By Matters India Reporter
Ranchi: A group of Catholic priests and nuns engaged in social action at grassroots has resolved to oppose any government policy that undermines the secular character of the country’s democracy.
For this, they will collaborate with like-minded groups that want to India to continue to treat its people of different races, cultures, religious and languages equally.
Around 60 women and men belonging to 31 religious congregations and working in 13 states met at Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, to review the current situation in the country and identify challenges to its secular, sovereign, socialist and democratic republic.
The February 17-19 convention held at Jharna Spirituality Centre addressed the theme, “Challenges to secular democracy in India today.” The participants, members of the National Forum for Justice and Peace, studied the theme from the following aspects:
• Democracy and Right to Dissent
• Democracy and Freedom of Expression
• Democracy and Religious Freedom
• Democracy and Caste based Inequalities
• Democracy and Increasing gap between the rich and poor
• Democracy and Land Rights
The meeting ended with a “Declaration for justice and peace” that charted the group’s future course of action. The participants said the convention energized them to recommit themselves for safeguarding India’s secular democracy.
“People of our secular and democratic nation are shocked to observe the sudden shift to a rigid religious nationalism forced upon by the present regime,” says the declaration.
They identified the following as challenges to India’s democracy:
• Religious nationalism based on the Hindutva fundamentalism
• Saffronization of educational system in India
• Orchestrated attacks on Dalits, Christian and Muslim minorities
• Assaulting and murdering of Dalits and Muslims with cow and beef politics
• Denial of freedom of expression
• Depriving the land rights of Tribals and Dalits
• Infiltration of RSS people into judiciary, bureaucracy and even army
• Appointment of RSS members as leaders of important government institutions
• Enactment of legislations restricting the freedom of religion
• Amendment of land rights of Tribals
• New projects like ‘Land Bank’, ‘Animal Corridor’ and ‘Industrial Corridor’ to uproot the Tribals from their native places and to strategically depriving of their indigenous status and rights
• Appointing hardcore Hindu religious leaders to the leadership of different states
• Brutal killing of journalists and human rights activists
The participants then decided to continue to study the “authentic identity” of India founded on pluralistic, socialistic, democratic and secular values. They would defend the rights of those affected by new government policies, particularly Tribals, Dalits, women, migrants, refugees and other vulnerable groups
They plan to conduct capacity building workshops for religious women and men in various parts of the country, especially on climate change and secularism that they said are burning issues.
The Catholic religious would also network with NGOs and people’s movements and strengthen “our common cause” for upholding human dignity and justice.
They have also reaffirmed the importance of secularism and the Constitutional values and plan to conduct programs to propagate the same in all their ministries such as education, social work, health care and formation.
They would educate people on political issues to help them exercise their franchise and elect leaders who stand for secularism and democracy.
They would strive to evolve “a prophetic spirituality in lineage with the tradition of our Biblical prophets by following closely the Jesus of Nazareth.”