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Indian Christians oppose Saraswati worship circular

Directive by Daman's administration requires mandatory veneration of the Hindu goddess of knowledge

Indian Christians oppose Saraswati worship circular

Catholics in Delhi Archdiocese pray on Palm Sunday on April 4, 2017. A rights group says there has been a rise in the number of attacks on Christians in India. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

An Indian human rights group that monitors atrocities against Christians has expressed opposition to a directive by Daman's administration requiring the mandatory veneration of the Hindu goddess of knowledge.

The New Delhi-based United Christian Forum (UFC) has also urged the administration and the Directorate of Education of Daman to immediately withdraw the circular.

The circular issued on Feb. 11 directed all government, government-aided and private schools to conduct prayers and veneration of goddess Saraswati and to submit compliance reports and photographs by Feb. 17.

The circular stated: “We know that the Vasant Panchami is celebrated as the birthday of goddess Saraswati, who symbolizes knowledge, wisdom, purity and truth.”

All principals and educational heads of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu are requested to celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami on Feb. 16. and organize programs at school level.

“The directive gravely impinges on the right to freedom of religion and freedom to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice as guaranteed and protected in the constitution of India for all minorities,” A.C. Michael, convener of the UCF, said in a press note on Feb. 15.

“It is pertinent to note that the secular ethos of this country places a constitutional embargo on the government from giving preferential treatment to any one religion.

“Even in 2019, the same administration of Daman and Diu, as well as Dadra and Nagar Haveli, attempted to cancel Good Friday as a gazetted holiday. However, the Christian community approached Bombay High Court and succeeded in reversing the order. The community sees this present order as yet another way of restricting the practice of their faith as well as the right to administer their institutions.

“In the case of SR Bommai versus the Union of India, the Supreme Court held that religious tolerance and equal treatment of all religious groups and protection of their life and property and places of worship are an essential part of secularism enshrined in our constitution.”

The press note said that while the patriotic contributions of the Indian Christian community during the freedom struggle are well documented, post-independence Christians have played a major role in nation-building with their contributions to the armed forces, health care and education.

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The UFC is an inter-denominational Christian organization that fights for the human rights of members of the Christian minority, mainly through protests. 

Meanwhile, the UCF’s 2020 half-yearly report highlighted the trend of violence against Christians has been steadily rising. The number of incidents recorded in 2014 was below 150 but rose to nearly 200 in 2015, over 200 in 2016, more than 250 in 2017, 300 in 2018 and 328 in 2019.

States that witnessed atrocities against Christians include Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Uttar Pradesh.

The Hindu festival of Vasant Panchami is observed mostly in northern India under various names such as Basant Panchami, Saraswati Puja, Shree Panchami and Sufi Basant. On that day, which marks the end of winter and the beginning of spring, people visit temples and pray to the goddess Saraswati.

The combined population of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, former Portuguese territories in western India, is around 600,000, but Christians number just 9,000, mostly Catholics.

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