An Indian bishops' conference official has reacted sharply against a radical Hindu party for trying to negate the secular Indian Constitution. Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference, also disagreed with their insistence that Hindus in India should get priority over Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities. "India is a secular country and it will also remain so. It was not born out of religion and we do not want it to turn it into some religion-based country," he said. Bishop Mascarenhas was reacting to the Oct. 30 editorial in the Marathi-language newspaper Saamana
(combat) which said India should become a Hindu nation. "India belongs to Hindus first and others later," Indian media quoted the editorial
as saying. The publication is considered the mouthpiece of the regional pro-Hindu Shiv Sena party. The party, which has a history of using violence to defend Hindu culture, said there are many Muslim, Christian and Buddhist countries but "Hindus do not have any country except this." Shiv Sena, a militant political party, rules Maharashtra in alliance with the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party that heads the federal government and many state governments. Maharashtra is home to Bombay Archdiocese, India's largest diocese covering Mumbai (formerly Bombay), which is the biggest city in the country. Indians have always stood for "tolerant and harmonious" coexistence of different religions, Bishop Mascarenhas told ucanews.com. "One small fringe group like this doesn’t make the opinion of a nation. We are quite confident that this is not the view of majority of the Hindus." India has 967 million Hindus, or 80 percent of its 1.2 billion people, while Muslims number 172 million, Christians are just 28 million, constituting 2.3 percent of the population. Hindu groups pushing to make India a Hindu nation have campaigned against the religious freedom of Christians and Muslims. Since 2014, when the BJP came to power in New Delhi, these groups have stepped up efforts, increasing violence against religious minorities. Persecution Relief, an ecumenical Christian forum that monitors incidents of persecution, in June said it has recorded 260 incidents of violence against Christians in India during the first five months of the year. The incidents included destruction of churches, threats and harassment, hate campaigns, abduction, physical violence, and attempted murder. The latest report
of Open Doors, a non-denominational mission supporting persecuted Christians in over 60 countries, said attacks against Christians are rising, making India a high-risk place to practice religion. The radical party’s statements "are aimed to terrify the minorities in the country," said prominent rights activist Bezwada Wilson. Journalist and writer, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal told ucanews.com that parties like the Shiv Sena should know that India is a secular state. "To say that Hindus come first and others come second is tantamount to undermine the basic idea of India," she said. Political commentator Zafarul-Islam Khan, who currently heads the Delhi Minority Commission, told ucanews.com that such statements are "illegal and unconstitutional." People making them should be taken to task.