Red-Hat Burned. Twice.
A group of tribal people have burned effigies of Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi in eastern India, holding him responsible for a Protestant Bible they say insults their indigenous tribal religion.Soon to turn 69, Toppo was elevated to the College in the consistory of 2003. A former president of the Indian bishops, the cardinal made the news earlier this year for throwing his support to the long-contested proposal for the Pope to solemnly define Mary as "spiritual mother of all humanity" and "co-redemptrix and mediatrix of all grace."
Protesters on Sept. 22 shouted slogans against the prelate, the first Asian tribal cardinal. They blamed him for publication of the "anti-tribal Bible" and burned effigies of the Catholic leader in front of the Bishop's House in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, 1,160 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.
They also threatened to burn copies of Nemha (holy) Bible. The Bible Society of India, a Protestant organization, published the Bible translation into the Oraon tribe's Kurukh dialect in 2000.
Manoj Lakra, a journalist, explained to UCA News that the protesters hold Cardinal Toppo, an Oraon himself, responsible for the Protestant translation because they do not understand denominational differences and consider the cardinal head of all tribal Christians in the state. The Catholic Church is by far the largest Christian group in the region, popular for its education and health services.
On Sept. 21, the protesting members of Kendriya Sarna Samiti (KSS, central Sarna committee), told members of the press in Ranchi they objected to the translation's rendering of "tree" as "sarna" in the Book of Deuteronomy. The passage they cited reads: "You must completely destroy all the places where the nations you dispossess have served their gods, on high mountains, on hills, under any spreading tree; you must tear down their altars, smash their sacred stones, burn their sacred poles, hack to bits the statues of their gods and obliterate their name from that place."
Sarna denotes the tribal worship place normally set under a tree. The word is also used to describe the community of non-Christian tribal people who follow the Sarna worship system.
KSS president Ajay Tirkey told reporters the translation was "derogatory" because "sarna is our holy place" and is an "unbearable offense for the entire tribal community." The KSS is considered to have the backing of pro-Hindu groups in the area.
Tirkey charged the translation was a "wrongful" attempt by Christian missioners "to put our religion in a bad light" in order to "facilitate conversions."
The group did not explain why they waited eight years since the translation was published to air their objections.
Cardinal Toppo told UCA News on Sept. 21 that the translated word "was wrong," but also that the Catholic Church does not belong to the Bible Society. The society's officials in the state, he added, have acknowledged the mistake and announced they will withdraw the bible. "Therefore this should not be made an issue," he added.
Soma Bhatkar, Bible Society secretary in Ranchi, told UCA News on Sept. 21 that they have "tendered unconditional apologies" to the tribal community and recalled copies from bookstores. She admitted the "mistake" but also said her society only helped print the Bible edition, not translate it.