India's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has invited suggestions from minorities on how to adapt its election manifesto to making the nation more inclusive. Representatives of religious minorities, including Catholics
, presented their suggestions at a March 7 meeting in the capital, New Delhi. The gathering was convened by federal Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot ahead of national elections in May. "We told the ministers that the minorities feel insecure in the country and need to be protected and that constitutional values need to be upheld," said Father Joseph Manipadam
, who led the Catholic representation at the meeting. Father Manipadam, secretary of the Indian Bishops’ Office for Education and Culture, told ucanews.com that various requests had been made. "We were open to giving the suggestions, whether they take them up or not is up to them," Father Manipadam said. The Indian bishops’ suggestions included extending social welfare benefits to people of Dalit
origin who have adopted Christianity. Dalits more generally were formally referred to as 'untouchables' in the Hindu caste system. They comprise about 200 million, or 16 percent of the nation's total population Benefits provided for in the Indian Constitution designed to uplift Dalits have since 1950 been denied to people of Dalit origin practicing non-Hindu faiths, including Christians and Muslims, on the ground that their religions do not practice the caste system. The Church also sought government protection of tribal peoples’ land rights and involvement of Christians in drafting educational policies. Christians of tribal and Dalit origin form more than 60 percent of the nation's 27 million Christians, many of whom are located in northern India. But Christian leaders say the BJP, which came to power nationally in 2014 and dominates many state administrations, has neglected disadvantaged groups. Representatives of Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Buddhist and Parsi communities raised their concerns at the March 7 meeting over discriminatory BJP policies. Mohammad Sajid Rashidi, president of the All India Imams' Association, said Muslims felt alienated under BJP rule. In incidents related to Hinduism's reverence for cows, Muslims have been attacked, and in some cases killed, by vigilante groups in states where BJP-led governments have promoted cow protection. The eating of beef is legal in some states and illegal in others. Rashidi said some innocent Muslim youths were unfairly jailed after being accused of involvement in terrorist activities.
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"This should stop as it destroys both the lives of these youths and their families," he said, adding there was a need to clearly prove guilt beyond doubt in such cases. Minority Affairs Minister Naqvi told the meeting that the BJP government aims at inclusive growth as well as standing for honesty and justice. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Gehlot informed those present that the BJP had launched a month-long exercise to seek suggestions from 100 million Indians to help the party prepare its election manifesto.