Christian leaders mourn death of former Delhi chief minister

Tributes paid to the woman who ensured minority groups were able to live safely in the Indian capital
Christian leaders mourn death of former Delhi chief minister

Former Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi and party general secretary Prianka Gandhi arrive at Congress headquarters in New Delhi to pay homage to former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, who died July 21. (Photo from IANS)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
July 23, 2019
Church leaders in New Delhi have expressed their condolences at the death of the Indian capital’s former chief minister Sheila Dikshit, recalling her concern for the city’s poor.

Dikshit, 81, passed away on the afternoon of July 20 after suffering a heart attack and was cremated the following day with state honors.

The senior politician had been the Delhi president of India’s grand old Congress party.

She also served as Delhi’s chief minister for 15 years, from 1998 to 2013, making her the longest-serving chief minister of the national capital territory since it was declared a separate state in 1991.

“It is certainly a great loss both for the Church and all people of Delhi,” said Father Savarimuthu Shankar, spokesman for Delhi Archdiocese.

The archdiocese would “always remember and cherish her motherly affection and compassion for all, especially the poor and vulnerable sections of the society,” Father Shankar told ucanews.com.

He said Dikshit took several key measures to improve the lives of Christians in Delhi, including increasing the state’s budget to make scholarships available to poor and underprivileged children.

A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and former member of Delhi Minorities Commission, also recalled Dikshit’s contributions to Christian welfare.

She was instrumental in amending a law to ensure the smooth importation of Mass-wine into Delhi, Michael said, and also introduced a tradition of visiting the church on the day of Christmas, which is being continued by the current Delhi chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal.  

Both Michael and Father Shankar recalled that Dikshit also helped to get space for an Exhibition Center on the life of Jesus Christ in Delhi.

“It was she who wrote to the concerned departments for four acres of land to be allotted for the exhibition center,” said Father Shankar.

Christians comprise just 0.87 percent of Delhi’s population, or 175,000 of 20 million people, while the Hindu majority constitutes 82 percent.

Nevertheless, David Williams, a social activist based in the city, said Christians had enjoyed a sense of security during Dikshit’s tenure.

“There was no fear of being attacked or persecuted. Minorities lived as equals in Delhi,” said Williams.

The state is currently being run by Kejriwal’s Aam Adm (Common Man’s) Party but he has openly admitted to having no control over the police as the department comes under the purview of the federal government, currently headed by the pro-Hindu Bhratiya Janata Party (BJP).

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“But Dikshit was a fighter of sorts. It was a golden era for the minorities as the BJP was not a ruling party anywhere when she was the chief minister,” Williams told ucanews.com.

Christian leaders say attacks against their people increased after the BJP won the general election in 2014 and paced way for its leader Narendra Modi to become the prime minister. The BJP won a second general election in May this year and now enjoys the largest representation in the country’s parliament.

Open Doors, a Christian mission, listed 50 of the most unsafe countries for Christians, in which India was ranked 11th.

Hindu hardliners, who believe India is purely a nation for their religion, view Christians and Muslims as outsiders and employ violence against them practicing their religion, particularly in the country’s interior villages.

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