11/18/2020 India (International Christian Concern) – Radical Hindu nationalists in India have launched a campaign to bar Christians from receiving government benefits designed to help economically deprived indigenous people. Christian leaders were quick to condemn this campaign saying it conflated the issues of religion and caste.
“Caste and religion are two different things which can’t be mixed,” Father Nicholas Barla, Secretary of the Indian Bishops’ Commission for Tribal Affairs, told the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN). “By birth we belong to a particular caste but religion is one’s choice. People who are campaigning against tribal Christians are ignorant of the Indian constitution.”
Government benefits are given to people from low caste or tribal backgrounds in India to help them overcome generations of caste-based discrimination. However, radical Hindu nationalists view barring these benefits to specifically Christians will stop indigenous people from converting to Christianity.
“Being tribal is by birth but religion is a choice,” Ratan Tirkey, a member of the Tribes Advisory Committee of Jharkhand told UCAN. “Stopping benefits meant for tribal Christians is challenging the constitution and the Supreme Court which clearly state that the [benefits are] meant for poor people and not given in the name of any religion.”
“If it is a case of religion, why are only Christians targeted?” Tirkey continued. “Is it just to harass tribal Christian people who are considered outsiders and anti-government?”
According to India’s constitution, citizens have the right to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice. Essentially, nationalists are demanding the government to effectively deny this right to millions of India’s indigenous peoples.
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