BANGALORE, India –– The 800-member Catholic community in a village in India is facing a social boycott for refusing to follow traditions to appease Hindus gods.
“We are Christians and we are not bound to follow Hindu religious practices,” Fr. Philip Rock, pastor at St. Sebastian Parish in Mangalawada village, told Catholic News Service in early September. The village in India’s Karnataka state has about twice as many Hindus as Catholics.
Following the spread of cholera in the village, Hindu leaders announced steps to appease their gods and ward off evil. These steps included special fasts and the banning of regular work in the village on all “inauspicious days,” including all Tuesdays and Fridays.
Fr. Rock said the Hindus indicated that nobody should eat during the day, wash clothes, work in the fields, open their shops, or repair or wash their vehicles on such days.
Pointing out that the government supplies water to the dry village only on Tuesdays and Fridays, Fr. Rock said, “How could I tell our people to follow these conditions?”
The refusal of the Catholic families of Mangalawada to follow the directives angered the Hindu majority. Hindu leaders called a meeting and declared a “social boycott” against the Christians in late August.
Fr. Rock said Hindus were told to have nothing to do with the Christians and were threatened with a fine of $11 for violating the ban on interacting with Christians. Since then, Hindus have stopped buying from small Christian shops, selling to Christians or using vehicles owned by Christians.
Hindu farmers have quit hiring Christian workers, and the church-run kindergarten that had 51 students now has only five because all the Hindu children have been withdrawn.
“Christians and Hindus have been living together here for decades, peacefully, without any such problem,” said the priest who heads the remote parish.
The priest said Hindu leaders made a similar demand in 2009, but the fine was only two cents and it was not enforced.
“But this year, it is a total boycott against our people. We want the government to intervene and end this boycott,” said Fr. Rock.
“We have our freedom. Another faith should not be imposed on our people, and their normal lives should not be disturbed like this,” he added.
A. R. Desai, the government official in charge of the cluster of villages in the area, told CNS, “There is a problem.”
“We held a peace meeting in the village with both communities together last week in the presence of police,” he said Sept. 1.
“We have cautioned them not to (cause further) trouble and have asked the police to take action against those who try to create trouble,” Desai replied when asked about the continuing social boycott.
However, he expressed optimism that the boycott would “die out soon.”
Bishop Derek Fernandes of Karwar told CNS there had been similar problems in smaller villages with just a few Christian families, “but here it seems to be very organized and against a large community.”
“We have informed and asked senior government officials to resolve it at the earliest,” Bishop Fernandes said.