By: Father Sebastian Vadakumpadan
On February 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a meeting held at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi, upheld Article 25 of the Constitution, which ensures “Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion”, to the joy and consolation of all men of goodwill in India and abroad. We, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church in India, were happy to get the opportunity to prepare a venue for the PM to make that historic speech. It was a turning point in secular India. The PM stated categorically that India will remain secular, in the midst of all the confusion and apprehension about this. In spite of deplorable incidents in which churches were vandalised and a 71-year-old nun was gangraped, we are confident that our PM meant what he said. I personally believe that he is a man of character, and that he will implement what he said, despite provocation from certain quarters. Only he and his party can halt the present trend, because the organisations responsible for the spate of attacks and which instigate violence against Christians are related to the ruling party.
It could be that some are trying to test whether the PM will be able to abide by his promise. They do not want him to. It is only fitting that the PM takes stern steps to stop the atrocities and makes it clear that he is committed to safeguarding the secular nature of the country. The common man in India loves the secular fabric of the country, and in the long run it will prevail. People want to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours, irrespective of their caste and creed. People in India will not tolerate religious fanaticism. The global community also wants to see India as a model for peace, harmony and religious tolerance.
Just over a month has passed since the PM committed himself to protecting minorities in the country. The nun who was raped in West Bengal spent her whole life in selfless service of her neighbours and the country, without consideration of caste and creed. In this context, the words of Julio Ribeiro, the former police commissioner of Mumbai who also served as the director general of police in Punjab and was awarded the Padma Bhushan, published in these pages (‘I feel I am on a hit list’, IE, March 17), call for attention: “I never felt like this for 85 years. I have worked for the people without bothering about their religion. Suddenly we find that they are saying that those who do not practise the majority religion are not Indians. Ridiculous.” There are numerous Christians who have dedicated their lives to nation-building, in the fields of education, healthcare, rural development, etc. Now some say that they are not Indians. But Christian missionaries have tried to improve the quality of lifeof people, especially of the poor and marginalised, when nobody else cared for them. It may be remembered that several Indian leaders were educated in Christian institutions.
If some want to believe in Christ, who is their inspiration, what is wrong with that? The Constitution safeguards that right. Everyone knows that these missionaries are not being recruited by any militant group fighting against the country. Christians are patriotic and proud to be Indian. The nun who was raped has forgiven those who brutalised her. The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Cleemis, and the nun together prayed for them. Pope John Paul II, the head of the Catholic Church, visited Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot at him four times in an assassination attempt, in jail and forgave him. He was pardoned by the Italian president at the pope’s request and deported to Turkey. Christians have the courage to love and forgive, a virtue they inherited from the cross of Jesus, where he forgave his enemies and offered his life for mankind. Following the master, Christians are a peace-loving people. Our country does not need to be afraid of loyal Christians.
Even at a time of unbridled religious fanaticism and when highly deplorable events are taking place, we are confident that the PM is tryito find the right measures to check religious fanaticism and intolerance on a permanent basis. This process cannot be delayed. If it is not done, it will be disastrous for Indian democracy and secularism. We have great confidence in our prime minister, and in the common man’s secular mindset.
The writer is vicar general, diocese of Faridabad
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