Saji Thomas, Bhopal
Updated: September 20, 2021 10:04 AM GMT
Christians during a nationwide protest against the violation of their religious and social rights by governments and groups who have been openly threatening minorities in Kolkata, India, on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: AFP)
Christians in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have called on India's president to provide protection amid open threats from Hindu activists to demolish their churches.
“Hindu activists mostly from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP--world Hindu Council] have set a deadline to demolish our churches on Sept. 26, alleging they are illegal structures,” said Auxiliary Bishop Paul Muniya of the Protestant Shalom Church based in the state’s Jhabua district, which is dominated by tribal people.
VHP has also issued threats to the indigenous Christians against practicing Christianity and are forcing them to return to Hinduism, he told UCA News on Sept. 20.
“We handed over a memorandum to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind through the district collector on Sept. 17 seeking his urgent intervention to ensure the safety and security of the indigenous Christians,” the prelate said.
Bishop Muniya further alleged that local administrators were siding with the right-wing groups and harassing Christians who make up 4 percent of the one million population in the district, leading to a rise in anti-Christian violence.
Father Maria Stephan, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, said both the revenue and police administration of the district were biased against Christians.
Certain individuals and organizations with right-wing Hindu ideologies have begun openly threatening Christians with the demolition of their churches
“Christians are peace-loving. We are seeking judicial remedies to ensure peace and harmony in our society,” he told UCA News. “Certain individuals and organizations with right-wing Hindu ideologies have begun openly threatening Christians with the demolition of their churches. It is a very dangerous trend.”
On Aug. 26, the district’s additional superintendent of police, in a letter to police stations, issued instructions to assist the VHP drive to close the alleged “illegal” Christian prayer halls and stop so-called religious conversion activities in the district.
Similarly, a district revenue official on Sept. 13 directed Christian priests to present themselves before him and explain the nature of their religious activities on or before Sept. 22. The official also sought details of their appointment as priests and information regarding conversion activities.
The official letter also asked priests to certify if they themselves were converted through allurement or force while threatening to initiate legal proceedings against any illegal conversions, if detected.
“We have no objection to sharing any official details about our work and personnel to the government provided the intention is right,” Father Stephan said while adding that questioning only Christian priests about their activities and choice of religion wasn’t fair.
“Has the administration sought similar information from priests of other religions? It is nothing but an attempt to terrorize minority Christians in the state,” he said.
Father Stephan maintained that there were no conversions through any unlawful means but the choice of religion was a constitutional right of every individual.
Bishop Muniya also questioned the systematic targeting of the Christian community. “If there is an illegal structure, let the administration take action. Why are private individuals and organizations issuing such threats?” he asked.
He also sought to know if “the same yardstick will be applied to other religious structures in the district and the state” and appealed to the state’s governor and chief minister to intervene and diffuse the situation.
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