Can only sadhus and not bishops comment on issues of national concern? 

Christian nuns participate in a candle light march against increasing incidents of rape, in Kolkata in April 2017. Representative image

Sadhus in saffron are a part of politics. One is even a chief minister. So it’s unfortunate that Archbishops are reprimanded just for expressing their views. They too are concerned citizens

The archbishops of Delhi and Goa recently asked their parishioners to pray for the nation, as human rights were under attack. Subsequently, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesperson Surendra Jain on June 7 stated that the church in India was trying to destabilise the Modi Government.

Archbishop of Delhi Anil Couto wrote to all parish priests and religious institutions in the Archdiocese of Delhi on May 8, asking them to pray for our nation. The letter begins with the observation “[w]e are witnessing a turbulent political atmosphere which poses a threat to the democratic principles enshrined in our Constitution and the secular fabric of our nation”. The letter then requests the 138 parish priests and 5 religious institutions within Delhi to observe ‘a Day of Fast every Friday... offering our penance and all our sacrifices for our spiritual renewal and that of our nation.’

More recently, Archbishop of Goa and Daman Filipe Neri Ferrao said that human rights are under attack and the Constitution is in danger, and it is the reason as why most people are living in insecurity. Ferrao, in his annual pastoral letter addressed to “priests, religious, lay faithful, and people of goodwill”, asked Catholics to “play an active role in the political field” and to “shun sycophantic politics”. “As the general election is fast approaching, we must strive to know our Constitution better and work harder to protect it,” and added “democracy appears to be in peril”.

Low-level, scattered anti-Christian violence is spreading and most of it goes unreported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list

Both Archbishops’ words are cries of anguish on the present plight of religious minorities in India

Both the letters in a way are an expression of the cry of anguish of the plight of religious minorities in India today. Anti-minority violence has seen a quantitative and qualitative worsening during the last few years. Anti-Christian violence has not reached terrifying proportions, which is why many national commentators even question its occurrence. But, the fact of the matter is that low-level, scattered anti-Christian violence is spreading and most of it goes unreported in the national media. Incidentally the World Watch List 2017 ranks India 15th worst among nations where Christians are persecuted. Four years ago, India ranked 31st on the list.

Vijayesh Lal of ‘Evangelical Fellowship of India’ states that ‘it has documented some 350 cases of violence and other forms of persecution against Christians last year. That is more than double the rate compared with the 140 annually before the BJP came to power. This is highest after the anti-Christian pogrom in Odisha in 2008.

Around Christmas in 2017, carol singers were attacked and cases against them were filed on the charges of conversion in MP. The community leaders point out that in their observation such incidents have gone up, more so as the ground level leaders of such attacks are not reprimanded from the top, leading to increase in the culture of impunity.

A series of Hindu godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. A number of Maulanas too have been part of the political arena. So to reprimand Archbishops just for expressing their opinions is very unfortunate. They too are citizens. They too are concerned about the state of affairs in India today

Yet many Hindu nationalists have been demanding to know how Church leaders can make statements which have political implications, and how could they voice their opinion on issues which can affect political outcomes. But before the brutal murder of Pastor Graham Staines in Keonjhar, Odisha in 1999, one hardly every heard any statement by heads of any Indian church. Since then, some from the clergy have been expressing the feelings, hurt and injury of the community in the wake of this violence and later incidents of violence directed against the Christian minority.

The atmosphere in India has become more intolerant, more frightening and Muslims and Christians both have been on the receiving end. Should not men of god speak on Earthly matters? It is true that a yogi should not be a commissar; a yogi should not be in the business of business, because the secular and profane worlds are different. But in societies like ours, which are not fully secularised, clergy does have a hold over society in worldly matters also. That's how a sadhu can become Chief Minister.

A series of Hindu godmen and women are dominating figures in Hindu nationalist politics. Politicians wearing saffron contest elections and are part of politics. Likes of Sadhvi Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath and Sakshi Maharaj are ruling the political roost while wearing the cloaks of divinity! There are a number of Maulanas too who have been part of the political arena, beginning with Maulana Azad. So to reprimand Archbishops just for expressing their opinions is very unfortunate. They too are citizens. They too are concerned about the state of affairs in India today.

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