Goa Archbishop Filipe Neri Ferrao Image Credit: Twitter

Dubai: Indian Twitter users took to the platform to debate whether secularism was under threat in India or were religions institution like churches, interfering in the country’s politics.

On June 5, #ChurchAttacksModi was used by some tweeps in India after the Archbishop of Goa and Daman, Father Filipe Neri Ferrao on Monday wrote a letter to churches saying that the Constitution is in danger and most people are living in insecurity.

The Indian daily, Times of India, reported that: “Reacting sharply to these letters, VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad) Joint General Secretary Surendra Jain said it is now amply clear that the ‘churches in India are in collusion with the Vatican and are trying to create an atmosphere of distrust against the present government’.”

The VHP is an Indian right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation based on the ideology of Hindutva.

Some took to Twitter to say that the allegation was ridiculous and that Christians had the right to voice their concerns. Twitter user @RodriguesLyndon posted: “Christians are just 2.3 per cent of the total population in India. How can the government get on the edge with them. Can they not voice their concerns?”

Tweep @JacquelineDsou4 wrote: “The Catholic Church in India should not hesitate to speak out what they feel... India is not a country only for Hindus but for every caste, creed, race, religion as enshrined in our constitution.”

Many questioned if it was okay for church and religious leaders to interfere in politics. Twitter user @Mayank29Gupta wrote: “Church interfering in Indian politics is not just a threat to secularism but also for democracy and idea of India. Influencing voters is the first step.”

However, Indian journalist Rajdeep Sardesai who uses the handle @sardesairajdeep noted that it is not uncommon for Hindu religious leaders to be involved in Indian politics. He tweeted: “BJP leaders say Archbishops must stay out of politics, support all equally! Would agree but what then of all the Saints/sadhus/gurus/acharyas/Mahants who have batted for BJP for years now? We even have a Mahant as a CM(Chief Minister)! Different strokes for different religions?”

Twitter user @brumbyOz agreed with Sardesai and wrote: “Why should anyone stay out of politics? Isn’t the archbishop a citizen of India? Doesn’t article 25 of the constitution guarantee freedom of religion? Every Indian sadhu every maulvi, every priest is first a citizen of India and that means he/she has a say in politics. Democracy 101.”

Some expressed dismay at the disruption of religious peace under Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, @shabirahmad3653 tweeted: “Not only Muslims, Dalits and Sikhs but Christians too are depressed and scared in Modi’s India.” Tweep @KhabirM wrote: “So did any of our politicians asked Modi why his BJP mob are killing Muslims and Christians in India?”

The VHP is known to facilitate ‘Ghar Wapsi’ activities in India. Ghar wapsi translates to ‘Return back home’, but is a series of forced religious conversion activities. It is encouraged by Indian Hindu organizations including VHP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), but not legitimate, however used for conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism. It became a subject of public discussion in 2014 and has returned in 2018.

Many Modi supporters were of the opinion that the whole situation was just an attempt by church organisations interested in converting people to Christianity. Twitter user @Proud_Hindu_PS wrote: “For the Christian missions in India, ‘freedom of religion’ promised as a constitutional right means essentially one thing — unchecked right to convert people to Christianity, through fair means or foul. GOI(Government of India) hitting them where it hurts the most ! #ModiFor2019”

@DrGPradhan tweeted: “What you are witnessing these days from Church is nothing but frustration. The business of conversion which is the prime job of churches in India is halting due to lack of funds. It is Important to have @narendramodi govt for 5 years more to completely uproot the Vatican agents.”

The situation seems to have aggravated after a video went viral in late May this year. The video showed controversial Hindu leader Om Swami Maharaj with a group of people carrying placards not far from Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi, threatening to use force to expel Christians from India.