The international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is launching its 2018 Lent campaign specifically in relation to North India. Poverty there has every third inhabitant in its grip in some states. Poverty and wealth exist side by side – in two ways. It is here that the Dalit population, the members of the lowest caste, are concentrated. They are completely excluded from society and slave away as wage labourers for those of higher caste. “But it is here of all places that a lively church is growing, rich in the profound experience of faith which liberates people from their isolation,” claims Veronique Vogel. She is ACN’s responsible of projects in India and she visits the churches in the northern regions regularly. Their members mainly belong to the poverty-stricken Dalit caste or to tribes.
Admired by ordinary people, threatened by extremists
Whenever they take to the streets to hold a church procession they arouse the attention of others: some respond with admiration – Indians are deeply spiritual – but radical groups show them hostility. These groups have been subject to political incitement and since the last elections they have been threatening Christians in particular. In some places they attack their schools; they use extreme Hindu nationalism to create a hostile atmosphere and to brand Christians as enemies of Indian society.
“The freedom of religion guaranteed by the constitution in India is thus being eroded step by step – the local Christian minority are in urgent need of support,” ACN´s executive president Johannes Freiherr von Heereman stresses. The acts of violence have increased recently – one such act is committed on average every day. ACN’s Religious Freedom Report quotes representatives of the South Indian Minorities Council, according to which there is evidence of a right-wing policy “aimed at destroying all minority rights” and “which follows a sectarian agenda against religious freedom and women”.
Since the mid-70s ACN has committed itself to working with its long-term pastoral projects in the country with the second largest population. “This is more important than ever today because the situation has taken a very worrying turn there,” Heereman adds.