JABALPUR, India (UCAN) -- Church leaders in a central Indian state have demanded the dissolution of a commission meant to protect the interests of religious minorities.
The demand came after the Madhya Pradesh Minority Commission recommended a law to bring Church properties including cemeteries under government control.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, who heads the Catholic Church in the state, said on Jan. 25 the minority commission members have acted "in total ignorance and gross violation" of the country's laws.
According to media reports, the commission on Jan. 15 recommended that the government enact a law to set up a board to manage Church properties, similar to the Muslims' Waqf (foundation) Board. The Waqf Board, set up in 1995, manages properties for religious and charitable purposes. It also supports Muslim schools, colleges, hospitals and charity institutions, using money it generates from its properties and donations.
The Church opposes such a move for the Christian community because Church assets, unlike the Waqf properties, "are purchased after paying money and not taken from the government on charity," Archbishop Cornelio explained. He added that the Church manages its own properties legally following all government laws and regulations, and does not need additional institutional help to monitor the use of properties.
The prelate also pointed out that the commission's mandate is to protect the interests of religious minorities and to ensure their religious and civic freedom, as guaranteed in the constitution. On the contrary, he said, its latest recommendation "shows beyond doubt that it is disloyal to minorities" and "loyal to the government."
Church leaders suspect the commission was acting on behalf of the state government. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people's party), considered the political arm of groups trying to make India a Hindu nation, rules the state.
Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur described the recommendation as "politically motivated" and aimed at curtailing Christians' freedom. He noted that the commission made it without consulting Church leaders.
Father Anand Muttungal, spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Madhya Pradesh, called the recommendation arbitrary and against the constitution. He wants the commission to withdraw it.
Christian laypeople are planning to campaign against the move through the ecumenical Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (Christian grand assembly). According to Christi Louis Abraham, coordinator for the state-wide campaign, Christians plan to ask state Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan to reject the recommendation.
Christian leaders say their community has suffered harassment and violence ever since the BJP government came to power in 2003. The party retained power for another five-year term in the state election this past November.