiltrate the bureaucracy and put their people in key positions.»

He recalled: «When I was appointed cardinal in 2003, the leader of one of these fundamentalist groups said, ‘Why do we have to accept this foreign decree? Christians must leave India.’ I come from a tribal country, Jharkhand, so I answered ‘Let him leave first. I come from one of the first tribes of India, so I am more Indian than he is.'»

Struggle for freedom

Persecution is particularly aimed at Christians, the cardinal added, precisely because if tribal groups convert to Christianity, they could form an imposing middle class.

He explained: «In the eyes of the fundamentalists, the Muslims are also enemies of India, but Muslims retaliate so they are leaving them alone. The Christians they see as a threat they can eliminate.

«Their focus is particularly on tribe members, because the highest number of conversions takes place among them, as among the dalit, or ‘untouchables.’ Despite having undergone many persecutions throughout history, the tribal groups have maintained their own language and social system, so if they convert, they can form a middle class, which can be a catalyst between the dalit and the higher castes.

«Obviously, if the 100 million dalits and the 70 million tribals were to convert, this would amount to an immense political and social shift.»

Cardinal Toppo said Hindu fundamentalists are a small number in India, making up only 11% of the population, and their ideas are far from the religion’s traditional association with tolerance and peace.

«Can there be peace with the caste system,» he asked. «Can there be peace when you do not recognize your brother as your equal? Mahatma Gandhi freed India from British imperialism, but that liberation has not been completed yet. Gandhi represented universality, an absolutely Christian idea. If he had lived longer he would have abolished the castes, child marriage, the dowry system, bride burning. … India must free itself of all these evils, as well as from fundamentalists.

«Fundamentalists are a very small part of the population […] but they have the same ideas as Hitler and Mussolini. Persecution must be viewed in this context. It comes within the sphere of the struggle for freedom: freedom of conscience. We still have a long way to go; the struggle for freedom, initiated by Gandhi, goes on.»

[Reporting by Alessandra Nucci]
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