ASIA/INDIA - Bishops at the end of the assembly: Progress must be accompanied by unity

Friday, 9 February 2024 politics   dialogue   bishops   economy   conversion   human rights  

Bangalore (Agenzia Fides) - India, with its 1.4 billion inhabitants, has made "enormous progress" in recent decades, but on this path of growth it is important that development is inclusive and not only benefits "a small percentage of people" while the rest of the population, especially in rural areas, lives in poverty; it is crucial to truly maintain national unity and protect democratic institutions. The 170 Indian bishops emphasized this at the end of their annual general assembly, at which the bishops of the three rites represented in India (Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malabar) met until February 7th. In the joint final statement, they noted "that there is a widespread impression that our country's important democratic institutions are weakening, that the federal structure is under pressure and that the media is not fulfilling its role as the fourth pillar of democracy." The Bishops express the fear that "hate speech and fundamentalist movements are undermining the pluralistic and secular ethics that has always characterized our country and its Constitution. The fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the rights of minorities must never be weakened." A religious polarization can be observed in society, which is affecting the much-loved social harmony in our country and endangering democracy itself". India will hold parliamentary elections in spring 2024 in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been in government since 2014 and belongs to the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will run for a third term. The bishops' conference says it is concerned about growing intolerance in Indian society and stigmatizes attacks "against employees of educational and health institutions with false accusations of conversion" against Christians, who make up about 2.3% of the population, of whom a third - over 20 million people are Catholics. A few days earlier, police had arrested Father Dominic Pinto, a Catholic priest from the diocese of Lucknow, along with five Protestant priests and a layman in the state of Uttar Pradesh on charges that he tried to convert some devout Hindus to Christianity, an action that is firmly denied by the local church. The text refers to the situation in the state of Manipur, in northeastern India, where there is a conflict between the ethnic Meitei population with a Hindu majority and the ethnic Kuki population with a Christian majority (see Fides 7/2/2024). "Disturbed by the ongoing conflict" that has caused enormous loss of life and livelihoods, the Bishops call for unity among all civil and religious forces to begin a serious process of reconciliation and peace. Always aiming for the common good of the nation, the Conference calls on India's political leaders to "preserve the basic structure of the Constitution, particularly the preamble, which declares India a democratic, secular, socialist republic committed to justice, freedom, equality and fraternity". (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 9/2/2024)