Comprehensive report will also cover sweeping anti-conversion law and reservation status
Catholics from Delhi archdiocese attend a procession during Palm Sunday on April 9, 2019. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj)
The Indian government's minorities commission has asked a Christian group to submit a comprehensive report on violence against Christians after the group sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention five months ago.
The National Commission for Minorities asked the ecumenical United Christian Forum (UCF) to submit the report within a month when the commission members met with a five-member delegation of the forum in New Delhi on Sept. 21.
Commission chairman, Sardar Iqbal Singh Lalpura, told the delegation that it plans to conduct its own study based on the Christian group’s report and will submit a comprehensive report to Modi, said Christian leader A. C. Michael, who led the delegation.
Michael, the national coordinator of the ecumenical forum told UCA News that it had written a letter to Modi seeking his intervention to end increasing violence against Christians, after Modi visited Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi archdiocese on Easter Sunday on April 9.
The UCF, which keeps a record of incidents of violence against Christians in the country, maintains that attacks increased after 11 of India's 28 states enacted sweeping anti-conversion laws, most of them ruled by Modi’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The anti-conversion law goes against the spirit of Article 25 that guarantees freedom of religion to Indians, Michael said on Sept. 21.
It is often misused by fringe elements of pro-Hindu groups to target Christians, he said.
Government apathy increases anti-Christian violence, the forum said. According to the forum, 525 incidents of violence have been reported from 23 Indian states till August this year. The figure was 505 for the whole of last year.
The delegation included John Dayal, spokesman of the All India Catholic Union, and UCF executive members Tehmina Arora and Siju Thomas.
“The meeting with Lalpura was positive and encouraging,” Michael added.
Lalpura assured the Christian leaders that the commission would address the increasing persecution of Christians, and asked them to send fact-finding teams to the troubled areas, he said.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, tops the list in violence against Christians, followed by the central Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. Uttar Pradesh is ruled by the BJP, which also has a strong presence in the two central Indian states.
Christians make up a mere 0.18 percent of Uttar Pradesh's 200 million people, the majority of them are Hindus. Christian presence is generally less than one percent in central and northern states.
Christians in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are mainly from tribal communities and Hindu groups that support the BJP have launched a nationwide campaign to convert them to Hinduism under the Ghar Vapasi (returning home) drive.
Michael said their new report will include details of every anti-Christian act they have recorded. It will also cover the anti-conversion law, violent attacks on Christians, and the reservation status, which are pressing issues for the Christian community in India, Michael added.
Christian leaders say their people feel side-lined. For example, the National Minorities Commission does not have a Christian member while it has Buddhist and Sikh representatives, although Indian Christians number more than those following these religions.
Lalpura promised to speed up the appointment of a Christian member, Michael said.
In the letter to Modi, the UCF had demanded the inclusion of Dalits (formerly untouchables) and tribal Christians in India’s affirmative action, which reserves quotas in government jobs, educational institutes, and legislative bodies to help bring them into the social mainstream.
Though various panels have suggested reservation status to Christians, successive governments have denied it saying Christianity does not follow a caste system and so there cannot be Dalits among Christians.
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