Indian Catholics join Muslims in protest of Bush visit
NEW DELHI, India (UCAN) – Some church people have joined Muslims and communists to protest U.S. President George W. Bush's first visit to India.
Bush ended his three-day visit March 3. However Muslims and others began to protest the visit a week in advance.
The tone of protests varied. Some said Bush was unwelcome in India as he was "the perpetrator of violence and the main terrorist." Others said he was welcome but should take note of the "gross injustice" the U.S. is committing against weaker countries.
Some groups opposed Bush paying a floral tribute at Rajghat, the mausoleum of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian nation and an advocate of nonviolence. On Feb. 26, ahead of Bush's arrival, people from various religions protested the planned visit to Rajghat by chanting prayers and singing hymns for peace and against all kinds of violence, hatred and war.
On March 1, more than 100,000 Muslims gathered on a public ground in the capital with placards telling Bush to “to back." They shouted that he had killed innocent Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of fighting terrorism.
Abdul Hamid Nomani, spokesperson of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, which organized the Muslim protest, said his people "couldn't welcome the biggest terrorist of this earth to our country."
Another Muslim leader, Omair Anas, noted that India has the second-largest Muslim population after Indonesia. "Bush cannot go without noticing their protest," the public relations secretary of the Students Islamic Organization of India told UCA News. Muslims form some 13.4 percent of India's 1.01 billion population.
Another protest that day involved communists, students, NGOs and journalists who marched down the road leading to the Indian parliament in the center of New Delhi.
Jesuit Father T.K. John, who joined the march, told UCA News the protesters opposed "those who destroy the house of another." But that "does not mean that we are against his visit to India," the retired seminary professor clarified. "Anyone is welcome in India, but we are raising issues of (Bush's) gross violations and the harm he is doing to humanity in the name of his war against terrorism, particularly against Afghanistan and Iraq," he continued.
Some students and staff of Jesuit-run Vidyajyoti College of Theology in Delhi also attended the protest march on Parliament Street. Father John said he also saw other Christians at the protest.
He said they did not protest when Bill Clinton, Bush's predecessor, visited India in 2000. The "magnitude of acts of destruction" during Bush's tenure in office is much greater, he explained. "Anyone has the right to protest in this country, and we want him to take note of our protests," the priest said.
Aum Singh Ashfaq, another Parliament Street marcher, said the protests were a symbolic stand against American capitalist ideology. Ashfaq came from Kurukshetra in neighboring Haryana state.
Gagan Singh Ghuman, a Sikh protester, wore a black garment with “Rakshas” (demon) Bush go back" written in Punjabi and English.
The villager from the northern Indian state of Punjab said people in India do not want Bush in the country, and "we don't want the government to have any sort of dealings with him."
Mahender Kumar, an illiterate laborer, held a huge poster saying, "Bush Go Back," as he sat with a group of 40-50 protestors from Jhansi, a town in central India. He said their leader brought them and paid for everything, travel and food included. Kumar admitted he had no idea what he was protesting against. He also said he had no clue what the poster he held said.
By March 2, with hundreds of thousands of protesters arriving from various parts of India, vehicular traffic on New Delhi streets came to a standstill.
However, neither the protests nor the traffic affected Bush's state visit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh received the U.S. president at the airport, breaking protocol and speaking about the warmth of friendship they enjoy.
At their joint press conference March 2, the Indian and U.S. leaders announced a "historical" nuclear deal between the two nations. The deal, billed as the centerpiece of Bush's visit, allows the sharing of American nuclear know-how with India for civilian energy production.
As Bush was busy with political engagements, his wife, Laura, visited a center for disabled children managed by the Missionaries of Charity nuns.
Sister Tresa Paul, superior at Jeevan Jyoti (life's light), said the nuns and the center's 82 children were happy that the U.S. first lady visited them. "The children were especially very happy and enjoyed it. Even the first lady was happy spending time with the kids," the nun told UCA News. But she added that the protests in the neighborhood made them unhappy.
Their neighbors held huge placards and posters against the visit, shouting that the first lady should first visit the victims of war in Iraq, not the handicapped children of Delhi.
The nuns were "not for any sort of protests," Sister Paul said. "We are here to serve those people who are sick and weak. We also have a center in Iraq where we serve the weak. We are happy with the visit," she explained.
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