(Vatican Radio) India is marking its 71th Independence Day on Aug. 15, in commemoration of the day in 1947 when what was the British Indian Empire was partitioned into two newly independent states – Hindu-dominated India and Muslim-dominated Pakistan. Pakistan celebrates its Independence a day earlier on August 14.
The boundary lines between the two new nations, hastily drawn up just weeks before, were not made public until two days later. Muslims and Hindus on the wrong sides of the divide, suddenly felt themselves in enemy land, especially in divided Punjab and Bengal. This triggered a panicked and chaotic mass migration - one of the largest history has witnessed outside war and famine – that resulted in a massive loss of life on both sides.
No-one knows the exact number but it is estimated between 500,000 to 1 million were killed. Tens of thousands of women were raped or abducted and about 12 million people became refugees.
This year, India and Pakistan are marking 70 years of their freedom and partition, the legacy of which still continues to affect the lives of millions. The two neighbours have not only fought three wars and built up their armies but have also developed nuclear weapons. According to some, they even fought a 4th war, although their 1999 clash was without a formal declaration of war.
A common denominator in this majority Hindu-Muslim issue between India and Pakistan has been the other minority religious groups who are on both sides of the divide. Among them are Christians, some 28 million of whom are in India. Of these, 19.9 million are Catholics or about 1.5 percent of India’s some 1.3 billion population. As India turns 70 on August 15, we called Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), to know about what Catholics feel about the nation. Speaking on his mobile phone from India, Bishop Mascarenhas briefly expressed the hopes and aspirations of the Catholic Church of India.
First and foremost, we are very grateful to this great country, its civilization and its very tolerant community for the space they have given the Catholic Church and the Catholic community in the past 70 years.
Our hopes and aspirations for this country are that this tolerant spirit, peace and traditional harmony we have been enjoying, continue, so that we can continue contributing to nation-building and to the good of this country.
We also hope and pray that this country might go forward with inclusive development for all its people, taking in the poor, the marginalized, the tribals, the Dalits and the poor, with whom our hearts are always there as Catholics and as the Catholic Church.