Indian Catholic News

Indian court restores Good Friday as public holiday

Ex-Portuguese territories blocked from trying to scale down importance of Christian red-letter day.

Indian Catholics take part in a 16-kilometer Way of the Cross Lenten ritual in Kerala state, southern India. (ucan file photo)
New Delhi: 

The Bombay High Court has directed the administrations of two former Portuguese territories in western India, now under federal rule, to restore Good Friday as a public holiday.

The April 15 order asked the federally-ruled territories of Daman and Diu, as well as Dadra and Nagar Haveli to bring back Good Friday to the list of gazetted holidays, meaning it must be observed by schools and banks.

They had reclassified the Christian holy day as a restricted holiday, when all offices and educational institutions shall function but most employees have the option of taking the day off.

Christians in those areas began to protest last month when they noticed the change in the listing, after which the case was moved to a high court.

Christian leader Anthony Francisco Duarte from Daman petitioned the court, saying the previous change was unconstitutional and hurtful to the sentiments of Christians living in these territories.

He said their religious holidays should also be respected, even though Christians only make up a tiny fraction of India's 1.35-billion population.

Christian sacred days have served as holidays in the two territories for centuries, ever since they were part of Portuguese India in the 16th century. That tradition continued after India ended colonial rule and annexed the territories in 1961.

Since those territories fell under Indian rule, Good Friday "has always been declared as a public holiday, considering that many Christians reside in far- flung areas" within their respective jurisdictions, the petition said.

Government lawyer S. S. Deshmukh told the court the quota of gazetted holidays had been exhausted and hence, Good Friday had been declared an optional holiday this year.

The petition described this as an unprecedented development in the history of the territories.

The day Christians commemorate the passion and death of Christ is a public holiday in all 29 states, as well as five of the seven federally ruled territories.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), along with the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) advocacy group, Goa Archdiocese, and Daman all supported the petition.

A.C. Michael, a Christian leader and ADF official, told the court said the administration's moves were "against the secular principles of the country."

"Christmas is celebrated with much bonhomie by all communities. People of all castes, creed and communities commemorate Good Friday," the court observed.

Unlike those Indian states that have their own governments, federal territories are ruled directly by the federal government, currently controlled by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The party is now contesting a seven-phase Indian general election that kicked off on April 11 and is due to wrap up on May 19, with the results to be announced four days later.

Catholic bishops requested in the middle of last month that the April 18 date for parliamentary elections in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states be changed, as Maundy Thursday falls on that day.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, who serves as secretary general of the Indian bishops' conference, said the high court's verdict was "a gift of God to the Christian Community during Holy week."

"We are deeply grateful to all those who prayed for the success of this petition," he added.

The combined population of both territories is around 600,000, but Christians number just 9,000, mostly Catholics.

Source: UCAN

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