While much of the world considers India a populous and vibrant democracy, All India Christian Council secretary general John Dayal says freedom of religion is steadily on the decline in the country.
"Many of the rights have been systematically diluted over the years by governments, courts and fundamentalist forces," said the journalist turned Christian activist, speaking to Ecumenical News International (ENI) in an interview about his recently released book on religious freedom in India.
"A Matter of Equity: Freedom of Faith in Secular India" is a critique of religious freedom in the country and Dayal says that this freedom, or lack of it, ranges from the steady dilution of constitutional guarantees to harsh treatment meted out to Christians and minorities in every corner of the country.
The newly released book contains a collection of articles on the plights of Christians in India and was written when Dayal was a journalist. Since then, the AICC head has become an expert on issues concerning India's microscopic Christian community.
"Even before the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party ) came up, religious freedom had been facing curbs both by the government and the judiciary," said Dayal, who lists several documents in his book to support his claim.
He further asserted that Christians enjoyed "better religious freedom three decades ago than now" and that several lower courts in the country have been hostile to Christian grievances.
Expressing sadness over the scrutinizing and control of Christian missionaries in entering the country, Dayal told ENI, "Christian missionaries who have done exemplary service to the nation have been unceremoniously packed off by the government denying them visa extensions on one pretext or other."
Dismayed over the rising atrocities in the country against Christians, Dayal pointed that even the state system has been used to harass Christians and their institutions.
"In this context, one will wonder what religious freedom spelt out under fundamental freedom in our constitution means."
The recent incidents of deliberate violence against Christians – including the murders of priests, rapes of nuns, and brutal assaults on missionaries – saddened Dayal, who urged Church leaders to demand from the government what has been taken away over the decades.
Dayal also noted that church leaders have failed to provide strong leadership for the 26 million Christians in India.
The new book by Dayal, priced at 800 Indian rupees, was be published by New Delhi-based Anamika Publishers and Distributors Pvt Ltd.