On Tuesday, Christians in India were pleasantly surprised to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi speak out for religious freedom and tolerance in India. The Prime Minister’s speech followed a meeting with Christian leaders in which Christians were able to voice their concerns over rising religious intolerance and violence against India’s religious minorities. The Prime Minister agreed to meet with the Christian leaders after a string of attacks on churches and Christians institutions in New Delhi led Christians to protest in the streets. Hindu radical groups have spoken out against the Prime Minister’s speech, claiming that the Prime Minister actually intended to admonish Christians.
2/18/2015 India (Times of India) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s unequivocal commitment to the right of every religion to practice and propagate itself came at the end of a long meeting during which leading Christian leaders repeatedly voiced concerns about ghar vapasi and attack on churches.
Modi’s comments surprised many, who had been disappointed about the new government not coming out with a clear stand on the controversies. In a clear sign of unhappiness with Modi’s silence, the Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai had recently told TOI that delegations from the church that visited the prime minister over such matters did not return reassured that things would get better. One senior catholic priest said Tuesday’s Modi speech was a “pleasant surprise.”
Head of Faridabad diocese of Syro-Malabar Catholics, Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara said despite India being a cradle of many religions, there are concerns about the growing intolerance towards minorities.
Archbishop of Thrissur Mar Andrews Thazhath said India accepted Christianity 2000 years ago, and pointed out that when the Indian population grew from 1 billion to 1.2 billion, the number of Christians remained the same. “Not only that it did not convert but rather it lost its members,” he said, refuting allegations of large-scale conversions.
He said Christians are peace loving and peace caring, and said they have been providing selfless service through education and medical care. He said about 70% of students in catholic schools are poor and deprived. “I can categorically state that our educational institutions are run not for conversions, but for nation building,” Thazhath said. The archbishop mentioned names of top BJP leaders such as L K Advani and Smriti Irani among those who have attended catholic schools.
“We are sure the government will protect the rights of all religions and particularly of the minority communities,” he said. Raising concern that the recent incidents of continued attack on churches and schools, Archbishop Thazhath said people are now living in “fear and anxiety.” He appealed to the government to take steps that would make all from minority communities “safe and secure.”
Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha PJ Kurien said the country has a history of tolerance towards minorities, even when there was no Constitution. He added some of the recent incidents of anti-minority attacks are only “aberrations.”
Kurien pointed out, “PM’s presence itself is reassuring” and that Modi’s presence shows his “commitment to plurality.”
Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto pointed out that more than 60% of Christian institutions in education and health sector are in rural areas. He appealed to the government to ensure fundamental rights of every citizen are protected.
Archbishop Couto appealed to the Prime Minister to look into the demands of dalit Christians for reservations like dalits of other religions.