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Indian Christians differ with cardinal on persecution

Cardinal Alencherry of Syro-Malabar Church claimed in an interview the minority community does not feel insecure under BJP rule
Indian Christians hold placards during a protest outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral following attacks on churches in the country, in New Delhi on Feb. 5, 2015

Indian Christians hold placards during a protest outside the Sacred Heart Cathedral following attacks on churches in the country, in New Delhi on Feb. 5, 2015. (Photo: AFP/ UCAN files)

Published: April 10, 2023 12:12 PM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

Christian leaders in India have refuted Kerala-based Cardinal George Alencherry’s claim that Christians do not feel insecure under the rule of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the country.

“Persecution against Christians has drastically increased ever since BJP came to power in the country,” said A. C. Michael, president of the Federation of Catholic Associations of Archdiocese of Delhi

Michael was responding to an interview of Cardinal Alencherry, the head of the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church based in southern Kerala state, published by The New Indian Express, an English daily, on April 9.

The cardinal, who leads more than 5 million Catholics belonging to one of 22 Eastern rite Catholic Churches, reportedly said that “Christians do not have any such insecurity now,” under BJP-ruled India and also praised the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But Michael said the cardinal was wrong. “The fact is that there are continued waves of vile hate speech and targeted violence against the Christian community across the country,” Michael told UCA News on April 10.

Michael, a former member of Delhi’s state minority commission, said the atrocities against Christians continue to rise every year since the BJP came to power in 2014.

Quoting figures of the incidents of atrocities against Christians recorded by the United Christian Forum (UCF), he said 597 cases were reported from across the country in 2022 alone.

In 2014, 127 incidents of violence against Christians were reported, which rose to 142 in 2015, 226 in 2016, 248 in 2017, 292 in 2018, 328 in 2019, 279 in 2020, 505 in 2021, and 597 in 2022, according to a UCF report.

“There have been reports of 200 incidents of violence against Christians across India in the first 100 days of 2023 itself,” Michael added.

The Christian leader further pointed out police inaction when it came to violence against Christians and questioned the claim made by the cardinal.

Father Babu Joseph, a former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), said Cardinal Alencherry's comments do not reflect the national scene as there are areas in the country where Christians do feel "tremendous pressure" from certain right-wing organizations.

 “There is no denial of the fact that there are incidents of intimidation, violence and even loss of life and property of Christian communities in some parts of the country,” the Divine Word priest told UCA News.

He also underlined how Christian institutions in some Indian states face “unwarranted scrutiny and interference from certain biased authorities and statutory bodies,” which is a matter of concern.

“While the comments of Cardinal Alencherry may to a great extent hold true in his home state where Christianity is two millennia old and have a considerable demographic and institutional presence, it isn't the same across the country, particularly in areas where there is sparse Christian presence,” Father Joseph added.

John Dayal, a Delhi-based journalist and rights activist, also disagreed with Cardinal Alencherry and said certain outfits associated with the BJP were in fact the culprits behind attacks against Christians.

“In BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh the police play an enthusiastic part in arresting pastors and other Christians based on false complaints and scores of them are still languishing in jail awaiting bail,” he said. In the  Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh, he said, “The police are frozen in inaction.”

Father Antony Vadakkekara, the spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, said, “It is true that in many places in northern India, Christians and their institution are attacked. Such incidents are going on. But that cannot be generalized to claim that Christians are not safe.”

The cardinal was referring to a general feeling and not any particular incident, the priest said while asking, "Can we say Christians in India are insecure?”

“We are in a democratic country and many incidents of attacks at the regional level are happening and they are being effectively handled by the local leaderships of the Church along with the judiciary and other law enforcing agencies,” Father Vadakkekara told UCA News.

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KAY BENEDICT
Has the Cardinal done a survey among Christians to come the conclusion that Christians do not feel insecure?
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