NEW DELHI: The National Commission for Minorities (NCM) has started a massive outreach programme to convince Christians in India that the Citizenship (Amendment) Act is a good move that should be appreciated by the community.
While protests were raging across the country against the amended citizenship law, the minorities panel has travelled to seven states and a Union Territory and met around 100 church leaders over the past two months, this newspaper has learnt.
Sources say the panel has faced “tough” questions from church leaders, many of whom have already issued statements against the CAA. From ‘equating’ CAA with US President Donald Trump’s travel ban on people of certain countries (mostly Muslim) entering the US to ‘reminding’ Christians that India is yet to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention, the NCM representative cited several conventions to the priests.
Lawyer George Kurian, a Christian member and Vice President of NCM, who has met church leaders in Maharashtra, Odisha, Kerala, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Delhi to bring the community on board on the CAA issue, is likely to visit other states as well.
When asked about the same, Kurian confirmed he has been meeting Christians of different denominations to discuss the CAA but refused to share the details. “Inclusion of Christians in CAA is a good move. The CAA needs to be appreciated. There is a lot of misinformation going around, which has to be countered. The CAA does not snatch away the citizenship of any Indian,” the lawyer said.
To understand the discussions, The Morning Standard spoke to seven church leaders of different denominations who met Kurian. The Church leaders requested anonymity. Many of them asked Kurian about the CAA-NRC link, which has been termed as “lethal” for Muslims by critics.
According to the CAA, non-Muslims--Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi and Christian communities who have come from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan till December 31, 2014 due to religious persecution will not be treated as illegal immigrants but given Indian citizenship.
A Jesuit priest from the southern state of Kerala, also the home state of Kurian, said the CAA is against the secular ethos of the Constitution and they “won’t get swayed” by “meaning-less dialogues”.
A Syro-Malabar Church official from the same state, however, welcomed CAA. He said that NCM official reminded Church leaders that India is the safest place for minorities in the world and there is no reason to doubt the government’s intention as it only wants to give a dignified life to minorities from neighboring countries who have faced hostilities in their countries.
“Kurian explained to us that no country allows majority of the neighbouring country to migrate to that country. Mexico is an example. Americans are not feeding Mexicans. Kurian also told us how the US President enacted a law disallowing people from Islamic countries to even visit America, forget citizenship and this was upheld by their federal court,” said the Church leader.
A high-ranking Roman Catholic Church official from Karnataka said, “We heard the NCM official who cited advantages of CAA but our members pointed out that CAA cannot be looked at in isolation and has to be seen with NRC. The citizenship law is seemingly favourable to Christians but we told him that we are not selfish and we want justice for all communities. The Indian population is certainly not prepared for NRC and we (church leaders) told him that the nationwide NRC is going to be catastrophic.”
According to sources, Kurian made two visits to Karnataka and spent about five days in the state which has seen many protests against CAA-NRC.
An Anglican Church official from Tamil Nadu, where Kurian spent three days, also expressed concerns about CAA and exclusion of Muslims. On his meeting with Kurian, the official said, “We told him in clear terms that the law is discriminatory and we oppose it.”
In the past, several umbrella organisations of Churches in India such as the National Council of Churches in India, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and Church of North India have expressed concern over CAA.