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Indian Christians at prayer in church during Christmas, 2017. Indian Christians at prayer in church during Christmas, 2017.  (AFP or licensors)

Indian bishops urge brotherhood, peace, harmony in 2018‎

At the start of the New Year, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India expresses alarm over increasing ‎attacks on minority communities.‎

The Catholic Bishops of India are calling on the people of the country to “preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony” of the nation against what they described as an unacceptable “terrorism” of “false nationalism”.  Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, Secretary General of the  Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has issued a press release on the occasion of the New Year saying the bishops are “praying for the nation, political and spiritual leaders, and for every Indian,  that 2018 may be a year of peace and harmony, of love and fraternity, of inclusive and integral development for all peoples.”

At the dawn of a new year,  Bishop Mascarenhas says, India’s bishops are saddened by attacks by Hindu nationalist groups on minorities and Christian institutions in various parts of India, sometimes with the police looking on.   The Indian bishops say it is worrying and disturbing that mobs of these types are being emboldened. “This type of terrorism is unacceptable. This false nationalism must stop,” the CBCI Secretary General stresses.  ‎   

India’s ruling pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)‎ of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is considered by many to be the political wing of Hindu groups that want to make India a Hindu-only nation.‎  Approximately 28 million Christians make up some 2.3 percent of India's 1.3 billion population that is over 80% Hindu.  Figures show violence against minorities and the marginalized have surged since the BJP-led government came to power in the centre in 2014, and the party has made notable gains in several states.

Expressing the fear and worry of the Christian community, the Indian bishops lament the use of “filthy and foul language” by Hindu nationalists and “dangerously communal statements” against minorities by  some lawmakers and ministers, with one even threatening to the change the secular Constitution of India.   

“Silver lining”

However amidst this “worrying and disturbing” scenario, Bishop Mascarenhas notes a “silver lining”, with many ministers and officials working to create a healthy situation.  He particularly mentions the slogan of Prime Minister Modi, “Collective Efforts, Inclusive Growth”, and his “desire to work for all Indians.”  Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured safety to Christians during Christmas.  With compassion and kindness, leaders like External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj are helping people in trouble and distress without ‎distinctions of religion, creed, language or region.   Bishop Mascarenhas also commends police officials in some states who have taken action to prevent attacks on Christians. 

Calling on political leaders to “recognize that groups and individuals spreading poison and sowing hatred are increasing and are being emboldened,” India’s Catholic bishops are inviting Indians to “come together to preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony" of the nation. 

Please find below the full text of the press release of  CBCI Secretary General Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas:

PRESS RELEASE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE NEW YEAR 2018

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India wishes you a New Year filled with God’s abundant blessings, His Peace and Joy. As India and the World ushers in 2018, we look forward with hope and enthusiasm. We pray for our beloved Country, for our Political and Spiritual leaders, and for every Indian, that 2018 may be a year of peace and harmony, of love and fraternity, of inclusive and integral development for all peoples.

Even as we enter the New Year, a series of happenings that threaten the very idea of India have been taking place.

We have been saddened by disturbing reports of an uncalled for attack on Dalits in Pune, Maharashtra. According to Newspaper reports, “groups carrying saffron flags allegedly attacked Dalits headed to the British-built memorial to those who died in the battle of 1818.” That this annual event is suddenly under attack is an alarming sign and we condemn the violence unequivocally. We appeal for peace and harmony.

In Vidisha, Madhya Pradesh, a Catholic Institution, St. Mary’s Post Graduate College is being threatened by ABVP activists that trouble will be created on 4th January 2018 in the college. The College has already been attacked once by these lumpen elements on 30th December 2017 who entered the college by scaling walls and as one Newspaper called it creating a “hungama” demanding that a certain type of worship be enforced in the College. The attack took place in the presence of over 20 policemen who watched without acting. This type of terrorism is unacceptable. This false nationalism must stop. That mobs of these type are being emboldened as was earlier seen in Satna is worrying and disturbing.

Meanwhile a fact finding team of lawyers deputed by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has reported that the tiny Christian community there is frightened and worried. Among other things, they observed that “The Bajrang dal activists shouted slogans against Christians and used filthy and foul language to abuse them. They asked the brothers and Priests to come forward one by one and took photos of everyone and wrote down the phone numbers; and the police silently watched. It looked as if the whole incident was scripted and directed by Bajrang dal Activists with the sponsorship of the Police. The police did not do anything to protect the brothers. The manhandling and thrashing by the Bajrang Dal members was so ruthless that many got bruises and injuries; and spectacles of three brothers were broken. They forced the brothers to say, Jai Sriram, Jai Bajrang Bali.”

An MLA from UP has been making dangerously communal statements including threatening to break the limbs of “cow killers” in the state, promising not to spare those who refuse to sing Vande Mataram and claiming that this country belongs only to one community. Another MLA from Rajasthan has accused a particular community claiming that they bear more children as part of a plan to take control of India. An union minister has gone on record stating that the growing population of the country, especially of a certain community, is a threat to the social fabric, social harmony, and development of the country.  What is troubling is that these statements are being made without any rebuttals. Yet another Union Minister had the audacity to claim that his party would soon change the Constitution (of India), "which mentions the word "secular."  He even went on to say that "Those who, without knowing about their parental blood, call themselves secular, they don't have their own identity...They don't know about their parentage, but they are intellectuals." An apology came only after protests in Parliament.

         But we also see a silver lining. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference appreciates our Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s slogan “sab ka sath, sab ka vikas” and his desire to work for all Indians. We wish to thank Shri Rajnath Singh our Home Minister for not only assuring us of safety during the Christmas Celebrations but even issuing an advisory to all states “to ensure law and order during Christmas in the wake of fringe elements threatening some Christian community members against celebrating the festival”. This built confidence in the Community during the celebrations. Leaders like Sushma Swaraj with compassion and kindness are helping people in trouble and distress without distinctions of religion, creed, language or region. There are many other Ministers in the Union cabinet and in the States who do their work with justice and dedication and they deserve our compliments. Assurances of pre-emptive action on 4th January 2018 from Inspector General, (Bhopal Region), Inspector General (Law and Order), and Inspector General (Intelligence) Madhya Pradesh to thwart the threatened attack by goons on St. Mary’s College, Vidisha has boosted the confidence of our Fathers there.

It is time for all of us to come together to preserve the traditional brotherhood, peace and harmony in our beloved country. Our history manifests how our people have paid a high price in terms of loss, death and bloodshed due to hatred and division.  It is a time for peace and a bounden duty on each one of us to ensure that every Indian feels safe, grows and prospers in freedom.

We appeal to leaders across the political spectrum to recognise that groups and individuals spreading poison and sowing hatred are increasing and are being emboldened. India is equipped with a constitutional law and order machinery. It is time to call off the Cow Vigilantes who have created a fear psychosis in parts of the country. We need to come down heavily on mobs of whatever colour or shade they may be. Groups and organizations indulging in violence or even threatening to take law into their hands should be dealt with severely. Individuals whether Ministers, Members of Parliament or even local leaders who indulge in disruption of communal harmony should be publicly denounced by their parties and action should be taken against them. Our Freedom fighters sacrificed themselves to hand over to future generations a secular country “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high”.  When partition took place, two countries were created - one on religious lines, the other our own cherished India as a secular home for all. History will not forgive this present generation if we lose that legacy earned through the sacrifices and blood of our freedom fighters, protected by the lives of our soldiers and served selflessly by every Indian working to create an India “Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls”.

God bless our India God bless each one of us.

Jai Hind.

                                                                                       

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, SFX

Secretary General,

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India

03 January 2018, 14:54