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Indian religious urged to stand up against organized violence

In a clarion call, Sister Nirmalini Nazareth calls on men and women religious to take to the streets, if needed
Indians in large numbers have been extending support to the female wrestlers who have accused an influential lawmaker of sexual abuses. A protest march in progress in Lucknow, capital of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on June 3

The women religious in India demonstrate on June 5 in southern Bangalore city in support to the women wrestlers who have accused an influential lawmaker of sexual abuse. (Photo: Supplied)

Published: June 05, 2023 11:26 AM GMT
Updated: June 06, 2023 04:28 AM GMT

The head of India’s more than 130,000 Catholic religious women and men has called on them to join public protests against the increasing persecution of minorities under the country’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government.

“We can no longer remain ensconced in our comfort zones, our silence and our fear to play a prophetic role, makes us complicit in the many crimes of today,” said Sister Nirmalini Nazareth, president of the Conference of Religious in India (CRI), in a June 1 letter to men and women members belonging to 399 religious congregations.

Explaining the ongoing violence against Christians and other minorities in India, Nazareth, an Apostolic Carmel congregation member, referred to “the ongoing targeted violence in Manipur on Christians and tribal people, the continued attacks on Church personnel and institutions [across the nation], denigration of Muslims, mainstreaming of hate speech and the plight of protesting women wrestlers.”

In the face of growing hostilities across the nation, she said, “The question I have been asking myself is: Can I remain silent? What would Jesus have done if he was physically present in the India of today?”

“The answer is obvious. He would have taken a visible and vocal stand against these acts of violence and injustice! As religious, wedded to the person and message of Jesus, we have no choice! Like Jesus, we too must come out in the open; be visible and vocal, and do all we can to right the wrongs,” Nazareth added.

In support of the Manipur victims, she observed in the letter, “There are several ways by which we can get involved in these critical issues. These include: Join or collaborate in supporting protests, peace marches, and rallies being organized.”

Violence, which began on May 3, still continues in India’s northeastern Manipur state and has so far led to 98 deaths and 45,000 displaced people, the burning and destruction of an estimated 260 churches, and the burning of many homes.

Christian leaders say minorities, including Christians, have faced violence ever since the BJP came to power in India in 2014.

Nazareth's June 1 statement reminded the religious of Pope Francis’ constant demand that "we as religious need to 'wake up' and also to 'wake up others.'"

“Let us then begin now — before it is too late,” she said in her letter.

Support for wrestlers' struggle

As if to mark the start of their open protest, some 300 Catholic nuns gathered on a public road in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru on June 5 holding placards declaring solidarity with a group of female wrestlers, who accuse their politically powerful federation chief of sexually abusing them.

Some 200 others, including priests, brothers, and members of the civil society joined them in the Karnataka state capital. 

“We as women religious along with others pledge our support to the women wrestlers of the country who need our support,” Nazareth told UCA News after the protest.

She urged the people of the country to come out in the open and support them saying, “It is high time that we need to speak up against injustice.”

She also read out a letter of support she had written to the wrestlers and demanded the government shed its silence and initiate action against their tormentor.

Sister Cynthia Paif, one of the participants in Bengaluru, told UCA News, “The wrestlers have been denied justice and they should be given justice.”

Medal-winning Indian women wrestlers have been out on the streets of the national capital New Delhi for five months, demanding legal action against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, head of the Wrestling Federation of India and an influential lawmaker from the BJP.

Singh is accused of sexually abusing many women wrestlers, including a minor, who has filed a police complaint. On May 28, Delhi police reportedly roughed up the wrestlers, who included Olympic medalists and world title winners drawing international condemnations and support for their cause.

Nuns salute wrestlers' courage 

The nuns’ solidarity statement read out during the protest said the religious “salute” the wrestlers  “for having dared to challenge patriarchy and asserted your rights as women and of human dignity.”

It said women wrestlers of India set high standards and “show a mirror to those who do not have the courage to stand on principles, or even to stand in solidarity with brave women such as you and your fellow men wrestlers.”

The protesting wrestlers are an example of women facing sexual harassment at the workplace families and in public spaces, “because they are alone, or weak, poor or trapped in poisonous relationships,” it said.

The statement also condemned “the brutal and totally uncivilized manner” by which the police “forcibly terminated your rightful agitation” in New Delhi.

It demanded government action against the accused and said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, “has often spoken of his support for the cause of the women.”

It expressed hope that Modi will do “what is necessary to start investigations into the charges of molestation and other sexual offenses.”

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1 Comments on this Story
JOHN MASCARENHAS
i fully support sr maria nirmalini for making a brave call for all people and religious to take a stand against violence and intimidation by the bjp govt and its criminal supporters. yesterday it was the muslims, next the sikhs, then came the the christians and now the wrestlers whose rights have been denied and abused. NEXT WILL BE YOU! if you stay silent out of fear and cower to bullies, you will be singled out and defeated. the bishops of india have skeletons in their cupboards and so have a quid pro quo with the corrupt/criminal bjp govt. BAD THINGS HAPPEN WHEN GOOD MEN/WOMEN DO NOTHING.
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