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Prominent activists slam PM for hosting Christmas celebration at official residence for first time

Two incidents of Christian persecution occur every day

 

– Abdul Bari Masoud

New Delhi, Dec. 28: Civil society members, especially those of the Christian community reacted on Thursday to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with some members of the Christian community on Christmas Day. They said it’s ironic that Manipur is still burning and that attacks on churches and community members are still happening throughout the nation, but the PM doesn’t have time to visit Manipur or say anything about the persecution of the community.

In a statement to the media, prominent civil society figures such as Apoorvanand, John Dayal, ASR Mary Scaria SCJM, AC Michael, Minakshi Singh, and Shabnam Hashmi said: “Civil society and the Christian community in India note the irony of the year 2023, where summer began with the burning of churches and the killing of Christians in the valley of Imphal in Manipur and ends with religious leaders felicitating the Prime Minister on Christmas for his great contribution to the welfare of this small community and the county at large.”

They also slammed the Christian clergy and members who participated in the program hosted by the PM to celebrate Christmas for the first time in ten years.

The program was organized at the Prime Minister’s Delhi residence, wherein Modi reminisced about his ties with Christians dating back to his tenure as Gujarat Chief Minister. A diverse assembly, including priests, was on hand at a ceremony filled with Christmas carols sung by a local school choir.

Modi drew parallels between the Pope’s words and the BJP-led government’s development mantra of “sabka saath, sabka vikas, sabka vishwas, sabka prayas,” emphasizing his commitment to ensuring that development reaches every segment of society, including Christians.

Underlying the hypocrisy of the PM, the statement said, “Through the year, the Christian community, including its bishops and clergy, had been pleading with the prime minister to visit Manipur, the site of the greatest communal crimes and human tragedy since Gujarat in 2002, and Kandhamal, Orissa in 2008. Perhaps he could not find the time, leaving to his home minister and the state’s chief minister, who the people allege have been casual in tackling the genocide, if not complicit in it by patronizing the criminal private militias.”

Civil society members pointed out that despite the intervention of the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of India, the only thing that has happened is the cremation and burial of the bodies of Kuki Zo, which had been rotting in various Imphal hospitals. Fifty thousand Kuki-Zo-Hmar people continue to live in hard conditions in refugee camps run by various church groups. As noted by human rights activist Harsh Mander in his letter to Members of Parliament this month after yet another visit to the state, the human disaster continues to loom large over women and children. Unemployment and malnourishment stalk the hills, and private armies rule the highways. There is no administration in the hills.

They said it’s not about Manipur alone, as the persecution of the community is rampant and hate towards it from the highest quarters of nationalist religious leadership is as deep as it can be. The government seems keen to starve it out of existence by withdrawing FCRAs of a vast number of churches and its NGOs and using the investigating agencies against Cardinals and Bishops, Pastors, and lay people. In UP, for instance, nearly 100 pastors and even ordinary men and women are in jail under charges of illegal conversions when all they were doing was celebrating birthdays or conducting Sunday prayers.

On the continued persecution of Christians and Muslims across the country, prominent activists said every international and national human rights body has indicted India for its treatment of religious minorities, especially Muslims and Christians. The Indian group includes Wada Na Todo Abhiyan, a well-respected coalition that audits the government’s performance against its promises.

The United Christian Forum has said in its annual report that there are two incidents of persecution a day in the country.

Apart from persecution, arrests, and the crisis of schools and other institutions, the massive social issue of Dalit Christians remains. The Modi government’s spokespersons have been particularly harsh on it.

They underlined that the prime minister is not only free but duty-bound to embrace the nation’s religious minorities and invite their leaders to functions at his house on Christmas and other important days. We remember when Christmas carols were a part of the Rashtrapati Bhawan Calendar. Similarly, as citizens, bishops, cardinals, and others too are duty-bound to felicitate their political leaders and rulers.

“But the Christmas spirit must not let us forget the condition and tribulations of our brothers and sisters who suffer because of government impunity and the brazen political elements who have no respect for the Constitution of India and its guarantees of freedoms to the citizens.”

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