Conversion allegations irk Indian Catholic leaders

January 4, 2017 by  
Filed under newsletter-india

New Delhi, January 4, 2017: An allegation by India’s powerful Hindu group accusing Christians of converting tribal people has evoked a strong response from Catholic leaders who rubbish the allegation as a ploy to mislead people going to the polls in some Indian states this year.

Mohan Bhagwat, chief of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the umbrella body of Hindu groups working to make India a Hindu state, made the allegation Jan. 3 at a Hindu conference in Gujarat’s tribal-dominated Vansda area in Navsari district.

He accused Christian missionaries of converting tribal people to Christianity and repeated his organization’s stance that all Indians are Hindus and all should accept Hindu cultural practices.

He said the Vatican has been targeting Asia for conversion activities. “They they think only India is where they can get converts,” he was quoted in the media as saying.

“The Hindu community is in trouble. Which country are we living in? Our own country. This is our land,” he said.

Such allegations are part of a political plan ahead of elections in five states this year, including the country’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state, said Father Stanislaus Tirkey, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for indigenous people.

“The allegation is completely false. They do this occasionally. Since elections are nearing they want to divert the attention of the people from real issues like poverty,” said the priest who belongs to the Oraon tribe.

The Indian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and tribal people will follow their conscience in choosing a religion, he said.

The RSS, along with its political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that rules the federal government and many Indian states, have been accused of stoking a climate of intolerance against religious minorities in India.

Rights groups have recorded several incidents of targeted violence against the Christian community since the BJP came to power two years ago in a landslide victory in national elections. The state elections in five states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Manipur, Uttarkhand and Goa are important for the BJP to consolidate its powerbase.

The BJP thrives on the rhetoric of religion-based issues of conversion and anti-Muslim statements placating Hindu sentiments and converting these into votes, they said.

Father Vincent Ekka, a tribal researcher at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University told that it is true that several people in tribal pockets of northern India have accepted Christianity. “But conversion is never done forcefully or in any fraudulent manner,” he said.

Father Ekka said the Hindu religion could be blamed for conversion because it practices discriminating people on the basis of caste. “In such circumstances, if people find a religion more meaningful and satisfying, they will naturally move toward it,” he said.

Father Denzil Fernandes, Executive Director of the Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute said Bhagawat’s criticism is part of a “project under which they want to make India a Hindu nation.”

“They rake up the conversion issue to create a Hindu vote bank [and] to distract people from real problems,” he said.

According to figures released by the government’s census department, the number of tribal Christians grew by 63 percent from 6.39 million in 2001 to 10.3 million in 2011. In contrast tribal Hindus have increased by 39 percent from 60 million to 84.1 million.

In 2011, India had some 104 million tribal people.

Tribal people also follow their own animist faiths.

– ucan

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