Catholic bishops and Christian activists in India have criticized authorities in two former Portuguese territories, now under Indian federal rule, for cancelling the traditional Good Friday holiday. Christian leaders in the western territories of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu say their district administrations have moved Good Friday from the list of public holidays to restricted holidays when staff have an option to take a day off or work. “It is very sad and unfortunate. It once again shows that our sentiments have not been cared for,” said Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas
, secretary-general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India. Good Friday, which falls on April 19 this year, remains an official government holiday in all 29 states and five other federally ruled territories. “Certain ideologies are using administrative powers to deprive us of our rights,” said Bishop Mascarenhas. The bishop has written to the federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh seeking his intervention. “We are waiting for his early intervention. We have also made a presentation to local authorities but it has fallen on deaf ears,” he said. Christian sacred days have been holidays in the two territories for centuries since they were part of Portuguese India in the 16th century. That continued even after India ended colonial rule and annexed the territories in 1961. Centuries ago Christians dominated the tiny enclaves on the coast of present-day Gujarat state, but Hindus form the majority of the 600,000 people living there now. Each year state and federal governments are free to revise holiday lists. However, after the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi and several states in 2014, a tendency to sideline Christian religious occasions has been apparent, according to Christian leaders. In 2016 in Madhya Pradesh, where the BJP was in power for over a decade, it moved to scrap the Good Friday holiday but changed its mind following Christian opposition. Soon after assuming power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared Christmas Day (Dec. 25) as Good Governance Day on the birth anniversary of former BJP leader and prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Good Governance Day required all parliamentarians and senior officials to attend their offices on Christmas Day, although officially it was a public holiday. “These moves are part of a pattern to oppress Christians,” said A.C. Michael
, a Christian leader based in New Delhi. “At least 12 states in India are set to have elections on April 18, this year’s Maundy Thursday. That itself is a big setback.” Hundreds of Christians on election duty will miss services, while several church-run schools are designated polling stations and using their premises for Holy Week services will be a disturbance, he said. Michael said Christians across India have been facing physical attacks and harassment ever since BJP gained power in New Delhi. The BJP victory has bolstered Hindu groups to accelerate their action to turn India into a Hindu-only nation, he said.
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Joseph Dias, general secretary of the Mumbai-based Catholic Secular Forum, told ucanews.com that these moves show “the total discrimination against the Christian community.” The government’s attitude of ignoring Christians
might help get the votes of the majority Hindu community but will reflect poorly on India internationally, he said.