Catholic bishops want talks before India abolishes religion-based laws

Will join with other Christian leaders across the country to put forward a united Christian response
Catholic bishops want talks before India abolishes religion-based laws

A file image of Indian Cardinal Baselios Cleemis as he arrives to greet visitors during a courtesy visit Nov. 24, 2012 at the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican. (Photo by AFP)

Indian Catholic bishops have asked for a nationwide consultation involving all religions before the government formulates a common civil law to replace religious personal laws.

"The unity of India should be impeccably safeguarded," conference president Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum said in a statement on July 9. "All discussions on the uniform civil code must be done taking into account the freedom ensured by the Constitution and without hurting the sentiments of various religious groups."

The conference statement comes after the federal government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked the Law Commission of India to seek ways to implement a uniform civil code to replace religion-based codes last month.

Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allied Hindu organizations support abolishing faith-based personal laws that have existed in India since colonial times. There are separate laws governing marriage, divorce, inheritance and adoption for Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis. However Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains follow laws applicable to Hindus.

The cardinal reiterated that Catholic bishops will join with other Christian leaders across the country to put forward a united Christian response. 

Last week, Cardinal George Alencherry, head of the Syro-Malabar Church, that is also part of the Catholic Church, welcomed the Modi government's move for a unified civil code explaining to media that it would help unify the country.

Cardinal Cleemis told ucanews.com that Cardinal Alencherry had also stressed the need for dialogue and consultation but media reports ignored it. "That is why we are underlining the need [again]," he said.

India's constitution allows all citizens the freedom to profess and propagate any religion and "no law can undermine this fundamental freedom," Cardinal Cleemis told ucanews.com 

Catholic layleaders such as A.C. Michael, former member of the Delhi Minority Commission, believes that the BJP is in a hurry to implement a uniform civil code as part of a push to promote a Hindu hegemony in India. "Does the government want unity for all? Or is this a push to abandon the heritage and traditions of other religions?" he asked.

Cardinal Cleemis said he would respond to the uniform civil code further only after receiving the draft copy of the proposals put forward by the government.

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