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Mumbai’s Christian Population Falls. Christians Open To Voting For Others

May 24, 2011 by  
Filed under lead story, Persecution

Mount Mary Church in MumbaiMumbai, 23rd May, 2011: Here are excerpts from two news items from The Times of India, that provide fresh insight on the changing Mumbai Christians – their declining numbers and attitudes towards politics. The CSF calls on the community to unite and fight for its rightful share. The CSF would network and encourage Christian activists to enter public life, supporting and even putting up candidates, if the community gets a raw deal.
 
Mumbai’s Christian Population Falls. Muslims Grow Fastest
The Christian community in the city recorded negative population growth as against Hindus and Muslims who are growing at a faster rate, birth and death figures from the civic health department showed. Last year, 3,763 infants were born to Christians while 3,887 members of the community died, indicating a fall in growth rate. In this period, there were 1.2 lakh Hindu births and 74,003 deaths; the Muslim community saw 50,353 children being born as against 16,898 deaths. The birth-death rate ratio of Muslims is almost double that of Hindus, showing a much more robust population growth.
 
Demographers and community leaders said family planning and migration seemed to be the main reasons behind the shrinking of the Christian population. “Many Christian youths have migrated to the US and Canada. In many Christian-dominated areas like Bandra and IC Colony, there is a large population of senior citizens and, perhaps, this is also a reason for the increase in Christian deaths,” RTI activist Chetan Kothari, who filed a query on the issue, said.
 
Social scientists and Islamic scholars who have been tracking demographic changes among Muslims attributed the higher population growth to lack of adequate family planning and poverty. “The belief that more pairs of hands can earn more seems to be holding sway in the lower middle class Muslim community. Many community members have more than four children though there has been a high incidence of infant mortality among the poorer sections,” said Asghar Ali Engineer, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies. He said the increase in birth rate has nothing to do with Islam as a religion. “It is related to issues like poverty, illiteracy and lack of women’s empowerment, he said.
 
Christians Open To Voting For Others
When Cardinal Oswald Gracias recently came out in support of Anna Hazare’s battle against corruption, Congress leaders were worried. The Catholic community has traditionally voted for the Congress, but party leaders feel there may be a change ahead of the civic elections next year. The shift is already apparent: Congress MLA Baba Siddiqui scraped past BJP’s Ashish Shelar with a wafer-thin margin in the Catholic stronghold of Bandra. Adolf D’Souza got a thumping victory in the last civic election in Juhu, where Christians have always voted for the Congress. Recently the community protested against the Congress over the removal of crosses in the city.
 
“In Vasai, Catholics support MLA Vivek Pandit, who was elected with the Sena’s help. A faction of East Indians recently joined the MNS. The community is now open to supporting other groups,” said Hansel D’Souza, president of the Juhu Citizens’ Welfare Group (JCWG). Civic activist Anandini Thakur said the change cannot be missed. “Earlier Christians voted for the Congress irrespective of the candidate. Now, they talk of voting for the candidate and not for the party. This is a radical change,” she said.
 
BJP’s Ashish Shelar said, “In the parliamentary elections of 2009, held a few months before the assembly elections, Congress MP Priya Dutt had a lead margin of 36,000 votes. In the assembly elections, Siddiqui won by a margin of 1,600 votes. Even if 10,000 of these are Christian votes, it is a major shift,” Shelar said. Shelar was supported by Bandra’s citizens’ groups whose members are largely Catholic. However, Siddiqui denies any shift in loyalty. “I had a lead of 11,000 in my old Bandra assembly constituency. The loss was in the two wards that were added after delimitation. These have always been Sena strongholds,” Siddiqui said.
 
Father Tony Charanghat, spokesperson for the Mumbai Archdiocese, said, the church does not promote any political party. “The cardinal’s stand on corruption is not against any political party. We stand for secularism as enshrined in the Constitution. However, Christians also want to participate in the democratic process. If they feel that someone is not addressing their grievances they are bound to look at others who will take up their issues seriously, irrespective of the candidate’s political affiliation,” he said.  A senior Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity, admitted that if civil society were to put up candidates, the party would get “the biggest jolt”.

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