Government "should publish data on conversions and anti-Christian attacks"
by Nirmala Carvalho

The proposal came from the country's largest associations of lay Catholics. "Only then will state governments show their good faith in threatening minorities with anti-conversion laws".

Delhi (AsiaNews) – India's government "should draft a White Paper with information about atrocities committed against minorities, especially Christians". This should also "indicate how many people were charged and tried for crimes listed by anti-conversion laws". Otherwise, "the protests against the pope are not in good faith and laws against forced conversions are useless".

The appeal was launched by the Bombay Catholic Sabha and taken up by the All India Catholic Union: the country's largest associations of lay Catholics – they were responding to accusations of "unwarranted interference in India's internal affairs" made by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP, India's largest political party with nationalist-fundamentalist leanings] against the Holy See.

"The All India Catholic Union," said John Dayal, chairman of the organization, "has read the pope's speech and also the protest of the nationalists. It is quite obvious that the government has reacted without seeing the pontifical statement in the context of the spirit of which it was given.

"The central government, since taking over in 2004, has indeed taken seriously the situation of the minority commission in India. However it is a fact that the law against conversion exists in six to seven states [Tamil Nadu is about to repeal it], and it is unfortunate that these states introduced this law with a BJP-registered government, which when in power has always shown hostility to minorities.

"Even now the spate of anti-Christian violence in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Orrisa and Jharkand continues to be a black spot on India's record on human rights, as has been noted by Amnesty International, in its latest report, and also by the rest of the world. This diatribe against Benedict XVI is an opportunity for the government of India to ensure that adequate measures are taken to stop hate campaigns by nationalists.

"It has been India's belief that the world is globalized when its members are concerned about each other's interests: it is in that spirit that India should be concerned about the state of Christians in Rajasthan. On the other hand, the people and government of India are concerned when Sikh children are not allowed to wear the religious turban in French schools. This is proper because freedom of faith is amongst the most fundamental rights.

"Furthermore, various inquiry commissions have found anti-conversion laws to be without any foundation or fact. No inquiry, independent or governmental, has managed to prove a single case of forced conversion, even in Gujarat or Orissa, where anti-Christian persecution is ruthless. We have also learned that the Tamil Nadu Government intends to withdraw the law, thereby proving to the world that it was mere politics hiding behind great proclamations of concern about religion.

"Rather than spreading accusations and attacks against religious minorities, creating only violence and wounds between Indian communities, if any State government thinks that there exists a threat against the religious freedom of its people, it would be proper if they published the facts in a white paper or a judicial inquiry. Thus they would be able to prove their good faith."

The proposal taken up by Dayal was first made by Dolphy S'Souza, chairman of The Bombay Catholic Sabha. In a press release, he called on the government to "inform the nation about the exact number of conversions and atrocities committed against Christians, as well as cases resolved by arrest and punishment of the guilty ones."

He wrote: "The atrocities against minorities are a known and published fact. Not a single day goes by without reporting about such atrocities on the Christian community in different parts of the country. The ground realities are different, but taking action to reassure that minorities are safe should be of primary concern to the government of the day.

"The Christian community is a minority amongst minorities and is not a political force. It reaches the citizens of this society only through educational, charitable and humanitarian works, but it depends on the government to protect it.

"The BJP has no reason to condemn the Pope's statement as they were to a large extent responsible for attacks, both physical and verbal, on minorities and more particularly on Christians. It was during the tenure of the NDA coalition government, of which BJP was a major constituent, that we saw the worst of crimes against humanity; among these, I want to recall the burning alive of Pastor Staines and his two children, the numerous bloody attacks on Christians and the massacre against the Muslim community in Gujarat.

"It would be wrong to say such attacks have stopped: this is precisely why we want the government to publish a white paper on atrocities committed by nationalists in the last decade, what action has been taken to stop them and how many have been punished. The fundamentalists believe the theory of Goebbels [German Propaganda Minister during Nazism], that repeating a lie a thousand times makes it the truth. In the State of Maharashtra alone, 400,000 students pass through Christian institutions every year; almost 90% adhere to other religions.

How many were converted needs to be investigated. Even L.K. Advani, the BJP leader, studied in a Christian school.

"Anti conversion bills go against the people's interests and their human rights. These instruments are used to terrorise defenceless minorities. Governments running states with such laws have never come out publicly to say how many were prosecuted and convicted under such legislation. Whatever this information is, the government's national census figures show a decline in the Christian population."

Another attack against the Indian Church came through the press: an insinuation that the new role of the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Ivan Dias [called by Benedict XVI to lead the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples] came about a result of "his experience in the field of conversions".

The spokesman of the archdiocese of Mumbai, Fr Anthony Charanghat, responded to the accusations. He told AsiaNews: "Evangelization does not mean conversion. Conversion is not external, it is a personal choice, the freedom and the right of each person. It cannot be imposed. Evangelization is preaching the gospel that says: 'Go forth and proclaim in the name of Jesus'. In our world, this seems to have been forgotten."

He added: "Today Catholicism has been relegated to doing good works and being active in social work. Evangelization is an example and good work. People are always in search of truth and beauty and this is in Jesus and his life. God is at the root of each action and Jesus is the personification of his love."