MUMBAI, India — Seven bishops from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh have met with the chief minister of the state to discuss the recent disruptions of Christian places of worship in the state.
In recent months, right-wing activists from the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) have stopped services and harassed worshippers in the state, which is India’s largest, accusing churches of trying to convert the local Hindu population to Christianity.
The HYV was founded by the chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, in 2002.
“We expressed a few concerns, seeking security and safety to the minority and especially to the places of worship, we also asked the honorable Chief Minister to look into the matter, where people take law into their own hands,” said Bishop Gerald John Mathias, the Bishop of Lucknow.
Mathias told Crux the chief minister assured them he would not permit vigilantism, and expressed his support for the work of the church in helping the poor and education.
“However, he told us that he was against ‘conversions’, but we could go on speaking about Prabhu Yesu (Lord Jesus), and have respect for others faiths, and live in good will with all.”
Adityanath is a member of the the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which took power at the national level in 2014.
Mathias said that certain issues related to schools and local administration were also taken up during the 15-minute meeting, and expressed concerns about the rights of minorities, especially in educational institutions.
The bishops also handed the chief minister a letter congratulating him on his appointment, and offering him their best wishes. The letter also expressed their concerns in greater detail.
“The Christian Community is a miniscule minority in the State. There are certain apprehensions and fears in the community about their safety and security, and mobs taking law into their own hands, especially during their worship services,” – the letter reads – “We request you to kindly guarantee the safety and security of our people and full freedom to practice our faith as enshrined in our Constitution.”
For some time, the roughly 30 million Christians in India, about half of whom are Catholic, have suffered various forms of intimidation and harassment, including physical violence.
In the main, the violence is driven by Hindu nationalists who accuse Christians of the use of force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, often storming into villages and leading “reconversion” ceremonies in which Christians are compelled to perform Hindu rituals.
Father Vincent D’Cruz, the Director of Catechetics for the Archdiocese of Bombay told Crux the Catholic Church is very careful when dealing with non-Christians who seek baptism.
“The candidate desirous of being baptized has to approach the closest parish church, get a letter of recommendation from the parish priest after submitting a Letter of Intent, signed by candidate themselves, with their Municipal Birth Certificate and a passport sized photograph of themselves,” D’Cruz said.
With these preliminary requirements, the candidates approach the Diocesan Catechetical Centre, where they are interviewed, regarding their motives, et cetera,” – the priest explained – “After thoroughly investigation of their papers and an in depth interrogation, the candidates are directed to a particular center, depending on various criteria such as language, and they begin the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) …which is nearly twelve months.”
During the RCIA, candidates for baptism must also submit an affidavit signed by a notary affirming they have not been coerced into baptism and go through another interview before permission is granted for the baptism to take place.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated publicly that his government “will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion or undue influence.”