Christians have protested against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens before, but for the first time on Monday, priests took to the streets of Kolkata in their cassocks to voice their condemnation. They claim that while Muslims have been excluded from the ambit of the amended citizenship law now, it could be the turn of Christians next.
The dancing priest from Canning was easily the star of the march from St Paul's Cathedral to Gandhi statue. Reverend Shyamal Pramanik broke into a dance to a Bengali hymn that went "We are the children of Jesus, we are on the streets to talk about him" even as his cassock flapped around him.
"We are here to protest the NRC and CAA. I want to tell the Prime Minister that we want to die in the home we were born in, along with Hindus and Muslims," Reverend Pramanik said.
Another strong voice at the march was woman priest Reverend Margaret Nilanjana Ali. With a Christian, Hindu and Muslim name all rolled in one, she calls herself a "package of secularism". "Yes, I am a Christian, a woman and I too have a message for the Prime Minister. Kindly stop this CAA and NRC. This is dividing our country. We are a united, democratic and secular nation and we want to stay that way," she said, dressed in a white robe.
Not just Christians of every denomination, people of all faiths attended the march. Bishop Paritosh Canning, who organised the march, insisted that it was more a prayer rally than a demonstration of protest. "We are praying to God to change the minds of the ruling authorities and rethink CAA-NRC," the Church of North India bishop said.
Unlike the other members of the clergy, he was not wearing his habit. "We wanted this to be inclusive," he said.
Reverend Rodney Borneo, dressed in his white robes, said that true Christians cannot remain indifferent to the threat felt by their neighbours. "When people feel left out or isolated, it is the duty of every Christian - every follower of Jesus - to stand with them and say that you are not alone. We stand with you," he added.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Calcutta was the first to call a protest march against the Citizenship Amendment Act on December 26. After that, churches in several other parts of the country also spoke out against the law.
Later, a group led by Bishop Paritosh Canning met Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar and submitted a memorandum against the central initiatives. Copies of the document will also be sent to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind.