(CP) A group of Catholic clergy and laity in India has said that "the complete silence" of India's bishops despite a rise in attacks on Christians and other minorities is "shocking" and urged the Catholic Bishops Conference of India to speak out.
The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace wrote a letter to CBCI President Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Mumbai calling for Indian bishops to do more to advocate for religious minorities facing a rising trend of persecution in India at the hands of Hindu extremism, Crux reports.
"In the year 2021, there were 486 incidents of violence against the Christian community in India, according to the United Christian Front. What shocks us is the complete silence on the part of the official Church, the CBCI," the letter reads.
The letter specifically cited seven "well-planned attacks on Christian institutions" between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2021.
The letter was sent weeks after a United Christian Front report that showed 2021 was the "most violent year" for Christians in the country's history.
"The violent acts against the Christian community and Muslim community or any other minority group are in complete violation of the law of the land and the Indian Constitution," the letter states. "If we do not respond to such acts, the secular fabric of India will be lost causing irreparable damage to the people of India, and an inclusive, democratic and pluralistic India as envisioned in the preamble of the Indian Constitution could be lost forever."
In its report, the United Christian Front noted that in nearly all cases reported nationwide, "vigilante mobs composed of religious extremists have been seen to either barge into a prayer gathering or round up individuals that they believe are involved in forcible religious conversions."
The organization attributed the high incidence of Christian persecution to "impunity," saying "such mobs criminally threaten, physically assault people in prayer, before handing them over to the police on allegations of forcible conversions."
The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace contends that Catholic leaders "cannot remain silent spectators when the drama of violent attacks against the minorities is unfolding before us." The forum argues that India's Catholic leaders need "to act and fulfill our prophetic role before it is too late."
The forum calls on the bishops conference to send a letter to President Narendra Modi, urging him to call on governments in states where such attacks are occurring to prevent attacks in the future and hold those responsible accountable. The forum also wants the national bishops' conference to urge regional conferences to send memorandums to government leaders in their states urging them to protect Christians from attacks and open cases against perpetrators.
Additionally, CBCI is urged to respond quickly after attacks on Christian institutions and individuals by state actors or Hindu nationalist groups and provide legal assistance to help victims seek justice in the courts.
Sister Dorothy Fernandes told Crux that the forum was motivated to send the letter because of "well-planned actions" that took place around Christmas. She said she is often asked why Catholic leadership is silent and wants "the leadership of our Church to wake up."
"We have also suggested a number of doable actions which is inclusive and will sustain the secular fabric of our beautiful nation," she was quoted as saying. "We would believe that our inclusiveness will reach out to the Muslims, Sikhs, Dalits, Tribals, women and children. This is our prophetic calling, and we can no longer afford to sit on the fence and wait till they come for us."
Christians make up just over 2% of India's population and Hindus comprise nearly 80%, while Muslims account for just over 15%, according to the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Project.
Rights groups have warned there has been an increase in Hindu radical mob attacks on Christians and other religious minorities since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came to power with the election of Modi in 2014.
In recent years, Christian groups and leaders have been accused by Hindu nationalists of violating laws barring forcible conversion and detained.
Several Indian states have enacted "anti-conversion" laws barring the use of financial benefits or other forms of allurement to encourage Hindus to convert to Christianity. Hindu nationalist groups often abuse these laws and make false charges against religious minorities.
Earlier this month, a mob of some 200 Hindu nationalists attacked a house church during its worship service in the Odagoan village of Kondagaon District in India's eastern state of Chhattisgarh, according to the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern. The pastor was reportedly injured along with two other Christians, and a Christian woman was allegedly converted to Hinduism.
This month, police in Madhya Pradesh reportedly arrested nine Christians, including pastors, in the villages of Padalya and Bisoli located in the Jhabua district on accusations of illegal conversions.
Open Doors USA, which monitors persecution in over 60 countries, again ranked India as the 10th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution on its 2022 World Watch List, which was released last week.
The group warns that "Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences."
"The persecution of Christians in India is intensifying as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence," Open Doors stated in a factsheet on India.
"The driving force behind this is Hindutva, an ideology that disregards Indian Christians and other religious minorities as true Indians because they have allegiances that lie outside India, and asserts the country should be purified of their presence."
ICC warns that "the pace of Christian persecution only seems to be accelerating with the arrival of 2022," and adds, "Whether 2022 will be as violent of a year as 2021 is yet to be seen."