A body bringing together India’s Latin Catholic, Syro-Malabar, and Syro-Malankara bishops deplored Wednesday increasing attacks on the country’s Christian minority.
It said: “Attacks on Christians continue to increase in different parts of India. Destruction of homes and churches, harassment of personnel serving in orphanages, hostels, educational and healthcare institutions on false allegations of conversion have become common.”
Christians account for around 2.3% of India’s population, forming the country’s third-largest religious group, after Muslims (14.2%), and Hindus (79.8%).
Roughly a third of Indian Christians — more than 20 million people — are Catholic. They belong to three autonomous particular churches: the Latin Church, the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church.
Since 2014, India has been led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a member of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In April and May this year, India is scheduled to hold general elections, in which Modi will seek a third term in power.
In January, the advocacy group Open Doors listed India as the world’s 11th worst country in which to be a Christian.
It noted that an increasing number of Indian states were implementing anti-conversion laws, “creating an environment where any Christian who shares their faith can be accused of a crime, intimidated, harassed and even met with violence.”
The CBCI statement, signed by its president Archbishop Andrews Thazhath and secretary general Archbishop Anil Couto, came two days after police arrested Fr. Dominic Pinto, a priest of the Diocese of Lucknow, and six others following claims that they had sought to convert Hindus in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
A spokesman for the Lucknow diocese said there was “not an iota of truth” in the accusation.
In May 2023, it emerged that a bishop and a nun were facing prosecution following an inspection of an orphanage in Katni, Madhya Pradesh, a central state ruled by the BJP. Bishop Gerald Almeida and Sr. Liji Joseph were accused of seeking to convert the orphanage’s children to Christianity — a claim described as “a blatant lie” by a local priest. They were granted anticipatory bail in June.
Pope Francis accepted the 77-year-old Almeida’s resignation as Bishop of Jabalpur Jan. 13.
The CBCI expressed deep concern at socio-political trends in India, while acknowledging that the country of 1.4 billion people had made “tremendous advances” and was “an emerging economic power in the world.”
The bishops said: “There is an apprehension that divisive attitudes, hate speeches and fundamentalist movements are eroding the pluralistic, secular ethos which has always characterized our country and its constitution. The fundamental rights and minority rights guaranteed in the constitution should never be undermined.”
They added: “There is a widespread perception that the important democratic institutions of our country are weakening, the federal structure is under stress and the media are not fulfilling their role as the fourth pillar of democracy.”
“There is an unprecedented religious polarization which is harming the cherished social harmony in our country and endangering democracy itself.”
In May 2023, violence broke out in the remote north-eastern state of Manipur, pitting the predominantly Hindu Meitei people against the largely Christian Kuki people. By September, fighting had claimed 175 lives and injured 1,118 people, while arsonists had targeted 386 religious sites, including many churches.
The CBCI, which was established in 1944 and is based in India’s capital New Delhi, said it was “appalled” by the prolonged conflict, which had resulted in a “huge loss of life and livelihood.”
It urged India’s political leaders to “make all attempts to preserve the basic structure of the constitution, particularly the preamble which declares India to be a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic committed to justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity.”
The CBCI issued the statement at the end of a Jan. 31-Feb. 7 meeting in Bengaluru attended by 170 bishops. During the meeting, Archbishop Thazhath was re-elected as the organization’s president. Archbishop George Antonysamy was elected as first vice president, Bishop Joseph Mar Thomas as second vice president, and Archbishop Couto as secretary general.