Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Christians below political radar: Council ‘Contribution overlooked’

Calcutta, Feb. 2: Christians in India have not been included in the mainstream political discourse despite substantial contributions to society and sustained efforts in nation-building, a national council of Protestant churches said today.
“Some people still think we are not Indians…. Christians are not present in the political discourse of mainstream parties today. Despite helping give the country some of the finest schools, colleges and hospitals, our efforts in nation-building and contributions towards society have been overlooked,” said Bishop Taranath S. Sagar, president of the National Council of Churches in India.
Kicking off its year-long centenary celebrations from Calcutta on Sunday, the council also referred to the Bengal government’s decision to provide doles to Muslim clerics. “If the government is handing honorariums to Muslim clerics, I would request the chief minister to also extend the honorariums to Christians as well. This act (giving doles to one particular community) is simply pleasing a section of society for votes,” Bishop Sagar said in response to a question after a news conference at Calcutta Boys’ School in the afternoon.
The Mamata Banerjee government gives an honorarium of Rs 2,500 a month to imams and Rs 1,000 a month to muezzins in Bengal.
The council is an ecumenical body of 30 Protestant and Orthodox churches across India and a slew of Christian councils and organisations.
It is the second largest body of churches in the country and includes the Church of North India and Church of South India as member churches. Nearly 50 per cent, about 12 million of the total Christian population of 25 million in India, are Protestants.
Calcutta was chosen as the first stop in a series of countrywide celebrations because on February 2, 1914, it was at the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association) building on S.N. Banerjee Road that the body held its first meeting and formed a council.
The celebrations will move to Aizawl, Hyderabad and Mumbai among other cities in the coming months and culminate at the headquarters in Nagpur in November.
As the centenary year coincides with the Lok Sabha polls, the council articulated its concerns. The existing political establishment, it felt, had failed to acknowledge or address the needs and aspirations of the Christian community and largely overlooked its contributions to the nation.
The council lamented that the term “minority” had become synonymous with just one community, overshadowing the others.
“If we look historically, Christians are the true minorities… but today (the word) ‘minority’ has become attached with just one community. There is no Protestant representation in Parliament from West Bengal,” said Suman J. Biswas, vice-president of the council.
Accusing politicians of consistently using religion for political gains, the council rued how issues like poverty had remained sidelined and religious minorities had rarely been acknowledged as anything but a vote bank.
Speaking on the community’s preferences for the upcoming elections, the Bishop said in response to a question that Christians were “highly divided” in their opinion on Narendra Modi.
“Modi played the development card in Gujarat and is playing the same card nationally now. But even if he becomes the Prime Minister and acts secular, he might face pressure from the lower cadres of the party. We are highly divided in our opinion of Modi and I cannot make one general statement on behalf of the Christians. Christians have traditionally been followers of the Congress… but it might be time for some change,” Bishop Sagar said.
He added that the council did not “endorse any particular party”. “We need a leader who is strong and understands the needs of the minorities and works for grass-roots development,” the Bishop said.
The theme of the celebrations “towards integral mission and grassroots ecumenism” was explained as one that was aimed at motivating people to go back to the grassroots of the society and work towards its development.
“In recent times, the development of the country has only been measured by political parties in terms of bridges, high-rises and metro rails. Grassroots development of the marginalised has remained neglected and that is why growth has not been uniform,” said Reverend Sunil Raj Philip, the executive secretary of the council.
The news conference was followed by a worship service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the evening.

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