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Indian lawmaker draws flak for comments on religious minorities

The BJP legislator in the central state of Madhya Pradesh asked Hindus to keep away from Christians and Muslims
Indian lawmaker draws flak for comments on religious minorities

People watch the effigies of demon king Ravana along with his son Meghnath and brother Kumbhkaran burn during the Hindu festival of Dussehra, which marks the triumph of good over evil, in Amritsar, India, on Oct. 15. (Photo: AFP)

Published: October 20, 2021 06:01 AM GMT
Updated: October 20, 2021 08:13 AM GMT

Religious and political leaders in India have condemned a call by a ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker urging Hindus to stay away from Christians and Muslims to safeguard their religion, culture and traditions.

Rameshwar Sharma, a member of the legislative assembly in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, told a crowd at a recent Dusshera festival celebration in the capital city of Bhopal “to stay away from Father and chadar [ceremonial cloth offered at Muslim shrines],” warning that they “would spoil you.”

He further said Hindus should also keep away from Sufi shrines and spiritual guides, calling them obstacles in their path to Hindu temples.

A video of Sharma’s speech went viral on social media on Oct. 17, inviting criticism from the opposition Congress party, which asked the BJP to clarify if it agreed with the lawmaker’s public pronouncement dividing people on the basis of their religious beliefs.

“It is unfortunate that a lawmaker is dividing people calling from a public platform to boycott Christians and Muslims,” said Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal.

The prelate told UCA News that such insensitive remarks “hurt the sentiments of peace-loving people” while diverting public attention from real issues like rising prices of essential commodities, unemployment, illiteracy, disease, growing malnutrition and hunger.

Sharma’s party is against Muslims and Christians and therefore such statements are made to create distrust and hatred against them

Archbishop Cornelio issued a statement in the media appealing to people to be aware of such “evil intentions” aimed at “planting the seeds of hatred and disharmony in the society.”

Father Maria Stephen, public relations officer of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, appealed to the BJP lawmaker to “embrace everyone as members of the universal family” to “bring glory and honor to everyone.”

The Indian constitution does not discriminate against anyone based on caste, creed, color or religion, the priest sought to remind those spreading such hatred.

Muslim religious scholar Maulana Umar Quasmi saw an “ulterior motive” behind the divisive statement. “Sharma’s party is against Muslims and Christians and therefore such statements are made to create distrust and hatred against them,” he said.

He cautioned that such acts and statements “do not augur well for a society where people belonging to diverse religions and regions live together.”

The BJP legislator’s video clip, widely circulated on social media, shows him further urging Hindus to stop using “good morning” as a greeting and instead use the traditional Indian salutation “Jai Shree Ram” (Hail Lord Ram).

He was apparently speaking at the annual Dussehra festival, which celebrates the victory of Lord Ram, one of the most widely worshipped Hindu deities, over his rival, demon king Ravana, whose effigy is burned as part of the festivities.

Neither Sharma nor his party has offered any explanation or apology for his statements. Congress leader Ajay Yadav said the BJP should clarify its position as Sharma had insulted minority communities.

“Do they believe in what he said? If they do not, they should take action against Sharma,” Yadav said.

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