India’s president, Ram Nath Kovind, has urged his countrymen to “preserve” and “cherish” ethnic and religious diversity, during his first visit to the north-eastern Christian-majority state of Mizoram on 29 November.
“We see a huge variety of ethnic and religious identities, and so many languages, cultures and customs, modes of dress, food habits and cuisine. This diversity is our strength; important to preserve and cherish it,” the president told Mizoram’s parliament, as reported by Matters India.
Meanwhile former US President Barack Obama, at the end of a visit to India on Friday 1 December, called on the Indian government to protect religious freedom in the country, saying: “People have the right to practise their faith as they choose, or no faith at all, without fear or discrimination… In all countries, upholding this freedom is the responsibility of the government and each person. Religion has been used to tap into the dark side of man.”
Mizoram is one of three Christian-majority states in India, with 87 per cent of the population identifying as Christian. The other two are Nagaland (90 per cent) and Meghalaya (70 per cent), also located in the northeast.
Around 80% of India’s population is Hindu, but in Mizoram they comprise just 3.5 per cent of the population. Religious minorities across the country have complained of being targeted for their faith, with the majority of attacks targeting Christians and Muslims.
However, in Mizoram in October India’s Catholic Bishops’ Conference was forced to distance itself from an incident in September, during which seven people, representing a ‘Christian’ sect, were arrested for burning Hindu deities and the Indian flag. The news was only reported later because the police reportedly wanted “to avoid sectarian violence”.
In a statement the Bishops’ Conference expressed shock and sympathy for “our Hindu brethren”, and said the “perpetrators of the crime should not claim to be followers of Christ, who has taught [people] to respect the nation, along with revering God”.
Ram Nath Kovind’s was elected as India’s new president in July as the candidate for the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP. His election caused concern among religious minorities, who referenced his comment seven years ago that “Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation”.
In November an editorial in the BJP ‘press organ’, Saamana, said India was “not a country for Christians” and other non-Hindu faiths – “they have their own countries”.
India is number 15 on the Open Doors 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to live as a Christian.