Christian leaders criticize call to remove Bibles from Indian hospital

Leaders in Christian-majority state call the pro-Hindu demand a tactic to divert attention from real issues
Christian leaders criticize call to remove Bibles from Indian hospital

Students from India's northeast sing hymns at the Christ the King procession in New Delhi on Nov. 20, 2016. A row has broken out in Christian-majority Meghalaya state over Bibles in a hospital. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews)

Christian leaders in India have criticized a pro-Hindu group’s demand to remove Bibles from a government hospital in Shillong, the capital of Christian-majority Meghalaya state.

The Legal Rights Observatory, an activist group backed by prominent Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), petitioned the state’s top officials and police chief to remove the Bible from Shillong Civil Hospital in northeastern India.

The Oct. 3 letter from the pro-Hindu group wanted the state “to immediately remove every copy of the Holy Bible placed near patients’ beds.”

Their demand came after the state government on Sept. 29 removed an idol of elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha from the entrance of the National Institute of Technology in Shillong.

The government acted under pressure from the Jaintia Students Union, whose members are mostly Christians.

Placing the Bible near a patient’s bed amounts to “forcing the non-Christians to read it for a medical cure.”  It violates personal liberty, the Hindu group argued in their letter.

Their letter said keeping the Bible near patients also “goes against the spirit of Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

But Christian leaders called it part of a plan to disturb communal harmony in the state, where Christians form 75 percent of its some 3 million people.

“It is part of the hidden agenda of the ruling party. They, from time to time, create an atmosphere that can disturb the social harmony of our country,” said Father Felix Anthony, the Church’s spokesman in northeastern India.

The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won just two seats in the 60-seat state legislature in the 2018 state election, is part of a six-party coalition that runs the state. The BJP also runs the federal government and 18 of the 29 Indian states.

“The Bible controversy is a tactic to disturb the peace and harmony among different faiths”, Father Anthony told ucanews.

The priest from Miao Diocese in nearby Arunachal Pradesh state said such controversies are “deliberately generated to divert the attention of people from real issues like hunger and unemployment.”

Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians, said the argument that placing the Bible in hospitals can influence faith cannot be justified.

“If that’s true, several of our government offices should be influencing faith. In our country, there are many government offices having idols of Hindu gods and goddesses. That does not mean they influence the faith” of people visiting them, George said.

Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly newspaper on tribal affairs published from New Delhi, said the demand violates constitutional freedom to profess and practice the faith.

“Just keeping a Bible or any idol of any faith in any institute will have no impact unless someone freely accepts any faith of choice,” Tirkey, a Catholic activist, said.

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