Bengal Christians joining anti-CAA protests invites wrath of the BJP and VHP
West Bengal’s Christian community leaders have got involved in protesting the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), with three events, including protest marches and ceremonies at Churches held over the past month, and a series of programmes planned in different districts over the coming days, “to uphold the spirit of the Indian Constitution” and “foil attempts to divide the society”.
As the nation celebrated Republic Day on Sunday, the Preamble to the Constitution was read out after the ‘service’ at 65 Roman Catholic churches in Kolkata and its adjoining districts of Hooghly, Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas. This is the first time that the Preamble was read out in churches.
Political analysts said the state’s Christian community rarely get involved with political issues since Independence.
“The Preamble was read out at all 65 parishes under the jurisdiction of our diocese. This is to thank God for the beautiful Constitution that he gave India. We are living through difficult times. The fundamental principles of justice, liberty and equality must be protected,” said Thomas D’Souza, archbishop of Kolkata.
In the state capital, several hundred Christians, including priests and nuns, joined an “all-faith” human chain, responding to the call of the archbishop. The human chain, from Golpark in south Kolkata to Shyambazar in north Kolkata – an 11-km stretch – was organised by United Interfaith Foundation.
Also, Bangiya Christiya Pariseba, an influential organisation of Christians belonging to all its denominations, has planned a series of citizens’ gatherings across the districts of Bengal over the coming months.
“We’ll take the movements and discussions to villages. CAA divides people on the basis of religion. Today, one community is being targeted. Tomorrow, it would be the turn of another. We cannot forget that divisive forces had earlier targeted Christians too, in Odisha, Bengal and many other states. All Indians must uphold the spirit of the Constitution and stand united,” said Herod Mullick, general secretary of Bangiya Christiya Pariseba.
Apart from D’Souza, two other prominent Christian religious figures in the state – Bishop of Kolkata Paritosh Canning and Darjeeling’s Bishop Stephen Lepcha – have expressed their opposition to CAA, saying the law is discriminatory against Muslims.
Canning and D’Souza had earlier led marches in Kolkata, while Lepcha joined the anti-CAA march led by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in Darjeeling on January 22.
Earlier this month, the students’ council and alumni association of St. Xavier’s College led a march, expressing solidarity with the ongoing students’ movement against CAA and National Register of Citizens (NRC). College principal, Father Dominic Savio, took part in it.
Though Christians comprise less than 1% of the state’s population, they are considered to have a significant cultural influence on the society because of the hundreds of missionary-run schools that are among the preferred institutions.
“The involvement of Christian community leaders is a very significant development because they never associated themselves with any political movement. Their opposition to CAA in support of Muslims, despite Christians facing no discrimination due to the law can have a far-reaching impact on the Bengali society,” said Amal Mukhopadhyay, former principal of Presidency College.
According to Udayan Bandyopadhyay, a professor of political science at Bangabasi College in Kolkata, the presence of the heads of various missionary-run schools in such protest rallies could influence students and their families.
“Bengal never saw Christians as a community joining a socio-political movement. At present, a student movement is already dominating the streets. The presence of teachers and heads of prominent missionary institutions in rallies, their messages on communal harmony and opposition to CAA can add fuel to the ongoing student movement,” Bandyopadhyay said.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) strongly criticised the role of the Christian community in protests. “Christian missionaries have long tried to disrupt communal harmony by carrying out religious conversion. Now, they have joined the tukde-tukde gang,” said West Bengal BJP general secretary Sayantan Basu.
“Christians have no reason to oppose CAA and yet they have joined the opposition because they principally want to oppose Hindutva. Several Christian missionary-run educational institutions influenced students and teachers to hit the streets. They are also running a whisper campaign in villages. They are opposing CAA because we are protesting their conversion drive,” said VHP’s all-India assistant secretary Sachindra Nath Singha.