Jaipur (AsiaNews) Thousands of Christians marched in silence yesterday through the streets of Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan also known as the Pink City, to protest the rising number of acts of violence perpetrated against Christians in the state. Groups of Muslims and leftwing lawmakers also joined the rally, which was organised by the People's Union for Civil Liberties and ended in front of the state legislature. Mgr Oswald Lewis, bishop of Jaipur, and Mgr Ignatius Menezes, bishop of Ajmer, were also present.
"It was a peaceful protest," Bishop Lewis told AsiaNews. "I spoke about the contribution of the Church to India's development and progress. I stressed that we are all Indian and that India is our beloved motherland, the land in which we are rooted."
The bishop here was speaking to the Hindu nationalists' slogans heard at anti-Christian protests and attacks, namely that Christians "should go back to where they came from" and that their institutions "are Western bastions" in India.
The prelate also used the occasion to respond to the accusations made by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP, India's largest political party, which has repeatedly attacked "Christian missionaries for practicing terrorism" against tribal communities and has been trying to have an "anti-conversion" law passed by the local state assembly.
"The commitment of the Church," Bishop Lewis said, "is focused on rural areas not out of a desire to convert its people as our detractors claim, but because they are the ones most in need, first and foremost medical and educational needs, that no one else is willing to satisfy."
He added: "I wanted to provide official figures about our health facilities, hospitals and mobile dispensaries and other institutions run by the Church. In all of them, anyone can come in without concern for caste, faith or creed."
Finally, he said: "I also made it clear that, as Christians, we preach the Gospel of love and forgiveness and pray for our persecutors, but we also won't give up our right to defend the life God gave us. This march is meant to highlight the persecution, the intimidations and the dangers we Christians face even though we, too, are Indian".
During the rally, participants also publicly condemned the arrest of Bishop Samuel Thomas of the Emmanuel Mission International for publishing a book allegedly offensive to Hindus. Similarly, they slammed the numerous attacks against Christian missions and "re-conversion ceremonies" that are increasingly imposed on Tribal people.
Remond Kohilo, president of the Rajasthan Christian Fellowship, said that "the real motive behind this [the rally] is to stop attacks on Christians. During the past few weeks and months, there has been a lot of opposition and atrocities committed against us, our communities and our institutions. And our children should not be made to suffer because of the situation."