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Updated: March 07, 1995 05:00 PM GMT
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Christians in Tamil Nadu state in southern India have demanded a public apology from Chief Minister Jayalalitha Jayaram after her party workers launched posters portraying her as the Blessed Mother.

Posters depicting Jayaram as the Blessed Mother and as Adiparasakthi (Hindu´s supreme deity) appeared in Madras, capital of this southern Indian state, on Feb. 23, the eve of the chief minister´s 47th birthday.

Posters showed Jayaram dressed like the Blessed Mother with a crown on her head, scepter in her right hand and a crowned baby Jesus held in her left arm.

Protests came mostly from Christians and opposition politicians.

Archbishop James Arul Das of Madras-Mylapore called the posters "most painful" to Tamil Nadu and Indian Christians, and Salesian Bishop Malayappan Chinnappa of Vellore warned of dire consequences unless sponsors removed them.

Jayaram ordered the posters removed Feb. 26 to "avoid hurting religious sentiments of different sections of people."

The posters were sponsored by G.R. Gopi, assistant secretary of the north Madras district Akhila India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK, all India Anna federation for the uplift of Dravidians).

Captions for the 90-centimeter-long, 45-centimeter-wide color posters read: "Mother, who have offered government cradles for the orphaned girl children, I adore you," and includes a miniature photograph of Gopi.

Observing that the posters equated the chief minister with the Mother of God, Archbishop Arul Das said Christians will not tolerate such attempts.

In a letter to "our beloved chief minister," he said the Christian community was "most pained" by the posters and requested her to remove them and "ensure no such incident occurs in future."

Students of Stella Maris College in Madras sat on the road Feb. 25 and three schools of Fatima Church in Tambaram, a Madras suburb, remained closed Feb. 28 to protest against the posters.

The English-language Indian Express and Tamil-language Dina Mani dailies in Madras published photos of the posters and said they failed to foster interreligious dialogue but helped magnify Jayaram´s image.

They said her birthday fete "brought about very sad and painful situations" because most Tamils venerate the Blessed Mother as Mary, Help of Christians.

Columnist P.K. Balachandran called Jayaram´s birthday celebrations a "festival of sycophancy" and accused cadres of glorifying their leader and "abjectly surrendering to her and dedicating all to her" to get her blessing.

Her followers are naming things after her, including a new variety of rice, Madras´ air-conditioned bus corporation, a basketball stadium, children´s heart surgery scheme, a child welfare scheme, a film city and several model schools. JJ (Jayalalitha Jayaram) satellite TV channel is to air April 14.

Tamil Nadu opposition party leader V. Gopalasamy condemned what he called the deifying of Jayaram, who, he alleged, heads "a corrupt government that perpetrated atrocities against women."

Gopalasamy said people will punish those who use religion for popularity.

But S. Karunamoorthy, a AIADMK officer, told UCA News Feb. 26 that the chief minister is "dearer to the people of Tamil Nadu than their guardian spirits."

He said Jayaram´s "love and concern for the people" helped Tamil Nadu "march forward in its over-all growth and advancement."

Jayaram launched welfare schemes for women and her Cradle Baby Scheme cares for unwanted girl children in a state noted for female infanticide, he said.

The Jayaram government also opened all-women police stations in all districts, launched employment schemes for women and started an industrial estate for women near Madras to "prove that she is our immediate goddess."

While thanking her party members for their loyalty, Jayaram said their devotion prompted some party members to deify her, which she did not want.

Last Christmas, opposition party politicians criticized Jayaram for addressing a Christmas day service at Santhome Cathedral in Madras.


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