In western India, private Christian schools were forced to include in the morning program of February 16, 2021, the celebration of a pagan holiday that marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring. The ruling nationalists are firing on all cylinders to implement their agenda to make Hinduism the nation’s sole religion.
Once again Christians are paying the price for Hindu nationalism. This time the case takes place in western India, more precisely in two recently merged territories, bearing the names of “Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu”: a little more than half a million people live there.
Christians, almost all Catholics, represent a minority in this region of India that numbers at most nine thousand faithful.
A recent circular from the local administration in the hands of the Hindu governing party—the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—forced children of all faiths, in all schools in the state, to celebrate Vasant Panchami, a pagan festival in the honor of the goddess Saraswati, supposed to mark the arrival of spring.
The United Christian Forum (UCF) organization, which works for religious freedom in the country, called on the government to withdraw the new directives ordering the worship of Hindu deities: “the Christian community of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu is suffering from these new constraints,” declared to the pontifical news agency Fides, A.C. Michael, Indian of Catholic confession and national coordinator of the UCF.
The administration has therefore demanded from all schools, public and private, the organization of dedicated activities to celebrate Vasant Panchami, which this year fell on February 16, 2021.
The next day, each school was to provide an activity report with supporting photos to certify that the morning of February 16 was indeed devoted to worshiping Saraswati.
“This is a new process to limit the exercise of our faith, and a clear violation of our freedom, as well as the right to administer our own schools,” said A.C. Michael.
For the UCF coordinator, the conduct of the administration “seriously undermines the freedom of religion and the freedom to establish and administer educational institutions, prerogatives guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, as a guarantee for all religious minorities,” he says.
This kind of latent persecution is not new in this part of western India: two years ago, the same administration tried to cancel Good Friday as a public holiday; the Christian community turned to the Bombay High Court and succeeded in having the ordinance revoked in extremis.
For now, the Hindu nationalists of the BJP have a free hand to enforce their program, which consists among other things in the Ghar Vaspi, or return to the ancestral religion of all Indians, Christianity being considered foreign to the nation.
However, the UCF took advantage of its protest to recall that during the struggle for Indian independence, the contribution of Christians was notable and well known.
Likewise after independence, these had an important role in the construction of the nation, providing a valuable contribution to the armed forces, railways, healthcare, and school and university instruction: but, in this area, the memory of the BJP remains very selective.