By Reinhard Backes
With the election of Narendra Modi of the Hindu “Bharatiya Janata Party” (BJP) as prime minister of India, the country’s secular constitution has come under threat, charged an Indian Catholic priest.
Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a human rights activist in Kandhamal District in the East Indian state of Odisha (formerly Orissa), warned of the growing influence of radical Hindu forces on the Indian subcontinent.
“Especially under threat is the Christian minority because it is rejected by extremists as alien and because the Christian message is threat to the caste system,” the priest said in an interview with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
According to Father Kumar Singh—who is associated with the “Odisha Forum for Social Action”—the BJP aims to establish a state religion which excludes the lower castes and all minorities.
“They even want to impose only one language, Sanskrit, even though hundreds of languages are spoken in India,” he continued, adding that the strength of the party and the movement it represents has become the strongest political force in India, taking many observers, including Church leaders and their flock, by surprise.
“It is important for us to understand what is happening. As a Church we must think way beyond the bounds of the individual dioceses; we must act regionally and nationally in order to find responses to this challenge,” the priest said.
“Otherwise Orissa 2008 will be repeated, even worse than then because we learned no lessons from it,” the priest said, referring to August 2008, when Hindu nationalists attacked villages of Christian dalits or “untouchables,” belonging to the lowest caste in the Hindu social hierarchy. The violence left more than 100 dead, according to the “National People’s Tribunal” (NPT), an association of human rights activists in Odisha.
According to the NPT, the attacks had been prepared well in advance: more than 600 villages were looted, the organization has reported, with 5,600 houses, 295 churches and 13 schools destroyed. More than 54,000 people were made homeless and of this number 30,000 have not been able to return to their villages. Around 10,000 children were robbed of the possibility to attend school because they were forced to flee and were displaced. Some 2,000 Christians were compelled to deny their faith. Numerous women were raped. Many of the perpetrators of the violence—though they are known to authorities—have never been charged.
Father Kumar Singh is afraid history might repeat itself.
Reinhard Backes writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)