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ICC Note:

Last Sunday, Christians from India’s Meghalaya state held a “Day of Protest” against the growing number of attacks on the Christian community across India. One of the desired results of this demonstration would to to influence upcoming state elections. Many Christians feel the BJP-led government has not done enough to confront the activities of Hindu radicals, leading the to surge in religiously motivated violence across India. Will these Christians be able to influence the state election in such a way that Meghalaya is protected from rising persecution? 

01/11/2018 India (Hindustan Times) – This past Sunday, the Catholic Church held a ‘Day of Protest’ across Meghalaya’s Garo Hills to express its concern about attacks on Christian minorities and their growing sense of insecurity.

The protest was triggered by two separate incidents in Madhya Pradesh: one in which carol-singing priests, accused of trying to convert, were detained in Satna; and another, in which ABVP activists reportedly insisted on doing a Hindu puja in a Christian institution in Vidisha.

Officially, the protest was not directed at any party. But in his office in a corner of Meghalaya’s Tura town, a Father belonging to the Catholic Church placed it in the context of upcoming elections in the state, the rise of the BJP, and did not quite skirt where it was targeted. He did not wish to be named.

“These incidents keep on happening. When one Christian is affected, all of us are affected. We wanted to give a message before elections that people here must be concerned at what is happening and act appropriately. It is our duty to alert people about the dangers of the situation.”

Tura is home to both the Catholic and Baptist Church. Catering to the devout of the Garo Hills, leaders of both denominations have played an important role in influencing education, society, and culture of the region. A similar role has been played by the Catholic and Presbyterian Church in the Khasi-Jaintia hills.

But this time around, the different churches may play a far more active role to influence politics in a state with over 70% Christians. The Congress is wooing the church, hoping that the Christian card will neutralize the BJP’s expansion in the state; and regional parties are engaging closely with the different church leaders to seek their support and allay apprehensions that they would go with BJP after the polls. The BJP hopes that the church will, by and large, stay out of politics.

Hindustan Times spoke to church leaders, politicians and local intellectuals to understand the interplay of religion and politics in Meghalaya. Most wished to not be names, a reflection of how sensitive the matter is.

A top opposition leader in the state conceded that the church has always been active in Meghalaya politics.

“There is no official call from any church to support one candidate or the other, as you may have from some Muslim leaders in north India. But faith is important to people. And individual church leaders play a part,” he said.

If a candidate is from a particular church, and has supported the church’s activities, the church may be sympathetic to his cause. “They won’t say vote for him, but at a prayer meeting, they may say people like him have provided service and that is enough of a signal. All leaders try to keep the church happy by being patrons and supporters of its service activities.”

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