An Indian army band performs during an Army Day parade in New Delhi in this Jan. 15, 2018 file photo. An army band has been told to drop a Christian hymn during 2020 Republic Day celebrations. (Photo: Sajjad Hussain/AFP)
The Indian government's decision to stop its army band playing a traditional Christian hymn during a Republic Day celebration has dismayed Christian leaders.The Christian hymn Abide With Me has been part of the closing ceremony called Beating the Retreat, since India began celebrating Republic Day in 1950.
However, from this year onward, the tune will not be played at the Jan. 27 ceremony, which comes a day after the Republic Day celebrations, media reports said quoting federal defense ministry officials.“It is regrettable because the Christian community has never asked this particular song to be played during the Beating the Retreat ceremony,” Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, told UCA News.The army band, a vestige of British colonial days, included the hymn reportedly because it was one of the favorite tunes of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian nation, Dias said.
“I'm not sure what the purpose of this move was. But it is certainly disrespectful to Gandhi. Also, it can give the wrong message in a country that believes in secularism,” he said. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, since it came to power in 2014, has faced criticism for pushing Hindu ideology and sidelining Christian and Islamic culture. However, officials said dropping the Christian hymn was part of the annual review, which finalizes some of the 30-35 tunes for the ceremony. Tunes are regularly removed, and news ones added, besides their sequence is also routinely changed, officials told media. The Hindu newspaper, quoting an unnamed official, said another favorite Gandhi tune, Vande Mataram, could be included in celebrations this year. The 19th-century Indian song, considered the national song along with the national anthem, is also the favored song of powerful Hindu group RSS, of which Prime Minister Modi was an active member before entering politics. Dias said dropping the Christian hymn was indicative of the path the country has taken. “It is unfortunate that these things happen in our country,” said the Christian lay leader. A. C. Michael, a former member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, said he could not find fault with including the national song in the Beating the Retreat ceremony. “But to exclude a song, which among other things has been an expression our secular mind, is not a prudent decision,” he said. “If it has been removed because it is a Christian hymn, then it is objectionable.” He said it was the government’s duty to implement programs and policies that “will unite the country and not divide through these kinds of irrational decisions.” The opposition Congress Party criticized the decision, questioning the motive behind the move. Party spokesperson Pranav Jha said, “both Abide with me and Vande Mataram are odes to the supreme being! “ “What is amazing are the priorities of this government. Rather than looking at abysmally low employment, a crashing economy, unprecedented worker suicides, and skyrocketing food inflation, it is focused on changing the music of Beating the Retreat for the singular purpose of yet again creating rifts,” he said.
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