The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief and Christians are losing confidence in the government, says Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the apex decision making body of the Catholic Church in the country, according to a report in The Indian Express (IE).
While Christmas is round the corner, there has been a string of incidents of Hindutva outfits targeting and attacking Christians in BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, forcing the community to speak out.
Referring to the recent incident in which, on the basis of allegations of conversion falsely levelled by Bajrang Dal activists, 30 priests and seminarians singing carols in a village near Satna in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh were detained by police, the Cardinal told IE, “…this whole incident of attack on priests and seminaries in Satna and the state government’s move to file cases against the priests, arresting the poor and the innocent instead of finding the culprits, do not help us to keep our confidence in the government intact. We are losing our confidence in the government.”
“I agree such incidents can happen in a big country… But how do you evaluate the strength and stand of the government? It is the subsequent action and the legal protection are what matter,” he said.
“The anxiety of the religious minorities is increasing because of the lack of confidence in the administration. So the onus is on the government to bring back the confidence of religious minorities,” Cardinal Cleemis was quoted as saying in a report.
The Cardinal also pointed out that attacks by right-wing groups targeting Christians and Christian institutions across India have increased since BJP came to power in 2014. According to their records, in 2017 alone, there were some 600 cases of attacks and vandalism.
“The country is being divided on the basis of religious belief. It is bad in a democratic country. I want my country to be united in a secular fabric. But now, this country is being polarised due to religious affiliations. We should fight against it,” said Cleemis.
He said neither he nor the community in Satna could understand the reason behind the attack. “There is no evidence or visible reason … It was a pre-planned attack. The conversion allegation in Satna is baseless. The diocese does not get into conversion at all.”
He also rejected the argument that reports of attacks on churches come up only during elections. “That argument is absurd and baseless. Now what’s the connection between election and the attack in Satna? There are reports that in Rajasthan too, Christian groups were attacked. There is no election now,” the Cardinal said.
He wanted the government to “decide serious measures to safeguard the interest of citizens. “Make sure that innocent people are treated properly and given protection. The culprits should be punished for their bad acts and for damaging the image of the country. We should stay together, united in diversity,” he said, adding that the Christian community and its leadership are “committed to work towards the growth of the country beyond ethnic, religious and linguistic affiliations.”
Cleemis led a delegation of the CBCI, which met Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday to express their “pain and anguish and seek justice”. Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam and Rajya Sabha Vice-Chairman PJ Kurien were present at the meeting.
Cleemis said Singh’s “spontaneous response” was positive and he assured immediate action. “He said he will see to it that justice is done. I hope he will do his best.”
Two days after the minister’s promise, a Christian event in Pratapgarh, Rajasthan was stopped by VHP men alleging forceful religious conversion. Organisers of the event rejected the allegations and said it was organised in a public venue, with the permission of district authorities and there were no conversions as alleged by the mob.
Despite the clarification, police had detained two of the organisers on charges of forceful conversion.
Before that in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh the Hindu Jagran Manch founded by BJP MP Vinay Katiyar had threatened Christian schools against celebrating Christmas and ‘forcing’ Hindu students to participate in it.