VHP seeks ‘judicial action’ against evangelists on tourist visa in Andamans

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NEW DELHI: In the midst of official and non-governmental bodies visiting Andaman and Nicobar islands to investigate adventurer-evangelist John Allen Chau’s death at the hands of the Sentinelese, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has urged the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) to press for “severe judicial action against evangelists operating in India.

The VHP called such evangelists on tourist visas “cultural encroachers” and sought tighter scrutiny of fishermen known to ferry foreign tourists to “hard to access” islands in the region and reinstating of curbs on foreigners visiting islands populated by aboriginal tribes.

The Sangh parivar organisations – Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, VHP and Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad – met NCST chairman Nand Kumar Sai in Port Blair on Thursday and presented a series of demands including a notification that all funding resources of foreign organisations and Christian Missionaries operating in the region be made public and open as per Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment (FCRA) guidelines.

“All Christian missionaries in India should be strictly warned not indulge in any kind of cultural encroachment to destroy the ancient and tribal cultures of these islands. Enforcement of missionary visa rule in these islands is important as most Christian missionaries come to India on tourist visa but do missionary work,” VHP’s letter, written by Partho Mondal, organising secretary of the VHP, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, said.

The VHP has also asked action against foreign tourists who made a documentary on “organic Jarawas” in 2014 that the Sangh Parivar says was disrespectful of the tribe and violated permit rules of the Union Territory.

“Only when these videos are put up on Youtube do we get to know about the violations. But the administration should have known and has chosen to either assist them or ignore the violations. Local churches often help such film makers. Many fishermen ferry foreign tourists to these islands. Centre should look at their nexus with conversion agents,” Omkar Parida, organising secretary of the ABVP said.

The Sangh parivar also criticised the decision taken by home ministry to remove Restricted Area Permit (RAP) regime in August 2018 from 29 islands of the union territory of which North sentinel was one, calling it “a unilateral decision taken by the government of India without assessing the ground realities of the tribal communities.”

The Church, however, refuted these charges. Bishop Alex Dias of the Catholic Diocese of Andamans told ET that there was an attempt by the Sangh to “spread malice and lies” about the church. “We have been functioning for years here in peace. There are no conversions like the ones they are alleging. All the organisations run by us serve all members of the community who live here.”

NCST chairman Nand Kishore Sai, who was part of the official delegation that visited the A&N islands this week, said the report given by VHP had “shocking details” and he has strictly asked Andaman administration to work closely with Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram and Ramakrishna Mission.

“Hindu organisations are not being allowed to work there freely. These conversions, being done systematically, need to be stopped as they are taking the tribals out of their natural lifestyles and making them vulnerable. It is also important to celebrate and remind these tribes of their own history of having vehemently fought European forces even before the first war of independence,” Sai said.

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are home to four primitive Negrito and two Mongoloid tribes. While the Negritos live in Andaman archipelago and the Mongoloids are in Nicobar. The Great Andamanese, Onges, Jarawas and Sentinalese have been living in Andaman chain of islands. The Sangh parivar, in its letter, has also said, that there have been attempts by “Christian missionaries to convert Jarawas and Onges, and if they were not checked, the tribes would meet the same fate as some others on the island, who are now mostly Christian or Islamic and have lost their original identity.”

Source: Economic Times