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Christian leaders call for justice as elections near

3/3/09 NEW DELHI, India (UCAN) — Hours ahead of an announcement of the upcoming general election, Christian leaders jointly demanded that political parties ensure justice for the Christian community.

India’s Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami announced on March 2 a five-phased parliamentary election beginning April 16. The polls are scheduled to end on May 13.

Hours before the announcement, Catholic and Protestant leaders held a press conference at the residence of Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi and released a memorandum they plan to give to leaders of political parties.

“All political parties must put the security of all religious minorities, and especially of the Christian community at the top of their electoral agenda,” the memorandum said.

It also wants political parties to promise that they would bring to justice the “culprits of crimes” against Christians in several parts of India, especially in Orissa. Anti-Christian violence in that eastern Indian state killed more than 60 people and displaced about 50,000 people in the last quarter of 2008.

Several Christian leaders told the press conference that the perpetrators of the Orissa violence have not been arrested as they enjoy political support.

Addressing the press conference, Archbishop Concessao said “the hate campaigns” that are continuing against Christians and Muslims in several parts of India are attempts to garner Hindu votes for Hindu-based political parties.

The prelate said he wants political parties and their supporters to denounce every violent act, and speak up for justice and human rights, especially for Christians and Muslims, who are among the religious minorities in India.

The memorandum also asked parties to map out plans for Christians’ economic progress of Christians and set up a judicial commission to assess any loss of rights. The memorandum also sought actions to restore the rights of Christians who formerly belonged to lower castes.

Such Christians are denied rights and quotas meant for the socio-economic development of lower-caste people on the grounds that their Christian religion does not follow the caste system.

Auxiliary Bishop Franco Mulakkal of Delhi said the memorandum would make “the electorate more alert and will be heard by all.” Urging voters to exercise their franchise, he said the Church believes and supports democracy and secular principles that India follows.

The leaders said they would form an ecumenical delegation and meet heads of all political parties with the memorandum in the run up to the polls that they described as the biggest democratic exercise in the world.