Easter party cuts across religious divide in India

Rattled by Sri Lanka bombings, Christians in Madhya Pradesh focus on peace as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs enjoy holiday together
Easter party cuts across religious divide in India

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, lights a traditional lamp to open the state's inter-religious celebration of Easter on April 21. (Photo provided)  

Some 3,000 people including Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs joined Christians this year in celebrating Easter at an event in central India's Bhopal city aimed at promoting religious tolerance.

Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal was the main organizer of the inter-religious gathering in the capital of Madhya Pradesh state on Easter Sunday.

"Religious fanaticism is not restricted to one country, but has now become a major concern for peace-loving people across the globe, irrespective of their religion," he told the gathering.

Gyani Dilip Singh, a prominent Sikh, said a pall of gloom descended upon the gathering as they learned about the series of explosions that rocked Colombo on Easter Sunday, targeting three churches and some hotels.

By April 23, which the government designated a day of mourning, the death toll had reached 310 with over 500 injured and around 40 suspects arrested.

"After we heard the news of the terror attacks, we decided to tone down the Easter program a bit," said Father Maria Stephen, the archdiocesan public relations officer.

Nonetheless, Archbishop Cornelio told ucanews.com he was "greatly pleased" to see politicians, religious leaders and members of the public participate with "great enthusiasm" at his invitation to "share our joy of Easter."

Several people who attended said initiatives like this help to curb prejudice and promote a better understanding of the teachings of different religions.

They also got to enjoy cultural programs about the life of Christ and Christian history. The highlight for many was a dance-drama that explained the Easter story — the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Catholics and other Christian groups put up food stalls to showcase festive Easter food as well as local delicacies.

"All religious leaders should organize inter-religious interactions like this to dispel the darkness of ignorance and ignite a better understanding of our different faiths," said Sandeep Pouranik, a Bhopal-based journalist.

"That would lead to greater peace and harmony."

Pouranik, a devout Hindu, said people of any religion who promote hate have corrupted their faith.

Singh said "the more we keep our religions closed, the more misunderstanding and distrust we breed."

In a multi-religious society like India, people of different faiths and beliefs should celebrate their festivals together, said Abul Rahman Faruqui, a Muslim leader who also attended the program.

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"If we share our religion with others it would foster a greater sense of fraternity. We are all children of one god," he said.

"Many religious leaders seek to divide people in their quest to serve their own interests, so this kind of joint celebration is important because it does the opposite by promoting peace and harmony," he added.

Madhya Pradesh has seen hundreds of incidents of violence against Christians in the past five years, making it a hotbed of anti-Christian activity.

Christian and Muslims leaders have complained of growing intolerance against religious minorities since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power.

They say many groups took the BJP's victory as a mandate to push for a Hindu nation, and orchestrated violence against Christians and Muslims.

Christian organizations claim the number of attacks against them almost doubled in 2017. The state reported 52 attacks in 2017, up from 28 in 2016. Christians make us less than one percent of the state's 73 million people,

Last year, Madhya Pradesh saw at least 24 major incidents against Christians, according to Persecution Relief.

But the situation has been improving since the BJP was unseated in December by its rival Congress party, with attacks against Christians dwindling, religious groups say.

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