Last updated on 18th February 2015
Non-Indian readers may please note that the term secularism in India is commonly understood to mean equal treatment of all religions by the state. For more please see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secularism_in_India.
At the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuriakose_Elias_Chavara, and Mother Euphrasia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euphrasia_Eluvathingal, today (17th Feb. 2015) in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, and a couple of other ministers in his govt. spoke. PM Modi's speech in particular, according to the Vote of Thanks speaker, Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan, a Syrian Christian faith leader, culminated in "expelling all the doubts we had in recent times about the pursuit of the secular India". The faith leader also said, based on the PM's speech, "Everybody will have freedom to profess and propagate his faith. And we are very grateful to you (PM Modi)."
I was very pleased to see the video of this event which resulted in such confidence among leaders of the Syrian Christian community. I think other Christians in India, as well as people of other faiths like Islam, Sikhism, Jainism etc. too may find the words of PM Modi very reassuring. I decided to make a transcript of parts of this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXGj0w7ggSk, and have given it below.
[Around 21:40, Dy. Chairman of Rajya Sabha (upper house of Indian Parliament), Dr. P.J. Kurien, of the Congress party and from a Syrian Christian family hailing from Kerala, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._J._Kurien, speaks (slightly edited):]
Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji, ....
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to participate in this function and say a few words. In fact, I have (had) the great opportunity and fortune of going to Vatican and attending the canonization ceremony of Chavara achhan (father in Malayalam, language of Kerala) Euprasia amma (mother), the two great citizens of this country. I thank the honourable Prime Minister who took (the) initiative in sending a delegation to represent our country, and, of course, he chose me as the leader of that delegation also, which was already mentioned here (by a previous speaker). And I witnessed the canonization ceremony. It was a moment of great joy and satisfaction and also to see that the tricolour, the national flag, flying in Vatican. [Applause. Video shows PM Modi also applauding.]
Dear friends, Chavara acchhan and Euphrasia amma, they are not just saints. They have not become saints because Pope has announced it or formalized it or declared it. They lived in body and flesh as saints. ... And, as it is already mentioned here, it is actually Chavara acchhan who started the educational revolution of Kerala. Kerala is the most literate state today. But the beginning is Chavara acchhan. And it may be interesting to you to know that Chavara acchhan even started a Sanskrit school [applause] because he - it is part of history - he had a vision to understand the greatness of Indian culture. And so, he thought that the study of Sanskrit is important to have a better apprehension of Indian culture. So he started a Sanskrit school. This is perhaps not known to many people. Therefore I would say that both lived for others. And they worked for the betterment of society. ...
Now friends, Andrew ... has already said, Christianity came to India in the first century A.D. itself. It is Saint Thomas, the disciple of Jesus Christ, who reached the Malabar coast in A.D. 52. Yes, some Hindu families embraced Christianity. Not a large number, (but a small) number. But remember, today, the Syrian Christians or the Saint Thomas Christians are the descendants of those small Hindu families. [Light applause] Look how they flourished. How? Who protected them? Who preserved them? Who promoted them? There was no Indian constitution at that time. I tell you, it (was) the Hindu rajas of the Kerala state who protected [Applause] and promoted them.
[Ravi: From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christians: "The most commonly believed tradition of origin among Saint Thomas Christians relates to the arrival of Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus at the ancient seaport of Muziris ( in present day Kerala) in AD 52. Further, the tradition claims that Thomas converted a large number of Jews who were already present in Kerala that time along with 12 Nambudiri brahmin famililes namely Nedumpally, Pakalomattom, Maliyekkal, Sankarapuri, Kalli, Kalliamkavu, Payapilly, Palakkappilly, Koykkam, Muttodal, Madeipur and Panakkamattom. Most of the modern day Saint Thomas Christians trace their ancestry to these Jewish or Brahmin roots."]
I will narrate a small incident of history which happened in my place, in my own place (in Kerala). 500 years ago, some people were carrying a dead body in a boat to a distant place for (burial). On the side of the river which is Mani... river adjacent to my house, the ruler, a Hindu ruler, saw the dead body being taken to a distant place. He asked, where are you taking the dead body? Then they said for burial to such-and-such a place. The ruler said, Oh! such a distant place! Why do you go there? Come here. I am giving you land. I am giving you place for the church. And 500 years ago [applause], at a place called Kannupa..., my place, that church, 500 years old is still there as an eloquent expression of the protection given by the Hindu rulers to the Christian community. [Applause]. If any one of you are interested I can take you there - that 500 year old church is there. And interestingly that is adjacent to the temple. You from Kerala may be interested. Come and see, adjacent to the temple, the church is there, 500 years ago. That was, and that is, our tradition and culture.
And, if today, there is some semblance of intolerance or some incidents of violence or attack, I would like to say, they are only aberrations, they are only aberrations. And I am sure those aberrations will be dealt with seriously. Our honourable Prime Minister is here. His presence itself is reassuring. I have no doubt about it. [Applause]
Friends, when most of the modern world was groping in darkness, India was shining. We gave to the world the slogan, Vasudaiva Kutumbakam, world is one family. We prayed for the world, Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (May all the world be happy). Swami Vivekanandaji, the embodiment of Sanathana Dharma, the embodiment of Indian culture, our culture, the embodiment of Indian spirituality, our Bharateeya Aadhyaathmikatha, he has said, all religions are like rivers flowing into the sea. All will reach (the sea). Ultimately all religions will reach the same goal. We may be Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Jains or Parsees or any religion. We are all praying to the same God. We may be any community, caste, creed or religion or may be speaking any language, we are the children of Mother India, Bharatmata. [Applause]. Therefore, where is the place for intolerance and hatred and violence. There is no place for it. Let us all shun violence. Our duty is to work for the welfare of Mother India and serve Mother India.
But I cannot conclude my speech without a word of thanks to the honourable Prime Minister. [Dr. Kurien looks at PM Shri Modi who is also looking at Dr. Kurien] Sir, it is very kind of you, it is very gracious of you, and very benevolent of you, that you came here today. I was actually apprehensive that you may be forced to cancel (your) visit because it is such a difficult situation. The president of Sri Lanka is here, so many other ... but yet, you committed and you stood (by) your commitment [applause]. This shows, this shows your commitment to the plurality of India. I have no doubt about it. I thank you on behalf of all the organizers. Chavara acchhan and Euphrasia (amma) - they are actual saints. They lived as saints. His holiness, the pope, formalized and declared their sainthood. This function in the presence of honourable Prime Minister, honourable finance minister and honourable minorities minister and in the presence of all of you, makes that sainthood or articulates that sainthood as a national event and it gives a national acceptance to that sainthood. Thank you very much. Jai Hind! [Applause]
[Around 49:55 His Beatitude, George Cardinal Alencherry, the Major Archbishop (head) of the Syro Malabar church, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maran_Mar_George_Alencherry, speaks (slightly edited):]
Honourable Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modiji, other honourable ministers, my dear brother bishops, P.J. Kurienji and other distinguished guests on the dais and off the dais, to you all, my Namaskar. As it was already mentioned here, India is a country of sages and saints. We call them by various names: swamijis, sadhus, gurus, sannyasins, acharyas etc. In India, it is the popular recognition that makes a person holy or saintly. In the Catholic church, the life witness of a publicly venerated person will be examined in different ways and his or her holiness will be approved by the church though an official declaration by the pope. This process of declaring a person (a) saint is called canonization. The Catholic church in India has five such canonized saints. They are: Saint Gonsalo Garcia, Saint Joseph Vaz, Saint Alphonsa, Saint Kurikose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphrasia. The latter three saints belong to the Syro Malabar church of which I am the present head.
The (Saint) Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphrasia were canonized, as it was said here, recently on November 23rd 2014 and it is to celebrate their memory that we have arranged this national meet of distinguished persons with your esteemed presence. We thank you very much in the name of all the Christians in India for this generous gesture from your part to be with us for this celebration.
The Syro Malabar church is the largest community of Saint Thomas Christians also called Syrian Christians who trace their origins from the evangalization work of Saint Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ, in the first century A.D. The Christian churches, in general, practise their faith assimilating the cultural elements of the country where they live. Therefore the allegation that Christianity is a foreign religion in India is not true to facts. [Applause]. We are Indian citizens who love our country and who have contributed very much to the nation building through educational, health-care and social service activities. The Christians in India are only 2.3 percent of the total population, and during the decades of the two previous censuses, the Christians got reduced by point 5 (0.5) percent. It is against this numerically small minority community that some have levelled the complaints of proselytization. The Catholic church, as you know well, is the champion of religious freedom and the Catholics in India wholeheartedly adhere to this principle.
Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara whose sainthood we are celebrating today was not only a person of inestimable spiritual values but also a great social reformer. At a time when universal primary education was not thought of in Kerala or in any part of India, he asked all the churches to establish schools and open their doors to people of all religions and castes. [Ravi: From his wiki page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuriakose_Elias_Chavara, "In 1864, while he was serving as the Vicar General of Syrian Catholics, he ordered to start a school along with every church (palli) which was successful in making free education available for everyone."]
When people who belonged to the upper caste were alone eligible for education, he changed the system by offering opportunities to people of all castes and religions to study in the schools of the church. He also opened a school for the study of Sanskrit as was mentioned by Shri P.J. Kurien. Not only started it, but opened it for all the students of all castes and religions. He was very particular that all the students should study Sanskrit, the classical language of India.
Saint Euphrasia, whose canonization we are celebrating also along with Saint Chavara, was a person endowed with great spiritual strength and values. Christianity whose essence consists in reaching out to the poor and the dispossessed, which values love of neighbour irrespective of caste and creed, was fully alive in the life of Saint Euphrasia. Honourable Prime Minister Modiji [video shows PM looking at his left which would be towards the speaker Major Archbishop Alencherry], we do firmly hold that conversion is a matter of one's personal decision and that conversion cannot be done through fraud or false means. [Applause]
If anyone uses forceful ways to propagate one's religion, he or she is to be taken to task by the laws of the country. Making new anti-conversion laws will pave the way for creating animosity among believers of different religions thereby destroying the peace and harmony that exist today. Christians do not believe in revenge or retaliation. We do not support vendettas. But this shall not be taken by the evildoers as our weakness under which cover they can trample us down. [Applause]
During the past few weeks, five places of worship and a school have been ransacked by people who are led by anti-Christian ideologies. This happened in this capital city. I thank you very much for the action you have taken for the attack on the school and I hope [applause] and I request your honour to take further steps needed to provide protection to our churches and institutions of service.
Let our country flourish with the plans and projects of your government. And we are with you for the development of this country in all the way. And let there be peace and harmony among the people of diverse religions, languages and cultures holding on to the principle of unity in diversity. Once again, thanking you for your encouraging presence, I conclude, Jai Ishwar, Jai Hind! [Applause. PM Modi (and Finance minister Arun Jaitley) too is (are) shown applauding]
[Around 59:52, PM Narendra Modi speaks. I have picked up the transcript from the entry titled "Text of PM's address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia (17-February 2015)" for February 2015 in this link: http://pib.nic.in/newsite/pmreleases.aspx?mincode=3 (The release ID of the note/document is 115529 but using relid=115529 in the url did not work when I tried it.)
I have also included my comments with prefix Ravi: and enclosed in square brackets, and added applause within square brackets when there is applause.]
Text of PM's address at the National Celebration of the Elevation to Sainthood of Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Mother Euphrasia
Cardinal George Alencherry
Archbishop Andrews Thazhath
Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara
Archbishop Anil Couto
Shri Arun Jaitley,
Dr. Najma Heptulla,
Shri P.J. Kurien, Deputy Chairman, Rajya Sabha
Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan
I am delighted to participate in this function to celebrate the elevation to sainthood of two great saints of Kerala - Saint Kuriakose Elias Chavara and Saint Euphresia. The whole country is proud of their recognition. [Applause] Their elevation was preceded by that of Saint Alphonsa, who also hailed from Kerala. [Applause]
The life and deeds of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphresia are an inspiration not only to the Christian community, but to humanity as a whole. [Applause] They are shining examples of dedication to God through selfless service for the betterment of mankind.
[Ravi: Clear statement from PM Modi appreciating "shining example" of the two recently canonized Indian Catholic (Syrian Christian) saints.]
Saint Chavara was a man of prayer and also a social reformer. In an era when access to education was limited, he stressed that every church should have a school. He thus opened the doors of education to people from all sections of society.
Few outside Kerala know that he started a Sanskrit school, and also a printing press [Ravi: at that time. Applause]. His contribution towards women’s empowerment was also noteworthy.
Saint Euphrasia was a mystic who dedicated her life to prayer and devotion to God.
Both these saints dedicated their life to God through service of fellow beings. The ancient Indian saying: [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Aatmaano mokshaartham jagath hithaayacha"] – welfare of the world is the way to moksha (salvation) – explains their life.
Spiritualism is rooted in India's heritage. Indian saints and Greek sages had intellectual and spiritual exchanges thousands of years back. India’s openness to new ideas is manifest in the Rig Veda: [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Aano bhadraha kritvo yantu vishwataha"] Let noble thoughts come to us from all sides. This philosophy has guided our intellectual discourse since time immemorial. Mother India gave birth to many religious and spiritual streams. Some of them have even travelled beyond Indian borders.
The tradition of welcoming, respecting and honouring all faiths is as old as India itself. [Applause] As Swami Vivekananda said: We believe not only in universal [Ravi: tolerance], but we accept all religions as true.
What Swami Vivekananda had said a century ago holds good and will, for ever, not only for this nation but also for this government or for that matter any government in India, run by any political party. This principle of equal respect and treatment for all faiths has been a part of India's ethos for thousands of years. And that is how it became integral to the Constitution of India. Our Constitution did not evolve in a vacuum. It has roots in the ancient cultural traditions of India.
[Ravi: Clear and completely unambiguous declaration by PM Modi of his BJP govt's support and commitment for religious pluralism in India.]
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore had inspired us to dream of a land where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. It is that heaven of freedom we are duty bound to create and preserve. We believe that there is truth in every religion. [Ravi: Sanskrit words in English (Latin) script - "Ekam sath vipraha bahuda vadanti" (Truth is one; sages call it by different names)]
Let me now come to the issue which is central and critical for peace and harmony in the contemporary world. The world is increasingly witnessing division and hostility on religious lines. This has become a matter of global concern. In this context, the ancient Indian plea of mutual respect for all faiths is now beginning to manifest in global discourse.
This long felt need and urge for mutually respectful relations led to the interfaith conference on 'Faith in Human Rights' at the Hague on tenth December, 2008. This was coincidentally also the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations.
Religious leaders representing every major world religion - Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Baha'i Faith, Buddhism, Islam, Taoism and indigenous religions met, discussed and pledged to uphold the Universal Declaration and of freedom of religion or belief.
In their historic declaration, they defined what constitutes freedom of faith and how it is to be safeguarded.
We consider the freedom to have, to retain, and to adopt, a religion or belief, is a personal choice of a citizen. [Applause]
[Ravi: Crisp and unambiguous support for religious freedom including adopting (converting to) a religion from PM Modi. Of course, it is understood that such religious conversion is not under coercion or under inducement of material gain.]
The world is at cross roads which, if not crossed properly, can throw us back to the dark days of bigotry, fanaticism and bloodshed. [Ravi: Very well said by honourable PM. This seems to be the plain and unvarnished truth given the events in some parts of the Middle East and even incidents in Europe.]
This harmonious convergence among religions could not be achieved even when the world entered the third millennium. And now it has been [Ravi: ?; perhaps it should be read as: And now we have been in the third millennium for some time]. This shows that the rest of the world too is evolving along the lines of ancient India. [Ravi: I did not get the connection with the preceding sentences.]
Speaking for India, and for my government, I declare that my government stands by every word of the above declaration. [Applause] My government will ensure that there is complete freedom of faith and that everyone has the undeniable right [Applause] to retain or adopt the religion of his or her choice without coercion [Applause] or undue influence.
[Ravi: What more does anybody want as statements from PM Modi in support of freedom of religion!]
My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the majority or the minority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly. [Applause]
[Ravi: The intent is clear. However, very unfortunately, some acts of religious/communal hate speeches and even violence, have been occurring in the past decades and even now. But, at the top level in the govt., the intent is very clear that there should be no incitement of religious/communal hatred. That's very good.]
Mine will be a government that gives equal respect to all religions. [Applause]
India is the land of Buddha and Gandhi. Equal respect for all religions must be in the DNA of every Indian. [Applause] We cannot accept violence against any religion on any pretext and I strongly condemn such violence. [Applause] My government will act strongly in this regard.
With this commitment, I appeal to all religious groups to act with restraint, mutual respect, and tolerance in the true spirit of this ancient nation which is manifest in our Constitution and is in line with the Hague Declaration.
I have a vision of a Modern India. I have embarked on a huge mission to convert that vision into reality. My mantra is Development - [Ravi: Hindi words in English (Latin) script - "Sabka saath sabka vikaas" (All being and contributing/participating together; all progressing)]. [Applause]
In simple terms it means food on every table, every child in school, a job for everybody and a house with toilet and electricity for every family. [Applause] This will make India proud. We can achieve this through unity. Unity strengthens us. Division weakens us. I sincerely request all Indians, and all of you present here to support me in this huge task. [Applause]
Let the elevation to sainthood of Saint Chavara and Saint Euphrasia, and their noble deeds inspire us:
-to maximize our inner strength
-to use that strength for transforming society through selfless service
-to fulfil our collective vision of a developed and modern India.
THANK YOU [Ravi: VERY MUCH].
[Around 1:13:50, Vote of thanks by Monseigneur Sebastian Vadakumpadan (slightly edited) ]
Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji, ...
Today we have been enriched by this meeting. I would say that all the speeches (were) an extended speech or an integrated speech, culminating in the words of our Prime Minister expelling all the doubts we had in recent times about the pursuit of the secular India ... It is a landmark and in unequivocal words the Prime Minister has made it clear, India will remain secular. [Applause] Everybody will have freedom to profess and propagate his faith. And we are very grateful to you. ... We have been enriched (on) various aspects of secular India. ... All (speakers) have spoken about various aspects of secular India. It culminated in an excellent speech expelling all doubts of everybody here [applause] and all the Indians, in all the parts, in all the remote parts of India and abroad. This was an excellent occasion for our Prime Minister to expel our doubts and give us confidence. Thank you very much. [Applause. PM Modi also applauds.] I also extend grateful thanks to all the dignitaries who have spoken homogeneously and have promised to work together with the Modiji government. [Applause]. I thank all the media persons and all who have attended the meeting - I don't want to say any particulars about that. And I want to say a word of thanks particularly for all the departments related to the Prime Minister's office. They have been very kind, ..., very gentle and generous (when) we went to meet them ... to get everything done so easily. It was a pleasure to work with them. Thank you. [Applause] Thank you for all those who are here to make this meeting a success. Thank you.
[Ravi: PM Modi (and Major Archbishop Alencherry) stands up with folded hands and looks towards the audience. PM is given a standing ovation by the participants. PM Modi shakes hands with Archbishop Alencherry and prepares to leave.]
Some relevant information about numbers and percentages of various religion followers in India, from http://censusindia.gov.in/Census_And_You/religion.aspx:
At the census 2001, out of 1028 million population, little over 827 million (80.5%) have returned themselves as followers of Hindu religion, 138 million (13.4%) as Muslims or the followers of Islam, 24 million (2.3%) as Christians, 19 million (1.9%) as Sikh, 8 million (0.80%) as Buddhists and 4 million (0.4%) are Jain. In addition, over 6 million have reported professing other religions and faiths including tribal religions, different from six main religions.
[Ravi: In a table just above the earlier extract, the entry 'religion not stated' has numbers of 727,588 (persons) and 0.1 percent (actually it should be < 0.1 percent). Atheists & agnostics would be part or this, perhaps a significant part. Therefore openly declared to census, atheists & agnostics in India as per 2001 census is less than 0.1 percent!]