Indian Christians up in arms against police survey

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Christians in India’s Assam state have decided not to cooperate with the police, who began a survey aiming to gather details of Catholics, their churches, institutions, and religious conversions.

“Catholic parishes and institutions have refused to give details because the government and state chief minister himself has disowned it,” said Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati on Jan. 5.

Archbishop Moolachira said Christians see the circular, issued by the police department in Assam on Dec. 16, as discriminatory as it singles out activities of the Church.

Ucan Store Following the Christians’ objection to the circular, the state’s Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma disowned it during a press conference.

The leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, which runs the state government, said his administration did not want any survey of the activi-ties of Christians in the state.

“I completely dissociate myself from the [police] circular,” Sarma told reporters. Archbishop Moolachira told UCA News that since the chief minister had disowned the circular, the Church has advised Christians not to give any details to the police survey.

“We came to know about the circular during the Christmas season. Along with several other Christian organizations, we objected to it. Later, the gov-ernment disowned the circular,” he said.

The police across all districts in the state were told to comply with the circular by Dec. 22. It wanted to collect data on the number of churches established in the last year, instances of religious conversions in the past six years, and the prime factors leading to conversions. The circular also wanted the police to identify the people who are working for religious conversions.

“It is strange that when we raised this issue with the state chief minister, he said he had no knowl-edge,” Archbishop Moolachira said.

But the prelate wondered if the police can issue a circular without the government’s knowledge. The archbishop said that the police did visit a few par-ishes to collect the details but Catholics refused to oblige.

“Why only Christians are being targeted? Why not details about temples and mosques or other such institutions?” asked Allen Brooks, a spokesperson for Assam Christian Forum, which represents all denominations in the state.

Brooks said Christian leaders like him wonder about the motive behind this move. The circular created panic among the faithful, not only in Assam but also neighboring Meghalaya, a Christian-majority state.

In a joint statement with the All India Catholic Union and Shillong Archdiocese Catholic Youth Movement, the Catholic Association of Shillong in Meghalaya on Jan. 3 alleged that the government was adopting a hostile attitude towards Christian minorities in the state of Assam. The circular is an attempt to “intimidate and threaten the Christian community,” the statement said.

Christians in Assam make up 3.74 percent of the state’s 31 million people, as against the national average of 2.3 percent.—Agencies