Thousands stage sit-in to demand protection for Christians, minorites

New Delhi (Story By: Ajesh Mathew – Matters India): An artery road in downtown Delhi on Sunday became a human sea as thousands of Christians staged a peaceful sit-in to demand peace, justice and protection for religious minority groups in the country.

More than 8,000 people, who filled the street leading to the Parliament House, alleged that “despite being a tiny 2.3 percent of the Indian population” Christians faced a systematic targeting by communal forces.

A memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted that the demonstration was part of a series of protests by Christians since 2014 to express “our collective frustration, deep sorrow and mounting anguish at the government’s cynicism and apathy to stop the targeted violence against us.”

The demonstrators urged the premier to keep his promise made at a Christian meeting in New Delhi in February that he would uphold the country’s secular character and curb “’violence against any religion.” The demonstrators wanted him translate that promise on the ground level.

The protest, organized by the Delhi Pastors Action Team, noted that unchecked hate has resulted in frequent violence against Christians throughout the country. “Nuns, sometimes as old as 70 years, are being raped in gross contempt of law and humanity,” the protesters said in a press statement. Church clergy, buildings and institutions are being attacked with impunity and generally justice has either not been forthcoming or has been explained away, it added.

Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI) and one of main organizers of the rally, asserted that Christians are Indians who have all the rights to stay in the country and the government has a duty to protect them. “Although Christians belong to various denominations they are one in faith in Jesus Christ,” he added.

According to partial list available EFI’s Religious Liberty Commission; India witnessed 147 incidents of violence and hate against Christians in 2014. Such incidents crossed the 100 mark in the eight months of this year, it added.

The press note said some Christian pastor were beaten up recently in Nihal Vihar are of Delhi. “The impunity with which it was carried out in the presence of the police is a glaring example of the casual attitude with which even the law enforcement agencies have started to look at the cases of hate crimes against the Christian community,” it added.

Catholic nuns at the sit-in

Catholic nuns at the sit-in

In the last of week of August, at least five incidents were reported from Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and, Uttar Pradesh. “Christian praying even in their own homes, in private worship, are no longer safe as they are being targeted by right wing extremists apparently drunk on political power and support.”

Retired Church of North India Bishop Karam Masih of Delhi said the demonstration was “a fight for justice. We have witnessed atrocities on a peaceful community. The central government seems to make the minorities weaker,” he told the people who sat on Parliament Street braving hot afternoon sun.

Catholic Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi said the concerted effort of Christians is to build up a fraternal and peaceful community and that their works in health, education and social fields are expressions of God’s love. “This is what God expects of us by being salt and light in the world,” the prelate said.

Reverend Vijayesh Lal of the Evangelical Fellowship of India regretted Christians “falsely implicated in the name of conversion” and asserted that their service is not for conversion but “an inspiration of the divine love channelized in various ways.”

Ajit Pal from the Good News Church regretted that Christians faced hundreds of incidents of violence within one year of the new federal government. “We are sad that our government has disowned us. Our children are beaten, women are tortured and pastors are put behind bars unconstitutionally in different parts of the country,” he noted.

The demonstrators raised slogans saying they are “proud Indians” while being proud of “our Christian faith.”

People of other religions also addressed the demonstrators.

Kamal Faruqui, a progressive Muslim, regretted that hundreds of thousands have benefited from the service of Christians but hardly anyone supports them when they face repeated attacks. “There is a move to destroy the secular fabric of India,” he said and added that in the past 15 months the country witnessed 400 attacks on Muslims and 200 on Christians.

Prashant Bhushan, a leading Supreme Court lawyer, called on people of all religions to jointly fight a sectarian mindset in the country. “We are proud of our cultural and geographical diversity and religious pluralism. And at the same time we have equal constitutional rights,” the Hindu leader added.

He regretted a move by certain group to polarize people on religious lines so that they can rule the country in what he said was the revival of the British policy of divide and rule.

Reports by civil society groups have recorded at least 43 deaths in over 600 cases of violence, 194 targeting Christians and the rest Muslims, between May 26, 2014 and May 13, 2015. “This is a worrisome trend for minorities in India,” the press note said.

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