LAHORE: On Friday, the senior most Pakistani bishop lashed out at the Indian government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “actively promoting persecution and violence against other religious minorities, including Christians,” as well as harassing the Muslim community.
“It’s high time the world takes notice of the brutal violence being perpetrated against the Kashmiris and other religious minorities in the name of Hindu nationalism,” said Reverend Bishop Dr Azad Marshall of the Church of Pakistan in a press conference at the Raiwind Diocese head office here.
“After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rise to power, the attack on minority communities witnessed a significant rise.”
“It has been valued that over 1,400 incidents of persecution against Christians, that include rapes, communal violence, forced conversions reported,” the bishop said, adding that such occurrences are becoming common day by day due to the hateful BJP rhetoric.
Azad further added, “No one but Hindus feel safe in India due to the intolerant Hindutva ideology and hijacking of Indian state by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).”
“Indians can only be Hindu, so goes this life-threatening form of nationalism.”
Moreover, he said that every month of 2019 saw more occurrences of persecution against Christians in India than they did in 2018.
He said Pakistani Christians were standing determinedly behind the armed forces and fully supports the government’s efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue on global forums.
“Pakistani Christians demand the international community to press India to immediately lift the curfew and lockdown in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir region and allow Kashmiris and other religious minorities living in other parts of the country to live in peace,” he said.
TRIALS FACING PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS:
The second part of the bishop’s press conference dealt with the issues faced by the Pakistani Christian community.
It was admitted, Bishop Azad that the church has not played its due role in effectively addressing the religious and social issues of their congregations.
“The Critical issues such as proposed amendments to the Christian Marriage and Divorce Act and the recent ruling of the Peshawar High Court allowing the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial government to take over the church-owned historical Edwardes College call for unified and concerted efforts by the church, political leadership and the community at large,” he said.
Dr. Azad said the Christian community in the country needed to put its own house in order in order to address the broader challenges it faces.
“In the light of the recent issues, I have decided to reach out to all mainstream churches and masses to persuade them to sit together in the larger interest of the community,” he added.
“The first step towards improvement of the church is realization of the internal problems we are facing. I’m self-assured that all church leaders will rise beyond our differences and work together for the uplift and empowerment of our people,” he added.
The Raiwind bishop said that he was hopeful that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan will personally look into the Edwardes College subject and hand over its control back to the church.
“Edwardes College has been the pride of the Pakistani Christian community. We hope that it will be considered by the prime minister of Pakistan, that the services of our people in the education sector and help us in restoring the lost glory of the institute.
Bishop Azad hoped coordinated efforts with the government could also help in resolving other challenges facing the Pakistani Christians, such as quality education, better healthcare facilities, unemployment, forced conversions, and provision of fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution.
I trust the church can turnaround Edwardes College into another great institution like the Forman Christian College (FCC) in Lahore,” he said, adding that it would also help in boosting the confidence of the Christian community in the Pakistani state.
The bishop also extended its support to the government over the Azadi March.
He said that the Church of Pakistan would not support any effort to destabilize the government at this critical juncture in Pakistan’s history.
“Remaining in isolation or shifting responsibility on each other will not solve any problem, therefore we must positively engage with the state,” he said.
“I urge Maulana Fazlur Rehman and all other political leaders to resolve their issues through dialogue and cease from any sort of violence. Any political turmoil at this time will only damage the Kashmir cause and destabilize efforts to turnaround Pakistan’s economic situation,” he concluded.