New Delhi (UCAN): “Some people are trying to divide the country in the name of religion, caste and creed. But we can’t sit here as mute spectators,” Mamta Banerjee, chief of Trinamool (grassroots) Congress party, told a gathering of 1,000 people in New Delhi, India, on July 31.
The assembly was organised on the theme, Love your neighbour, by the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and called on the country’s to stop being divisive and using religion as a way of attracting votes.
Father Joseph Manipadam, secretary of the India bishops’ office for education, said that the assembly was held to promote discussion over the challenges the nation faces. “We wanted to give the message that Christianity does not promote hatred but always speak of love and brotherhood,” he said.
Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the bishops’ conference, explained that the bishops’ conference the assembly because “a negative atmosphere of hate and violence exists in the country ... we wanted to stress a positive approach.”
He and several other leaders at the assembly called on politicians to stop using religion for votes and criticised their negative stances toward minorities such as Dalits and tribal people.
A prominent political opposition leader, Banerjee, was among several speakers who voiced concerns over the divisions in Indian society during the gathering.
“Time has come for us to unite and raise our voices,” she said.
Banerjee, who is also the chief minister of West Bengal state, alluded to cases of harassment and violence committed against Christians and Muslims by hardline Hindu groups since the prime minister, Narendra Modi, came to power at the head of the Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in 2014.
She said the theme of the gathering was rightly chosen because “some communal forces are trying to dictate what we should eat, dress and how we should practice our faith.”
Other leaders accused the BJP governments in New Delhi and most northern Indian states of supporting Hindu groups who attack religious minorities in an effort to project the party as a pro-Hindu champion.
Banerjee said some governments were targeting Christian organisations with the agenda of tarnishing the Catholic Church and missionaries. She said the recent order to investigate some Christian organisations, including the Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, was one such move.
“These missionaries and the Church in general have been doing much service and no one can deny that and the best example was our own Mother Teresa who worked tirelessly for poor people,” she said.
Archbishop Thomas D’Souza of Kolkata, the chairperson of the bishops’ conference office for education and culture, said: “Any attempt to polarise and divide people should be discouraged and condemned.”
Supreme Court lawyer, Franklin Caesar, said that even six decades after Indian independence, Christians of Dalit (untouchable) origin “are still struggling to get social security rights” that their Hindu counterparts religion.
Christian and Muslim Dalits are excluded from social concessions that could uplift their social status—such as for employment and educational quotas—on grounds that their religions do not recognise the caste system.