Ecumenical Conference on Christian response to growing attacks by fanatic groups on the Christian community in India

Under the banner of Christi Asmita Manch, Pune, a protestant ecumenical group, a one-day seminar was organised on 9th May 2015 at Christ Seva Prem Ashram, Pune. Christ Seva Prem Ashram is a historical ashram where Mahatma Gandhi stayed for 10 days in the year 1932.

About 150 delegates from various protestant churches attended the seminar. The main theme of the seminar was “Response to the attacks of religious fanatics on the Christian community and its ministries”. The conference began with a worship service led by the Rt. Rev. Naresh Ambala. In the devotion he encouraged the participants to be prudent and wise like serpents and innocent like doves. The seminar was inaugurated by Hon. Bhai Vaidhya, an eminent socialist and former Home Minister of Maharashtra. In his inaugural address, citing examples of Chakravarti Ashok Samrat, Badshah Akbar and Shivaji Maharaj, he established that this nation has been always secular, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. He said, historically this country was never a Hindu Rashtra. He cautioned the participants citing the example of Godhra massacre in Gujarat during then chief minister and present Prime Minister of India, Hon. Narendra Modi,  and the growing influence of right-wing forces in the country

The first session was led by Rev. Dr. Roger Gaikwad, General Secretary, NCCI. He presented a synopsis of the presentation made by Dr. Dr. T.K Oommen, Emeritus Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi at the National consultation organized by the National United Christian Forum on “Upholding   Constitutional Rights of Minorities, with Special Reference to the Christians” on 17th March, 2015 in Delhi. The Hindu animosity towards Christians is based on the perception that 200 years of colonialism irreversibly transformed the Hindu ethos of India and that Christians continue to indulge in illegal and immoral conversions of Hindus to Christianity.  No amount of argument citing facts and figures, quoting chapters and verses from the constitution and other relevant legal documents will convince the hardcore Hindutva advocates to change their perceptions.  Therefore we need a new perspective to understand the problem; we need to wear a new lens to comprehend it.  Some dimensions of this lens are: (1) The Hindu understanding of the state-society relationship, wherein the society orsamaj has precedence over the state is crucial. (2) The legal systems in India contribute to the intensity of state-society disjunction in India .They are the State Legal System (SLS), the religious legal systems (RLSs) and folk legal systems (FLSs).(3)  Third, we need to understand violence in all its manifestations, physical, structural and symbolic. (4) Secularism is a virulently contested concept in contemporary India. The way out is to abandon the advocacy of cultural monism and nurture the existing cultural pluralism of India; to conceptualise India as a national state. Only in a national state minorities of all varieties be it religious, cultural (linguistic) or racial can flourish.

The second session was led by Adv. Aseem Sarode, a social activist and an ardent fighter for human rights. Citing the example of Jesus Christ, he said that humanity is the true religion and attacks on Christian are attacks on humanity and their human rights. Therefore, every person who believes in the Indian constitution should come together to fight against this menace. He also cautioned the Christians that since they are blamed for conversions through allurement, Christians need to follow the laws of the land carefully. Documentation, both paper and electronic, regarding genuine conversions needs to be meticulously done and maintained.

The third session was led by Dr. Kumar Saptrishee, a socialist and former MLA of Maharashtra State. He assured the Christian community that he and his organization is with Christian community in this fight against religious fanaticism. He said that, “We will organize protest march against atrocities and attacks on Christian community and their institutions”. He said that in every religion in India, there are 5% true followers, 5% malevolent elements and 90% nominal followers. The 90% nominal followers can be influenced by either 5% true followers or 5% malevolent elements. If the latter increase, the balance of goodness in society is lost and hence injustice increases.

The plenary session was held under the chairmanship of Bishop Naresh Ambala, wherein suggestions for future action were received.

The Sessions were moderated by Bishop Andrew Rathod, Dr. Snehal Padhare and Mr. Ashok Angre. Mr. Ashish James, Mr. Shirish Hiwale, Mr. Ashish Jhadav, Mr. Moses Kalkoti, Mr. Vasant Gajbhiv, Mr. Mohan Shinde and Adv. Rajandre Apte worked hard to make the conference a success. The meeting was concluded with closing prayer offered by Rev. Ashakant Ramteke and benediction by Bishop Naresh Ambala, the presiding officer of the conference.

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