Indian Catholic News

Politics seen in BJP move to protect Indian Christians

Church leaders unimpressed by plan to form 'anti-terrorist Christian fellowship' in Kerala.

 
Kummanam Rajasekharan, then president of the BJP in Kerala, leads a march in the state on Oct. 5, 2017. (Photo by IANS)
Kochi: 

India’s pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has proposed a forum to work for the protection of Christians from Islamic terror attacks, but church leaders dismissed the move as a political ploy to polarize communities.

The BJP’s Kerala state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai proposed forming a special force to protect churchgoers in the Christian stronghold in the wake of the Easter Sunday bomb attacks in Sri Lanka, media reports said.

“This is an attempt to polarize the peacefully living Christians and Muslims in the country,” said Father Varghese Vallikkatt, spokesman for the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council.

Pillai told ucanews.com on May 16 that his party’s wing for religious minorities had considered the proposal and decided not to form a sena (force) but will form an “anti-terrorist Christian fellowship” in Kerala.

“Hundreds of Christians were killed in Sri Lanka. Some members of a church that suffered a blast were descendants of Christians who settled there from Kochi [in Kerala]. But unfortunately, Kerala didn’t respond the way it should have,” he said.

Pillai said the anti-terrorist fellowship plans to hold a prayer service on May 29 — 40 days after the Sri Lankan attacks — to pray for the 253 people killed in the suicide bombings of three churches and three upmarket hotels.

He said the date was chosen because Christians in Kerala traditionally observe the 40th day since a relative’s death with prayers, just as Ascension Day marks the 40th day of Jesus Christ's resurrection.

However, Father Vallikkatt dismissed the move as “purely political” and “totally irrelevant.” He said India is a constitutional democracy and has enough systems and law enforcement agencies to deal with terrorist threats.

The priest said Christians “felt a bit threatened” following the Sri Lanka blast, especially after some suspected terrorists were arrested in Kochi. “But that does not mean that anyone will fall into this,” he said.

Police in Kerala on April 29 arrested a man named Riaz Aboobecker and said he had links with an Islamic terror group which was planning to attack religious places in the coastal state.

At least 100 young Muslims from Kerala are suspected to have joined the so-called Islamic State over the years, according to media reports quoting police.

Father Vallikkatt said Kerala has had a Christian presence since the first century and boasts India’s first Islamic mosque, built in the seventh century.

“Christians, Muslims and Hindus have lived here harmoniously for centuries. We don’t want a Hindu party to attempt to create a divide through such announcements of prayers and protection,” he said.

Hindus form 55 percent of Kerala’s 33 million people but the state has a high percentage of Muslims (26 percent) and Christians (18 percent) considering that at national level Muslims comprise only 18 percent and Christians just 2.3 percent.

Catholic leader Jose Joseph told ucanews.com that the BJP is attempting to woo Christians.

“It has been trying its best to gain a political foothold in the state over the years, but it was unsuccessful as Christians and Muslims refused to support it,” he said.

Shibu Thomas, founder of the Persecution Relief ecumenical forum that records Christian persecution in India, wondered how the party plans to protect Christians and Christian churches.

He said the BJP and other pro-Hindu groups that support them have been blamed for hundreds of attacks on Christians and places of worship in northern Indian states, some of them under BJP-led governments.

“Bibles were forcibly confiscated and destroyed, homes trespassed and Christians beaten up for praying in their own homes, numerous church buildings vandalized, and several people jailed on false charges. But we saw no such BJP effort to support Christians then,” Thomas said.

Source: UCAN

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