–Raiwind bishop says 1,400 incidents of Christian persecution reported since BJP govt took power in India
–Pakistani Christians demand immediate lifting of curfew and lockdown in Kashmir
–Appeals PM Imran to return control of Peshawar’s Edwardes College to church
LAHORE: The senior most Pakistani bishop on Friday 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 oppressing 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 Rt Reverend Bishop Dr Azad Marshall of the Church of Pakistan in a presser 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.
“Over 1,400 incidents of persecution against Christians, that include rapes, communal violence, forced conversions, have been reported,” the bishop said, adding that such occurrences are becoming common day by day due to the hateful BJP rhetoric.
“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),” Dr Azad added.
“Indians can only be Hindu, so goes this extreme form of nationalism.”
He added that every month of 2019 saw more incidents of persecution against Christians in India than they did in 2018.
“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.
He said Pakistani Christians were standing firmly behind the armed forces and fully support the government’s efforts to highlight the Kashmir issue on global forums.
CHALLENGES FACING PAKISTANI CHRISTIANS:
The second part of the bishop’s press conference dealt with the issues faced by the Pakistani Christian community.
Bishop Azad admitted that the church has not played its due role in effectively addressing the religious and social issues of their congregations.
“Crucial 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.
“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.
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.
“The first step towards reformation of the church is the realization of the internal problems we are facing. I’m confident 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 optimistic that the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan will personally look into the Edwardes College issue and hand over its control back to the church.
“Edwardes College has been the pride of the Pakistani Christian community. We hope that the prime minister will consider the services of our people in the education sector and help us in restoring the lost glory of the institute. I believe 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.
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.
“Remaining in isolation or shifting responsibility on each other will not solve any problem, therefore we must positively engage with the state,” he said.
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.
“I urge Maulana Fazlur Rehman and all other political leaders to resolve their issues through dialogue and desist from any sort of violence. Any political upheaval at this time will only damage the Kashmir cause and destabilize efforts to turnaround Pakistan’s economic situation,” he concluded.