Hindus sue evangelists

SRINAGAR, INDIA - 2018/11/07: A diya (earthen lamp) seen lighted up inside a temple in the outskirts of Srinagar.
SRINAGAR, INDIA - 2018/11/07: A diya (earthen lamp) seen lighted up inside a temple in the outskirts of Srinagar.

The South African Hindu Dharma Sabha has launched civil cases against evangelist Simeon Bradley Chetty and Reverend Llewellyn Joseph in the Equality Court, claiming R1 million in damages. They also want them to be directed to complete 200 hours of community service at an old age home over six months.

The application was brought by Ram Maharaj, the president of the South African Hindu Dharma Sabha, against Chetty, Joseph, Revival Ministries, the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities.

The Sabha is also asking that Chetty and Joseph provide an undertaking not to engage in similar conduct in future. They ask that they must also issue a public request to fellow Christians not to denigrate Hinduism or Hindus in any way through social media, newspapers, radio stations, and in writing to all church organisations.

The Sabha wants them to be interdicted and restrained from insulting, harassing, propagating hate and degrading the Hindu community, and from publishing hate speech on any public or social media forum.

The legal action comes after evangelist Chetty allegedly slandered Hindus as people who “worship idols, they worship other gods”. He also said that “the name of Jesus is above every other name”. He also asked: “Why would every religion give their life for Jesus?”.

Reverend Joseph allegedly denigrated and demonised Hinduism and insulted Hindus by associating “the fear, that curse or those spirits” with the sacred festival of Kavady and distributed a video recording of the sermon on social media. These utterances were allegedly made during a gathering (which was prohibited) during level 5 of the Covid-19 lockdown in April in Chatsworth.

A high-powered team of advocates, attorneys, professors, religious experts and youth leaders, all of whom are members of the Dharma Sabha, contributed to two comprehensive legal documents totalling 116 pages.

Maharaj, a former member of the provincial legislature, said in court papers that Chetty’s and Joseph’s statements were deemed to be offensive, blasphemous, objectionable, hurtful, insulting, humiliating, discriminatory, incendiary, prejudicial, divisive, denigratory, derogatory, defamatory, inflammatory and amounted to hate speech.

“Their statements are devoid of truth, malicious, misleading and false and spin or perpetrate a fake narrative of Hindu culture, religion and community, and brought the Hindu religion into contempt or ridicule. Their comments were further deeply demeaning and invasive of the human dignity of members of the Hindu community,” said Maharaj, who is also the current chairperson of the National Council for Eastern Languages.

He said in addition, their statements degraded the Hindu community’s belief system and practices and also advocated religious intolerance and superiority of one religion over others; thereby constituting a flagrant violation of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, Act Number 108 of 1996. “Freedom of religion, which is not an absolute right and has a horizontal application, definitely does not provide any legal licence to anyone to denigrate any religion.

“Any religion should be propagated by an exposition of its own tenets and must not interfere or impinge on the freedom of belief, conscience or conviction guaranteed to all citizens,” said Maharaj. He said the time had come for Hindus to take a stand as for “far too long” they have been suffering.

“The vulnerable minority Hindu community of South Africa has indeed suffered from historical patterns of discrimination and disadvantage which are systemic in nature since 1860.

“During the colonial era, Hindus were regarded as heathens. When they married their certificates listed their religion as ‘heathen’. During the apartheid regime, Hindus were forcibly removed from their homes and temples were demolished as a result of the heinous Group Areas Act, 1950. Hindus have suffered in silence from relentless religious maligning and marginalisation for far too long.

“It is now time for justice to be served in order that unfettered trampling upon Hindu sensitivities with relative impunity is deterred. Hindus respect all religions and we rightfully expect respect in return,” said Maharaj.

He said South Africa was at a point where all religions were constitutionally guaranteed equal recognition, respect, status and treatment.

“Millions of people have already been killed in the name of God under the guise of holy religious wars.

“Religious differences should not breed disrespect and hatred but be accommodated and celebrated ...”

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