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Where it is a criminal offence to convert to Christianity ...

By George Thomas - posted Monday, 23 October 2006


The Christian conversion issue

Amid the surge of Hindu nationalism in India since 1998, and especially among the Hindu diaspora in the United States who fund such activities, Christians in India now live in a difficult social and political atmosphere. Missionary conversions of Hindus to Christianity are being targetted by right-wing extremist Hindu politics in India. This is the main rationale for the Hindu nationalist oppression of Christians in India.

Four Indian states, Gujerat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh have passed anti-conversion laws or are in the process of passing such laws which makes it a criminal offence to convert to Christianity for both the converter and the converted. Other states such as Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are getting ready to follow.

In most of these cases, the state governments are run by radical Hindus, and are where persecution of Christians take place. Although the secular, Congress party-led, coalition is in power in Delhi led by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, a Christian, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is a Sikh, the Hindu nationalist BJP government has already installed its men in key political positions.

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The Indian constitution penalises Dalits who convert to Christianity. While India provides special rights and privileges for Dalits, even for those who convert to Islam, Buddhism, Jainism, or Sikhism, these are denied to Dalit Christians.

In Karnataka, the government has targeted Christian charities which are seen as covert fronts for conversions. Many Hindu law enforcement officials are sympathetic to the Hindu nationalist’s anti-Christian cause. They are unwilling to take action against those responsible for attacks on Christians, thereby encouraging further attacks. The anti-Christian Hindu agenda is exemplified in the various postings on some radical Hindu blogs and websites, such as Hindu Unity, Christian Aggression, and The Conversion Agenda.

The anti-Christian Hindu movement is led by the militant Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which has established a network of organisations to mobilise all classes and professions of Hindus. There has been a proliferation of its affiliates and fronts under different euphemisms and acronyms. They have mastered the art of international diplomacy using buzz words such as democracy, human rights and secularism, and found a lucrative source of income from like-minded wealthy Hindus in the American and European diasporas.

Hindus in US, Christians in India

Of the US population of 300 million, Christians constitute 230 million or 77 per cent, with another 20 per cent of Christian background identifying themselves as Atheists and Agnostics. Jews constitute 4 million or 1.3 per cent, Muslims 1.6 million or 0.5 per cent, Buddhists 1.5 million or 0.5 per cent, Hindus 1 million or 0.4 per cent.

Hindus are insignificant in numbers but they have prospered enormously in the open and tolerant American Christian atmosphere. About 1,000 Hindu temples have been built throughout the US, many of them highly visible, monstrous-size, constructions in Christian neighbourhoods. They are for the purpose of in-your-face Hindu power rather than for Hindu worship. Unlike Muslims and Buddhists in the US, Hindus are trying to change the physical Christian face and character of America. Indeed, these Hindus are resentful and contemptuous of Christians, Christianity and Jesus.

Now consider the treatment of Christians in India by Hindu nationalists. An increasing number of Christians in some of the states of India (Gujerat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in particular) are fearful of going to church, fearful of being discovered as Christians. Not only have they been attacked for being Christian, but when they try to hide their Christian identity, they have been arrested. Such Christians have started to change their Christian names to Hindu names for security.

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According to the Indian census of 2001, the total population was 1.028 billion. Hindus (including Scheduled Castes and Tribals) numbered 827 million or 80.5 per cent, Muslims 138 million or 13.4 per cent, Christians 24 million or 2.3 per cent, Sikhs 19 million or 2 per cent, Buddhists 8 million or 0.8 per cent and Jains 4 million or 0.4 per cent. "Others" numbered 6.6 million or 0.6 per cent.

But the Hindu numbers and percentages are misleading. About 25 per cent, or 24 million, of those Hindus belong to Scheduled Castes and Tribes. About 40 per cent, or 400 million, are "Other Backward Castes”. About 20 per cent, or 200 million, are religious minorities leaving only 15 per cent belonging to the three upper castes. Consequently the anti-Christian Hindu nationalists come from the three upper castes who constitute about 10 per cent of the total Indian population of 1.1 billion.

Hindu persecution of Christians

Since the BJP came to power and their supporters in key positions of the Indian Government, Christians have been attacked and persecuted. Pastors are being intimidated and attacked, churches are being damaged or destroyed; Christians are made to feel unwanted and live in fear.

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About the Author

Raju G C Thomas is the Allis Chalmers distinguished professor of International Affairs at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His most recent book is as contributing editor of Yugoslavia Unraveled : Sovereignty, Self-Determination, Intervention, Lexington Books, 2004

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