In Lajpat Nagar, at the Afghan Church of Delhi, Sunday masses are held in Dari, a variety of Persian spoken in some parts of Afghanistan. This not-so-old church was set up by some hundreds of Christian refugees who fled the Islamic state facing persecution for years. Recalling the horrors back home, the pastor at the church says, “Life has changed positively after reaching India. Indian citizenship to us is God’s justice.”
Afghanistan has only one church now — inside the premises of the Italian embassy. The last Christian priest in Afghanistan was Father Giuseppe Moretti who had to return to his homeland after being injured in a bomb attack. Afghanistan built a church in 1970 as a reciprocal gesture to US President Dwight D Eisenhower for the Islamic centre in Washington. But it stood there only for three years before being razed to ground. Moretti says: “The roots of Zoroastrianism are in Afghanistan. For centuries, Buddhism also played a very important role. Nestorian Christianity was present, [and so were] Jewish communities. I believe this multiple religious presence left a profound respect for others’ in the Afghan spirit. Today, however, one learns to live with the fear of bombs.”
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According to the 2009 report of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the US State Department, “ [In Afghanistan] There are approximately 4,900 Sikh and 1,100 Hindu believers, and more than 400 Baha’is. There is a small, hidden Christian community; estimates on its size range from 500 to 8,000. Non-Muslim minority groups continued to face incidents of discrimination and persecution.” As peaceful co-existence with radical Islam is next to impossible, non-Muslims had to flee to nations like India. There are about 14,500 refugees from Afghanistan registered with the UNHCR in India as of July 1, 2018.
A Pakistani Christian woman, Asia Bibi, reached Canada this May after spending 10 years in a Pakistani prison. Framed by her colleagues in a case of blasphemy, she was sentenced to death by a Pakistani court. Pakistan’s minister for minorities, Shahbaz Bhatti, and Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer were both assassinated for advocating relief for her. A Muslim cleric announced a Rs 5 lakh reward for killing her. Only significant international pressure, including from the Pope, could save her. Asia’s ordeal reflects the viewpoint of Khawaja Nazimuddin, the second prime minister of Pakistan who said: “I do not agree that religion is a private affair of the individual nor do I agree that in an Islamic state every citizen has identical rights, no matter what his caste, creed or faith be.”
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In July 2010, a Hindu youth drinking water from a tap near a mosque led to the ethnic cleansing of about 400 Hindu families. A suicide attack targeting Christians celebrating Easter at Lahore in March 2016 left 70 dead and more than 340 wounded. Hundreds fled their homes in Faisalabad in 2005 as churches and Christian schools were set on fire by a mob. A list prepared by the US-based platform, Open Doors, reveals that the top 10 nations which inflict maximum persecution on non-Muslims were Islamic nations, except North Korea and Eritrea. Pakistan ranked 4.
Hundreds of persecuted non-Muslim minorities including Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Zoroastrians migrate to India from these neighbouring nations every year. The case of Christians is not different. The Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) recognises the role that each nation has to play in ensuring that all human beings are given a chance to live a life of dignity. India might be a non-signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees, but it has never shied away from granting asylum to those in need.
In his famous opening address at World Parliament of Religions, Swami Vivekananda said, “I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.” In the 12th century, India welcomed the Zoroastrian (Parsi) community facing persecution by Iran’s Qajar dynasty. So was the Baha’is. Jews lived in India for centuries, becoming part of its culture and ethos. The people of Tibet, under leadership of 14th Dalai Lama, were welcomed with open arms. The country has absorbed many who have been wronged into its syncretic culture.
Many ancient churches of Kerala acknowledge the support of Hindu rulers who facilitated their setting up. It is in this spirit that the CAA should be seen and understood. India is the only nation in South Asia that has a syncretic culture and can absorb all the persecuted minorities who have nowhere to go. Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh have followed the policy of state-led Islamisation, which has dehumanised people hailing from other communities.
With the CAA, India is performing its historical duty, one it has been fulfilling for centuries. The Act also echoes the spirit of the Indian Constitution. The voices that are raised today against CAA need to answer only one question: Has any exodus of Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Zoroastrians or Sikhs from India occurred due to persecution under BJP rule? If the answer is in negative, let us embrace the CAA with open arms.
The writer is National Secretary of the BJP’s youth wing
This article first appeared in the print edition of January 4, 2020 under the title “Shelter from the storm”
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