Christians in India:

  • India needs rehabilitation in such a deterioration of human rights, when the victims of Orissa violence are being given justice. Christian voters have to exercise their political power in the coming General Elections.

    We have faith in democracy. India has to be strong. We condemn terrorism, communalism and casteism. We are pained by the rural crisis, urban poverty and rise in unemployment and underemployment, displacement of dalits in the SEZs and the plight of women and the girl child.

    The Christian Community also feels that democracy is strengthened if political parties speak out against corruption and communalism, human exploitation and assault on the dignity of women, Dalits, labour, children and minorities.

    The Christian community puts its own interests subservient to the interests of the Nation. But it feels that there are certain issues which are paramount for the  security of Religious Minorities, ending persecution of Christians in Orissa and other places, and punishment of those found guilty, rehabilitation of the displaced, compensation to the victims at par with that given in other states, proportionate share to Christians in funds and projects earmarked for all minorities, as also in government jobs, civil services, police and other services.

    The community has also demanded a National Commission on the lines of the Justice Rajender Sachhar for Muslims set up by the Union Government to assess the economic deprivation of Dalit Christians, landless labour and tribals Christians, in particular.

    The Church reaffirms its strong commitment to Secularism and Democracy in India. The Christian Community thanks God for the renewal of the Republic through regular General Elections since the Constitution was adopted on 26 January 1950, bringing to fruition the full promise of the political Independence won on 15 August 1947 after a determined Freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Babasaheb Ambedkar.Our sturdy Republic has survived four wars and numerous internal crises, natural disasters and the ups and downs of the passing years. It has been buffeted by communal fires, and shaken by the impact of globalisation and the economic meltdown. The frightening rise in unemployment and the gloom in the economic sector impact on all citizens, irrespective of their religion, caste or gender, though as always, it is the weaker and the marginalised who bear the maximum brunt of the ravages of an economic downtrend. The crisis in Rural India is monumental and demands urgent action. So does urban poverty. We pray our country will recover quickly from the current travails and the people will be able to once again look to a brighter future.

    Unfortunately, the economic crisis has been aggravated by a social crisis no less grave. Religious, caste and gender intolerance are manifestations of this. The sharp rise of Communal forces and the macabre nature of the violence unleashed by them are cause for deep concern.

    The General Elections, 2009, is an opportunity to halt the trend, and to reverse the negativity.

    It is in this context that Christian leaders, intellectuals and thinkers met in New Delhi on 23rd February 2009 to consider the issues affecting the people and the nation. While we remain concerned for all our countrymen, there are a few issues that impact specifically on the Christian community. We are small in numbers, but we make an impact on the nation through services in Education, social work and Health, and as the voice of the marginalised and oppressed. We have hope in the democratic process, and in the goodwill of the political parties, their leaders, and their prospective candidates.

    Call to Political parties and Candidates: We call upon the Christian community to play its full part in the Election process. We must come out and cast our vote to strengthen democracy and secularism in the country. Christian activists and NGOs must ensure that our names are listed in the electoral rolls, and if not, make the necessary effort to enrol all eligible Christians as voters. We also urge all Political Parties to give adequate representation to our community in their selection of Candidates.

    Political parties must also include the following issues, and address our concerns, in their Election Manifestos and campaigns, and to also keep these in mind in the selection of their nominees for the various constituencies.

    1. Security of Religious Minorities: The Christian community had felt itself very safe in India since Independence, and the formative years of the democracy under Jawaharlal Nehru, and then under the premiership of Lal Bahadur Shashtri, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. But after a spurt of violence in 1998-1999, hate crimes against the Church and the Christian community have been increasing alarmingly since 1997, averaging about 250 incidents a year. But 2007 and 2008 have seen such violence reach an unprecedented level. The violence has not been confined to Orissa. Fourteen other States have been affected, seven seriously. Karnataka is now second only to Orissa in crimes against Christians. Orissa in 2008 saw 120 deaths, 4,600 houses burnt, over 300 villages purged of Christians, and women, including religious women, raped. Six thousand men, women and children are still in government refugee camps, from the peak of 26,000. Battalions of Central forces are needed to maintain peace
    2. Enforcing rule of law, ending Impunity of state, Police and criminal justice dispensation system in assuring Freedom of Faith: In State after State, the community has watched in utter helplessness uniformed Policemen accompany assailants attacking institutions, churches and house churches. In States such as Manipur, even villages have dared pass laws against Christians, banning conversions and excommunicating people. Pastors and Priests have been arrested on false charges, denied bail, and harassed. Often, the police have stood by while Priests, pastors and Lay persons were beaten up, often in the glare of Television Cameras. The Subordinate magistracy and judiciary have often been partisan in their conduct. This impunity must end. The proposed Prevention of Communal Violence Bill must take cognisance of Christian concerns and apprehensions. Government must take responsibility, punish the guilty, reconstruct damaged and destroyed homes, institutions and churches, and provide adequate education.
    3. Redress Economic deprivation and reversal of Unemployment and under-employment amongst Christian youth. Need for a National Commission on the lines of the Justice Rajender Sachhar Commission set up for Muslims: There is over 8 [Eight] per cent joblessness amongst Christian youth, the highest among minorities. Tribal Christian girls are amongst the most deprived in terms of education and nourishment. Rural employment generation schemes and central special components for marginalised groups do not reach their Christian counterparts in Tribal and Rural India. There is no real assessment as to what extent institutions such as the National Minorities Financial Development Corporation, or sundry scholarship schemes have benefitted the Christian community even if they may have benefited some other Minorities. Political parties must assure that Government will urgently set up a Commission to survey and assess the quantum of deprivation, marginalisation and lack of devolution.  Dalit Christian rights: Successive governments have betrayed Christians of Dalit origin. The Constitution of 1950 provided for affirmative action for Scheduled Castes without reference to religion. The Presidential Order of 1950, subsequently made into law, communalised the affirmative action by penalising those who converted to other faiths. Subsequently, government extended the privileges once again to Sikhs and Buddhists of Dalit origin. Christians remain deprived of these rights, though several Study Groups and National Commissions have strongly recommended that these rights be given to Dalit Christians. This in effect communalises the secular Indian Constitution. Political parties must reassure Dalit Christians that Government will immediately restore the Constitution to its 26 January 1950 position on this issue so that Dalit Christians get all privileges and safeguards that are given to their brothers and sisters professing other faiths.
    5. Assault on right of Tribal Christians: Strident and frightening statements have been made in political quarters in Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, among others, threatening to deny Christian Tribals their statutory rights in Education, land and employment, and to restrict Tribal rights to only those who convert to Hinduism. This violates Constitutional guarantees, and divided the Tribal people. Political parties must guarantee that they will not dilute any Tribal right, but in fact will work to ensure steps that strengthen the rights of the Tribal communities across the country.

    6. Irrational and Bigoted implementation of Forest Act and its implications for Dalit Christians: Recent experience in Orissa’s Kandhamal and other districts have shown how Supreme Court guidelines are being ignored in the implementation of the Forest Act, and traditional forest dwellers, many of them Dalits, are being deprived of their land, livelihood and even liberty as false cases are being brought against them. This, of course, must cease forthwith. Political parties must assure that the right of all indigenous dwellers will be protected according to the guidelines of the Supreme Court and witch-hunt and harassment will end.

    7. Erosion of Minority rights under Article 30: Various State governments and political parties have tried to infringe upon Article 30, and have made persistent efforts to erode the rights of Minorities to run and administer educational institutions. Christian educational institutions have frequently had to approach the Supreme Court of India to try to protect these fundamental rights. The ironically titled Freedom of Religion Bills actually erodes the Constitutional right to Freedom to profess, practice and propagate faith. They have become instruments of persecution, and in fact, provide an excuse for criminal and communal elements to target the Church and Christian workers in particular when they exercise their right to propagate their faith. Political parties must assure there will be no effort in the future to infringe upon, erode, or nibble at Minority educational and other Constitutional rights under any pretext.

    8. Shrinking Secular-Spiritual Space: State and city administrations are auctioning land for schools and hospitals in the Open Market. The result is that the Church and Voluntary sector can no longer get legal possession of low cost land for providing Educational and health facilities to the marginalised groups are affordable prices. In addition, new townships and urban spaces, most of them now in the private sector, do not provide for simple and basic Secular spaces, including plots of land for Churches and cemeteries. In many new urban conglomerates in the emerging landscape, there is, in fact, no provision for cemeteries at all. Political parties must assure their Governments will ensure adequate and commensurate Secular and Spiritual Space, Eucation land, cemeteries.

    9. Ending gender-bias and upholding the rights of women in reforms in Christian Personal Laws: Christian Women more than a decade ago led a campaign for reforms in Christian personal laws which dated from the Nineteenth Century. Though some progress has been made, Governments have been tardy in passing reform amendments to the centuries’ old Christian personal laws despite the united endorsement and support by the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, the National Council of Churches, the Joint Women?????s Programme and others. Political parties must assure the community that laws will reformed in full as devised in the documents prepared by the united Christian campaign to bring them in line with contemporary demands of gender rights.

    10. The Church and the Community uphold the sanctity of life and any attempt to destroy it at any stage is unacceptable. Advances and research in science, such as stem cell research, cloning, transplants, must be in consonance with ethical and moral values. Legislation must not be passed which compromises human life in any form and which justifies meddling with the established processes in nature in the guise of scientific research.

    11. Special Memorandum on Orissa and Persecution in other States:
    Recommendations on Orissa 2009

    It is recommended that the State government of Orissa should:

    1. Ensure that (with reference to the ruling of the Supreme Court in Writ Petitions)[1][1] police unfailingly assist victims of violence to submit FIRs;

    2. Investigate reports of police officers failing to register cases or showing complicity in attacks, and bring prosecutions against offending officers;

    3. Supply a substantial number of investigating officers and public prosecutors, and implement fast-track courts in at least four locations in Kandhamal district, giving serious consideration to the need for a suitable atmosphere for victims and witnesses to testify, in order to expedite prosecutions and convictions;

    4. Investigate the forcible conversion of Christians to Hinduism, and prosecute perpetrators under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code;

    5. Request that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) carry out an investigation into the assassination of Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Lakhmanananda Saraswati and the subsequent anti-Christian violence from 24th August 2008, paying specific attention to the root causes of this violence, including the propagation of anti-Christian hatred;

    6. Undertake the following actions with regard to relief camps, taking into consideration the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement:[2][2]
    1. Provide an adequate standard of living to the inhabitants of relief camps, in accordance with the definition given in Principle 18;
    2. Provide education to displaced children in relief camps, in accordance with Principle 23;
    3. Ensure that relief camps continue until the establishment of suitable conditions and the means for the displaced persons to return voluntarily, in safety and with dignity, to their homes, or to resettle voluntarily, in accordance with Principle 28;
    4. Grant permission and security to lawyers, priests and medical teams to visit relief camps in Kandhamal;

    7. Provide further compensation for those who have been affected by the violence, including covering the loss of crops, livestock and employment, and assess required levels of compensation on a case-by-case basis through certified independent evaluators;

    8. The Government should take measures to carry out an extensive research with the view to rehabilitating the victims of violence, make the recommendations public, and implement them without loss of time.

    9. Undertake to follow the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities in September 2008 on the establishment of Peace Committees, and further to take measures to ensure that all communities are adequately represented within such Peace Committees, to enable these to promote reconciliation and inter-communal understanding with integrity;

    10. Establish a State Commission for Minorities (in the model of its national counterpart) and ensure that members of the commission are appointed by transparent and non-partisan procedures;

    11. Repeal the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, 1967.

    It is recommended that the Union Government should:

    1.
    Pressurise the state government of Orissa to implement the above recommendations in full;
    2.
    Undertake to follow the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, particularly in the provision of protection and humanitarian assistance (Principle 3),
    3.
    Take measures to ensure that the Guidelines on Communal Harmony,[3][3] as issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, are properly implemented;
    4.
    Carry out a full investigation into the nationwide activities of extremist groups accused of the incitement and perpetration of violence against minority groups, including Hindutva, Islamist and Naxalites organisations, ban those groups which are guilty of this charge and rigorously enforce this ban;
    5.
    Provide further compensation for those who have been affected by the violence, including covering the loss of crops, livestock and employment, and assess required levels of compensation on a case-by-case basis through certified independent evaluators;
    6.
    Take measures towards the repeal of all state-level Freedom of Religion Acts in India;
    7.
    Adopt and implement the recommendations of the Justice Ranga Nath Misra National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, specifically that the eligibility for membership of the Scheduled Castes should not be linked to religious status.

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