India's bishops pray new president will defend rule of law

Ram Nath Kovind (L), who was elected President of India July 20, meets with Bruce Bucknell, Jan. 25 2017. Credit: British High Commission, New Delhi via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Ram Nath Kovind (L), who was elected President of India July 20, meets with Bruce Bucknell, Jan. 25 2017. Credit: British High Commission, New Delhi via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0).

.- The bishops of India have offered their congratulations to the country's newly elected president, Ram Nath Kovind, urging him to live out the oath he will take to serve the well-being of the people.

India's presidency is largely a ceremonial role, while the prime minister is head of government and leader of the executive branch.

In a July 20 statement the Indian bishops congratulated Kovind, assuring him “of our prayers for his good health and for wisdom and strength that he might guide our beloved country towards peace, development and justice for all peoples.”

“We pray that God may assist him, that, as per the Oath of Office, he will strive 'to the best of his ability to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and the law, and that he will devote himself to the service and well-being of the people of the Republic of India.'”

The bishops closed their statement praying that under his leadership India would “march towards greater heights,” and again assured the president-elect of “our loyalty and support in the service of our country.”

India's presidential election was held July 17, with the final votes counted July 20. The term of the country's former president,  Pranab Mukherjee, is set to end July 24.

Kovind, part of India's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was backed by the governing National Democratic Alliance coalition, and ran against opposition candidate Meira Kumar of the Indian National Congress.

The president-elect is a Dalit and a lawyer, and has served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of parliament. Most recently he served in the largely ceremonial post of governor of Bihar state.

The election comes in wake of a recent uptick in the number of “mob lynchings” happening in India, in which members of the country's Hindu majority carry out acts of violence against those, typically from minority religions such as Islam, accused of killing cows, a sacred animal in the Hindu religion.

Attacks against minorities, particularly Christians and Muslims, are common in India. They include anything from jeering, violence, forced conversions, and the burning of property, and frequently go under-reported.

According to Al Jazeera, the mob lynching of Muslims began to gain wider public attention in 2015 when 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq was beat to death by an angry mob who accused the man of eating beef.

Since his death, attacks against Muslims related to the slaughtering of cows have increased, with multiple attacks against minorities reported in 2015 and 2016, and at least seven such incidents between March and May of this year.

The latest, Al Jazeera reports, was the June 22 murder of three Muslims in West Bengal who had been accused of smuggling cows, and the June 27 attack against a man accused of killing a cow. The man survived, but was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

On July 16, around 40 religious leaders and intellectuals from across India gathered in Delhi to address the increase of violence,  a “disregard for the rule of law” and the spread of an “environment of hate” throughout the country.

Backed by the Indian bishops' conference, attendees urged the government to end “impunity which was at the root of the atmosphere of fear that stalks the land today” and threatens “not just secularism, but the Constitution and the democratic fabric of the country.”

They expressed their shock at the increased number of lynchings carried out on the pretext of protecting cows, stressing that in these cases, the state governments and police forces “acted against the guilty in an impartial manner.”

Past violence carried out against minorities in the country has largely been attributed to the radical Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, also referred to as the RSS.

They were established in 1925 with the goal of establishing “Hindutva,” or “Hindu-ness,” and have been banned three times in post-independence India, with all three bans eventually being lifted.

Critics of the group have often refered to them as a sectarian, militant group who believe in the supremacy of Hindus and who preach hate against Muslim and Christian minorities. Narendra Modi, elected India's prime minister in May 2014, was a full time worker with the RSS prior to his election.

As BJP spokesman in 2010, Kovind said that "Islam and Christianity are alien to the nation."

The RSS sits on the right-wing and has no official registration in India. However, they maintain strong ties with the BJP, of which president-elect Kovind is a part, raising questions as to how much action will be taken against minority violence in the future. Kovind is also close to the RSS.

Tags: India

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