Interreligious meetings during Christmas in the eastern Indian state of Bihar should be seen as the key to maintaining the secular fabric of the country where religious intolerance and violence on minority religious groups are on the rise.
“In today’s context of violence and terrorism in the name of religion, we must accept other faiths and reconcile with the fact of religious pluralism and live in harmony, accepting the brotherhood of all humans,” said Shah Ahmad Munemi, a Muslim teacher.
Shah was talking during a Christmas event organized by Interreligious Dialogue Committee and Xavier Institute of Social Research in the Bihar state capital of Patna on Dec. 20.
Bihar went to the polls recently, with the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party that runs the federal government defeated in an election viewed as a victory for secular and democratic values in India.
The Janata Dal United party-led alliance won an absolute majority, grabbing 178 seats in Bihar’s 243-seat legislature, leaving the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance with only 58 seats.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is considered the political wing of Hindu groups working to turn India into a Hindu nation. It campaigned in Bihar by polarizing people in the state on religious lines.
Christian leaders have complained of increasing violence against their people in states where the Bharatiya Janata Party is in power.
“By defeating Hindu nationalist forces, Bihar has set an example. We should be prepared to take on these elements at all times,” said Jesuit Father Jose Kalapura, director of the Xavier institute.
“We need to meet often and develop unity and understanding among all religions through dialogue or else, the very secular fabric of our country will be torn apart.”
Swami Sukhanandji, head of the Ramakrishna Mission in Patna, said that love and service of humanity is the uniting force of all religions. “Jesus was quite radical in this. Only with due respect to all religions will we be able to achieve a harmonious and prosperous nation,” said the Hindu monk.
In a similar event in Bihar’s Bodh Gaya district on Dec. 20, Archbishop William D’Souza of Patna spoke of how religious leaders must work hard with great sacrifice to transform society into one of love and compassion. “It is a tough task, but possibly sure, if we have the will,” he said.
Less than 0.5 percent of Bihar’s about 100 million people are Christian. Over 80 percent of its people are Hindus.