Senior religious leaders and intellectuals in India came together this month in New Delhi and urged the government of India to act against an atmosphere of hate, violence and impunity building up in the country.
The leaders condemned the targeting of minorities in the name of cow protection. They condemned lynching and called for rule of law to restore peace and communal harmony. They noted that India’s deep spiritual strength is its bulwark against hate and divisive forces.
The meeting was held under the aegis of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and was attended by a group of 40 leaders representing various religions and denominations as well as intellectuals and members of the civil society.
The leaders called upon the Government to “end impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today.” They felt that recent developments in the country threatened not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country as well.
They also called upon the people of India to seek strength from India’s deep spiritual reservoirs to end the increasing environment of hate, violence and disregard for the rule of law in which many innocents of religious and marginalized communities have been lynched in recent weeks.
While the leaders welcomed Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s assurances to leaders of Opposition parties on the eve of the Monsoon session of Parliament, they also noted that the vast majority of the people of India of all communities had been shocked at the lynching in various states on the pretext of protecting cows. The leaders called on the Prime Minister to see that State governments and their police forces acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.
The meeting agreed on a five-point urgent programme of action:
- The ideology of hate is a reality and needs to be challenged by Governments, political parties, civil society activists, the criminal justice system and religious communities in a concerted manner.
- Religious leadership must act at the grassroots to assert the inherent unity of the people. This will help restore public confidence and remove the mutual suspicion that had started growing.
- The leadership must generate literature as well as content for the traditional, mainstream and social media to challenge falsehood and hatred. Social media can indeed also be used to defeat hate and strengthen bonds between communities.
- Community leaders must come together at various levels so that tensions can be diffused and trust restored and strengthened. Similarly, national institutions including the National and State Minorities Commissions and other structures must be encouraged to actively work in restoring peace and help strengthen the rule of law. This would also go a long way in ensuring the devolution of development efforts under the 15-point programme and other government measures.
- A National Inter-Faith and Civil society convention will be held as soon as possible to discuss the developments and the measures that the governments need to take at the national and state levels.
Leaders who attended the meeting included: Goswami Sushil Ji Maharaj from the Hindu community, Vivek Muni from the Jain community, Dr Imam Umer Iliyasi, Dr Manzoor Alam and Mr. Navaid Hamid from the Muslim community, Sardar Paramjeet Singh Chandhok and Dr Mohinder Singh from the Sikh Community, and Rabbi Ezekiel Malekar representing the Jewish Community. Dr Zafar Ullah Khan, Chairman of Delhi Minority Commission and Delhi Minority Commission Member Sr Anastasia Gill, Prof TK John, Dr Denzil Fernandes, Dr Michael Williams, Rev Vijayesh Lal, Rev Richard Howell, Mr D K Manavalan IAS, Fr Alarico Carvalho, Fr Bento Rodrigues, Delhi Vicar General Msgr Susai Sebastian, Fr Freddy Dâ€™Souza, Mr AC Michael, Dr John Dayal, Msgr Chinnayyan Joseph and Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India who had convened the meeting.