NEW DELHI, India — In the wake of the Jan. 26 earthquake that devastated the Indian state of Gujarat, the leader of the World Hindu Council has asked Indians to boycott aid from Christian organizations.

Ashok Singhal, the secretary general of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, also known as VHP, said Feb. 4 that India should “boycott” 200 million rupees (US$4.3 million) given by the Catholic Church to help those hit by the earthquake.

Singhal said that the money should be refused because of the call by Pope John Paul II for the conversion of Asia during his November 1999 visit to India.

In New Delhi, Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the bishops' conference, told ENI news service that “it is better to ignore” Singhal's comments. “This exposes VHP's pettiness,” said Father Emmanuel.

A few days earlier, news leaked that some Hindu groups were rejecting aid from priests and Christian volunteers. Archbishop Cyril Mar Baselios of Trivandrum, president of the bishops' conference, confirmed the reports in the Feb. 7 edition of the Italian newspaper Avvenire.

The Vatican missionary news agency Fides has also reported that tensions between Christians and Hindus are hampering relief efforts. Father Cedric Prakash, coordinator of Earthquake Affected Relief and Rehabilitation Services, a forum of 40 Catholic nongovernmental organizations, said that “some Hindu groups try to monopolize the aid.”

The priest said that he himself was expelled from a hospital in Ahmedaban, where he had gone to deliver aid. “In a situation such as this one, there should be room for everyone in solidarity, but it is not like this,” he said.

The Indian government has entrusted the coordination of aid to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, also known as RSS, an Indian organization made up of Hindu fundamentalists.

“Over the last few years,” Fides reported, “RSS members have been accused of violence against Christians in Gujarat.”

(From combined wire services)

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