ucanews.com reporter, New DelhiUpdated: May 04, 2016 10:09 AM GMT
Christians protesting the burning of a church in New Delhi's Dilshad Garden area in this 2014 file photo. (Photo by Bijay Kumar)
Indian church leaders have condemned the government's rejection of a U.S. report criticizing India over a lack of religious freedom, saying the criticism should prompt the government into cracking down on Hindu extremists attacking religious minorities.
India's foreign ministry said the report, released May 2, by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, failed to understand India, its constitution and society.
"India is a vibrant pluralistic society founded on strong democratic principles. The Indian constitution guarantees fundamental rights to all its citizens, including the right to freedom of religion," said ministry of external affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement, rejecting the U.S. report.
The Indian government "does not see the locus standi of a foreign entity like the USCIRF to comment on the state of Indian citizens' constitutionally protected rights," the statement said.
However, Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesman for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said rejecting the report can't be justified in light of the "facts and figures" it presented.
The report said there were 365 major attacks on Christians during 2015, compared to 120 in 2014.
"That is at least once case every day of the year, and more than a 100 percent increase on the previous year," Father Topno said May 4.
These figures are "independently verified by professionals, and not randomly collected from any individual or organization. The report has some global standing," the priest said.
The report said religious minorities such as "Christians, Muslims and Sikhs experienced numerous incidents of intimidation, harassment and violence, largely at the hands of Hindu nationalist groups" and said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party tacitly supported them.
It also said local police "seldom provide protection, refuse to accept complaints, rarely investigate, and sometimes encourage Christians to move or hide their religion."
Father Sebasitan Poomattom, vicar general of Raipur Archdiocese in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, which has reported several recent attacks on Christians said, "No one can deny the facts that attacks on Christians take place."
Father Topno said the government was "trying to hide behind the constitutional provisions of freedom. But what we are demanding are … strong actions to ensure the constitutional freedom of religion."
"The report and the data should prompt the government to initiate action against moves that challenges religious freedom," he said.
Catholic lay leader A.C. Michael told ucanews.com that Indians "are witnessing the systematic murder of our constitution."
"Several ministers are openly making statement against religious minorities and the prime minister is not saying a word against them. How can the government speak about constitutional freedom of religion," he said.
Church leaders also dismissed the government's argument that a "foreign entity" should not be commenting on religious freedom in India.
The report is not about India, Michael said. "It is part of a global report, which U.S. created for their own use. It is up to India to see the facts in it or act blind."
Father Topno noted that India accepts and values reports and rankings of international institutes on almost all subjects such as banking, management and finance.
So "why this rejection when it comes to religious freedom," he said.