India: Hindu fundamentalists demand ban of Christian symbols in schools

A religious cross is captured through some ornamental railings in the Fort Kochi area in the state of Kerala in South India.
A religious cross is captured through some ornamental railings in the Fort Kochi area in the state of Kerala in South India. | Getty Images

Christian leaders in India are decrying a threat made by a Hindu fundamentalist group that wants to ban Christian symbols in schools, including crosses, statues and religious dress.

"Christian missionaries are converting schools and educational institutes into religious institutes," said Satya Ranjan Borah, president of the Hindu nationalist group Kutumba Surakshya Parishad (Family Safety Council). "We will not allow it."

The comments were made publicly on Feb. 7 at a news conference in Assam state, located in northeast India.

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One week later, Borah followed up the threat with a letter addressed to prominent Christian leaders in the area, claiming that the dress of Catholic fathers and sisters, the installation of idols of Jesus Christ and Mother Mary, the sign of the cross, and churches inside the campuses of educational institutions are exclusionary religious practices.

"You are hereby requested within the next 10 days to remove all kind of exclusive religious items from the campus of the school for maintaining the secular values of the country," the letter said.

"This threat does not bode well for practice of our faith here," said Rev. Chowaram Daimary, general secretary of the ecumenical Assam Christian Forum (ACF), a group comprised of Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical churches in Assam.

At an emergency meeting on Feb. 14, the ACF responded to Borah's warnings.

"We are disturbed by the threats to educational institutions and the demands for the removal of Christian symbols by some fringe elements. Some of them demand that Hindu worship be performed in our schools. We reject these demands and quest the state authorities to take action against these elements who are a threat to our civilized society."

After the meeting, the ACF urged the BJP government of Assam "to take action against these elements who are a threat to civilized society and are against the rights given to us by the Constitution of India."

"We are not going to be intimidated by such tactics," said Catholic Archbishop John Moolachira, president of the ACF. "We have decided to continue the way our people dress, as it is our fundamental right."

Though there have been no physical attacks on Christian institutions in Assam due to the tensions, threatening posters have been hung on the walls of some Baptist and Catholic schools and other churches throughout Assam.

"They have pasted the threat letter even on one of our most remote churches," said Rev. Bernard Marak, vice president of the ACF and leader of the Assam Baptist Convention. "There is a hidden agenda behind these threats, to threaten the Christian community to live under the dictations of Hindu fundamentalists. They want to drive fear in the Christian community and remind us that we can live only under their terms. This is a very dangerous situation, but the government is remaining silent."

Contrary to the Hindu fundamentalists' repeated allegations of conversion tactics against Christians in the region, government data shows that Christians account for only 2.7% of Assam's 35 million population. Christian institutions were established in Assam state 200 years ago, and today, a majority of the nearly 500 schools and other institutions in the state are run by the Catholic Church.

Anto Akkara is a writer for Global Christian Relief. GCR is America’s leading watchdog organization focused on the plight of persecuted Christians worldwide. In addition to equipping the Western church to advocate and pray for the persecuted, GCR works in the most restrictive countries to protect and encourage Christians threatened by faith-based discrimination and violence.

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