Economic slowdown worries Christians in northeast India

The region's unemployment, lack of development and poor welfare schemes worry Christian leaders
Economic slowdown worries Christians in northeast India

A Congress party activist is detained by police during the party's demonstration in New Delhi on Sept. 20 against the federal government over unemployment and the economic slowdown. (Photo: IANS)

Christian leaders in northeast India say more people, including Christians, need to dialogue and work with the government to help the country tide over its severe economic slowdown.

The suggestion summed up a gathering of the United Christian Forum of Northeast India, which represents all the Christian churches in the seven states of the hilly region.

"We need to initiate a discussion with governments. In a democracy, we can thus address all our concerns," said retired Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati on Nov. 20 at the meeting in Shillong, capital of Meghalaya state.

Archbishop Menamparampil, 83, wanted church people to "keep all doors open for dialogue in a democracy."

"The economic slowdown shows an alarming trend," he said, calling on the "best brains in the country to work towards improving the economy to help to improve the living standards of the people."

Bishop Thomas Pulloppilil of Bongaigaon told ucanews that the region has "more woes compared to other parts of India" because of the economic slowdown.

"The northeast region is rich with resources such as petroleum, coal, uranium and other minerals, but we don't get much benefit from them compared to the rest of India," he said.

The chicken neck-shaped region remains cut off from the rest of India but for a 20-kilometer-wide stretch called the Siliguri Corridor. The area is landlocked by Myanmar, China, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Bishop Pulloppilil said the youth in the region are "unemployed, there is no development, we see no government welfare scheme for the development of the region among other anomalies that push us backward."

He said the Church and civil leaders in the region are "worried about the current slowdown in the economy that will further deteriorate the economy of the people."

The latest World Economic Outlook report of the International Monetary Fund in October said India's economic growth at 6.1 percent was less than expected. It wanted the country to use its monetary policy and structural reforms to address slow growth.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government, led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has been facing criticism for its policies that support big companies. Critics say Modi has ignored the needs of the middle class and farmers, who are estimated to form some 90 percent of India's 1.2 billion people.

Former Indian PM Manmohan Singh, a renowned economist, maintains that Indian economic indicators show a worrying trend.

"The facts are evident to all — nominal GDP growth is at a 15-year low; unemployment is at a 45-year high; household consumption is at a four-decade low; bad loans in banks are at an all-time high; growth in electricity generation is at a 15-year low — the list of highs and lows is long and distressing,"" he said in an op-ed article in The Hindu daily Nov. 18.

"But the state of the economy is worrying not because of these disturbing statistics. These are mere manifestations of a deeper underlying malaise that plagues the nation's economy today." 

Archbishop Menamparampil told the meeting that "healthy criticism of the government policies and programs" were "necessary for the common good of the society."

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The BJP governments in New Delhi and in most northern states are also accused of tacitly supporting Hindu radical groups that attack and harass religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims in efforts to turn India into a nation of Hindu dominance.

"The Christian in principle want to work towards a just society," said Allen Brooks, spokesman for the United Christian Forum. The meeting wanted to encourage all Christians "to work towards ending all sorts of discrimination and exploitation, including a failing economy," he said.

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