Remove India's anxieties, bishops tell government

Religion should not become a criterion for determining Indian citizenship, they say
Remove India's anxieties, bishops tell government

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis claps as Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, cuts a ribbon opening the bishops' biennial gathering in Bangalore city on Feb. 13. (Photo supplied)

Catholic bishops in India have asked the government to take steps to alleviate the fears and anxieties of Indians over a controversial citizenship law accused of being discriminative.

The bishops made the call after their week-long biennial meeting that ended Feb. 19 in southern India's Bangalore city.

“We, the Catholic bishops of India, affirm that religion shall not be a criterion for determining Indian citizenship. The authorities should come forward with sincere and effective means to erase the sense of fear, anxiety and uncertainty spreading in the nation, especially among the religious minorities,” their statement said.

The joint statement of 192 Catholic bishops was referring to the federal Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which aims to grant citizenship to illegal migrants. The law amended in December says migrants from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be given citizenship if they are not Muslims.

The bishops' meeting came against the backdrop of anti-CAA protests across India and their theme was “Dialogue: The Path to Truth and Charity.”

“Dialogue is the only way to find a lasting solution to issues plaguing the nation and also of the community,” the statement said.

The federal government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is accused of following a policy of pushing to making India a nation of Hindus, ignoring the rights of religious minorities.

Critics of the government policy and the party are often stamped as anti-nation and traitors, creating panic and division among people, rights groups say.

The bishops also deliberated on the new form of nationalism, especially targeting those people questioning the ruling dispensation and its policies.

The bishops asked “authorities to ensure that pseudo-nationalism does not continue to give rise to new forms of totalitarianism.”

“No culture or religion shall dominate over other cultures and religions. Subduing certain cultures by the dominant culture will destroy the brotherhood and harmony existing in the country,” the bishops asserted.

Minorities under threat

India has witnessed a series of violent attacks, especially on minorities, socially poor Dalits and indigenous people, especially since BJP leader Narendra Modi became prime minister in 2014.

Cow vigilantism by right-wing Hindu fanatics reportedly killed more than 40 people and injured nearly 300, mostly Muslims, on the pretext of protecting the cow, a revered animal in Hinduism.

Hindu groups are also accused of unleashing violent attacks against Christians by attacking prayer services, destroying house churches and implicating them in fabricated cases of religious conversion, among other charges.

Christian missionaries including Catholic priests, nuns, and pastors were sent to jail on such charges, allegedly with the support of the administration to terrorize them and keep people away from them, missioners say.

The bishops called on the government to respect the individual identity of different cultures, religions and thoughts to ensure peace and harmony in the country.

The Catholic leaders identified interreligious dialogue as “one of the most pressing needs of our times”. They said it should aim at collaborative action areas such as peace building, protection of the environment, eradication of poverty and ensuring the human dignity of all.

Dialogue also means that “we condemn all wars, violence and terrorism that create insurmountable blocks to dialogue,” they said.

"We pledge ourselves to engage in the process of dialogue for a reconciled society,” vowed the prelates. 

Bishop Joshua Mar Ignathios, vice-president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, said the meeting also stressed dialogue for protection of the environment.

“Unless there is proper harmony between humans and nature, there cannot be peace and quality life on the earth,” he told UCA News.

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