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Conversions Up in India—Away from Christianity

Catholic church in Kerala


Anto Akkara - published on 12/23/14

‘Home coming’ terror greets Indian churches on Christmas eve

The word "homecoming" ought to evoke joy—especially at Christmastime.

But the word as it’s being used in India these daysghar vapasi—has assumed dreadful connotations for Christians thanks to belligerent Hindu nationalist organizations.

On December 20, the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council) claimed to have reconverted 500 members of 100 tribal Christian families in a ghar vapasi program at Arnai village near Valsad in western Gujarat state.

The following day was a shocker to the powerful Christian community in southern Kerala state, India’s Christian heartland, where the community accounts for one fifth of the state’s 35 million people. Competing news channels were telecasting visuals of 30 Christians embracing Hinduism at a reconversion ceremony at a Hindu temple on a Sunday.

Both these reconversions came soon after the Churches in India, including the Catholic Church, expressed “serious concern about the current situation of the minorities” in the country in an ecumenical press statement.

The Churches had taken umbrage over blatant threats by Hindu fundamentalist outfits to "reconvert" 4,000 Christians at Aligarh, south-east of New Delhi, on Christmas Day, and government plans to observe Christmas Day as ‘Good Governance Day.”

This move to celebrate the birth anniversary of former BJP prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee on Christmas, the churches pointed out, was “an insult” to Christians and an attempt “to undermine the importance of Christmas.”

The government was earlier forced to withdraw its December 9 circular to keep educational institutions across the country open on Christmas to mark “Good Governance Day” celebrations following furore in the Parliament by the opposition, and protests by Christians and secular groups.

“Christmas is the only holiday that we Christians have in the whole year when we join the rest of the world in celebrating the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace,’ our Lord Jesus Christ,” pointed out the National United Christian Forum (NUCF) of the Churches in India. The NUCF is comprised of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) that groups 30 Orthodox and Protestant churches, and the Evangelical Fellowship of India (EFI).

“We also strongly oppose the call for a national ban on conversions,” pointed out the Churches, opposing the growing clamor even from ministers in the Hindu nationalist BJP-led federal government. That has been the Hindu nationalist response to opposition parties keeping the Parliament in limbo over physical and verbal attacks on minorities since the beginning of Advent.

Reconversion efforts are also directed to those of other faiths. At Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal – south of Delhi, 57 migrant Muslim families of ragpickers were “reconverted” by a Hindu fundamentalist outfit in front of media cameras in early December.

Unfazed by the barrage of criticism in Parliament and the media over such actions, M Venkaiah Naidu, minister for Parliamentary Affairs, on December 13 called for national and state-level anti-conversion laws. But Christians are not willing to go that far. The call for a ban on conversions, Church representatives say, amounts to a direct attack on individuals’ freedom of conscience to choose one’s faith and on the freedom to profess, practice and propagate the faith of one’s choice. That right is enshrined in article 25 of India’s Constitution.

Still, Hindu nationalists insist on their right to reclaim people who have "strayed" into other religions.

Mohan Bhagwat, supremo of the RSS Rashtriya Swayasevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, known as the fountainhead of the Hindu nationalism, unequivocally declared recently that "India is a Hindu nation."

“Those who strayed were lured away. They were looted from us. If now we are taking back our property, then what’s the big deal?" asked Bhagwat.

“There is a clear attempt to polarize the nation on religious lines,” Divine Word Missionary Father Dominic Emmanuel, a regular guest on competing national TV channels and former spokesman of the Catholic Church in India, told Aleteia.

With the Parliament stalled by the unrelenting opposition parties over attacks on minorities since the beginning of Advent, conversion has become the routine hot topic for TV debates.

“We are worried about what is happening on a daily basis. Normally, Christmas brings joy. But this year, a sense of fear and insecurity has gripped the community,” said Father Emmanuel.

Anto Akkara writes from New Delhi, India.

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