Christians participate in a nationwide protest against the violation of their religious and socio-political rights by pro-Hindu governments and hardline groups who have been openly threatening minorities in the country, in West Benga statel's capital city Kolkata on Jan. 20, 2020. (Photo: AFP / UCAN files)
Police in a central Indian state have been asked discreetly to collect information on Church institutions, an officer has admitted after the media leaked details of the questionnaire.
An exercise to profile Church institutions is said to have been going on in the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Madhya Pradesh state since the beginning of July.
Indore city’s police commissioner, Makrand Deoskar, on July 15 confirmed that a questionnaire was sent out.
But “it is an internal communication for the station house officers [SHOs] of local police stations and not for Church officials.”
The questionnaire was “inadvertently shared with Church officials,” the city’s top cop explained.
“It was withdrawn after opposition from the Christian community,” Deoskar claimed.
The SHOs were reportedly asked to gather details such as the name of the missionary institution, its work and purpose, details of foreigners involved in mission work, and details of activities in the past three months.
It also asked to collect the institution's bank details and see if the institution was involved in religious conversion or political activities such as helping people in agitation. It wanted to know if the institution was getting foreign funds.
“Some of our churches and other institutions got such official communication from the police department,” said Father Alfred D’Souza, the newly appointed public relations officer (PRO) of Bhopal archdiocese.
“We will soon decide about the future course of action after taking it up with higher officials in the police department and if needed with the minister concerned,” D’Souza told UCA News on July 17.
The priest, who is also the PRO of the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh with nine dioceses, said the questionnaire has some 15 major queries that cover almost every activity of missionary work for the welfare of the people in the state.
“Our work is totally in the public domain. But still, we are being targeted because of our religion,” he said.
D’Souza wondered what the purpose was behind the exercise.
“We don’t do any illegal activity. And like people from other religions, are we not citizens of this country?” he asked.
Besides in Indore, Church officials from dioceses such as Jhabua and Jabalpur among others have got similar notices, indicating that the questionnaire was sent across the state for collecting details of Christian missionaries.
“Our priests have got such notices from the police seeking details of our activities,” a diocesan priest from Jabalpur who did not want to be named told UCA News.
“Unlike in Indore, there is no information of withdrawal of the notices in our diocese.” the priest added.
He further said that being a citizen of India, his credentials are available to the government.
He said that many people and non-government bodies belonging to other religious communities were getting foreign funds.
“We don’t get any foreign funds without the approval from the federal government, still this kind of religious-specific profiling gives the impression that we are doing something illegal,” he said.
The bishops, priests, nuns and others working for Christian institutions in Madhya Pradesh are often targeted with false accusations of religious conversion and some are even arrested.
Christians make up 0.29 percent of the 72 million people in Madhya Pradesh, where assembly elections to elect 230 lawmakers are to be held at the end of this year.
Christian leaders suspect the profiling exercise was meant to polarize the voters and shift the focus from the performance of the BJP government in power ahead of the assembly election.