Pune (AsiaNews) - In a country like India where different cultures and religious beliefs live side by side, the government must ensure respect for the rights and freedoms of all its citizens, including the right to change one's religion, which is guaranteed by the Union's secular Constitution. Therefore, "reconversions" and all attempts to impose the Hindu majority's culture, holy books, festivities and terminology on other religions are unacceptable, this according to Mgr Thomas, bishop of Pune.
"We are aware of certain trends and events taking place in our beloved country. We hear of arson, burning of a church, imposition of Hindu practises and methods by means of Ghar Wapsi (reconversion). Some recent events are disturbing, like moves to declare the Gita as India's national scripture, to declare 25 December, Christmas day, as Good Governance Day, or to employ pressure tactics not to call Christian priests as 'Father' but as Acharya or Guruji. They are unjust, forced attempts to imposed sarasvati puja. At present, the Ghar Wapsi campaign has created an atmosphere of fear and anxiety among Muslims and Christians.
There is no one specific culture in India. Our country has various cultures, states and religions. Therefore, one cannot speak of 'cultural nationalism'. The country has Hindus, Muslims, Christians and members of other religious and all of us live as neighbours and love each other as true humans. This country is fashioned by all communities .Therefore, in a secular country, the scripture of a majority community cannot be declared as a national scripture. These moves are clearly against the principles of our country's secular democracy.
Conversion is a right enshrined in the Constitution and there can be no debate on this issue. Christians do not indulge in forced conversions. We neither practice nor recognise conversions by force, fraud and enticement. Forced conversions and their sensationalised and thus organised promotion are provocative.
The government must intervene immediately to end the atmosphere of fear and uncertainty created among the Muslims and Christians. It is the duty of the duly elected government to enforce the rule of law, respect the liberties of citizens and ensure the well-being of all marginalised people and minorities.
There is talk about 'nationalism' and 'patriotism'. Minorities are no less patriotic or nationalist than others. Real patriots are those who love their land and work for the welfare of their people. Christians have contributed in unique way in the fields of education and women's liberation, equality and social reforms.
However, there seems to be an upsurge in activities against minorities by fundamentalist groups who appear to have no fear of the law in their heart. It is necessary that the law and the constitutional machinery take action and preventive measures so that these people do not have the courage to continue. It is inherent in human nature to be free to practice one's religion. Thus, everyone should be allowed to choose his or her faith. Anything that prevents this is not only contrary to human nature but is also a breach of international law as well as violation of India's secular Constitution.
In such a situation, we must be alert and follow Jesus who taught us 'to read the sign of the times'. We must regularly provide proper and sustained pastoral care to our faithful. Some of them have felt neglected and have therefore left our community. this means that we have to be closer to our fellow Christians. As good shepherds, we must try to help them and make them feel wanted and share in a sense of belonging to our community.
Jesus Christ was very close to His flock. Pope Francis is very close to ordinary people. some observers have noted that because of Pope Francis' closeness to the people, some have returned to the Church.
Therefore, my fellow Christians, let us deepen our love for Jesus and, like Him, reach out to every member of our community.
*Bishop of Pune, president of the Theological and Doctrinal Commission of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CCBI) Latin Rite