The Hindu activists believed to be members of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Council of Hindus, and its militant youth wing, Bajrang Dal, called in the police accusing Church authorities of violating a state law prohibiting conversion by fraud or allurement.
Newsroom (05/10/2022 5:45 PM Gaudium Press) —In the latest attack on Christians in central India, suspected Hindu groups stopped a Catholic youth program, accusing the Church of trying to convert gullible tribal people in the Khandwa area of Madhya Pradesh state.
The intimidatory tactics forced the Khandwa diocese to cancel the October 3-5 convention of some 200 Catholic youth it had planned inside one of the closed diocesan schools because of the popular Hindu Dussehra festival, said Father Jayan Alex, diocesan public relations officer.
“As our young people started to arrive in vehicles at St. Pious School from different parts of the diocese, a group of young people blocked their vehicle. They alleged that the youths were being brought there for religious conversion,” Father Alex said on Oct. 5.
The Hindu activists believed to be members of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Council of Hindus, and its militant youth wing, Bajrang Dal, also called in the police and sought action against Church authorities for violating the provision of a state law that prohibits conversion by fraud or allurement.
Father Alex said police promptly arrived and took statements from the 200 youth on campus, seeking to know who they were and why they came to the school campus.
The Hindu activists dispersed only after the police assured them that a complaint had been registered and investigations would be conducted.
However, a police officer, who is part of the team probing the case, said on anonymity that the conversion charge would not stand. “All the young people present there were Catholics. There wasn’t a single person from any other religion,” he said.
Father Alex said the Church officials are not worried about the case.
“We are more worried about how such events tarnish the image of the Church. Our program was disrupted. It gives an impression that the Church is bent on violating laws and fraudulently converting the poor,” he said.
“We could not conduct a program that had been planned for months. Besides incurring financial loss to the diocese, it also creates an impression that Christians are incapable and weak,” he added.
Christian leaders say the Hindu groups work to create a false impression that missionaries are involved in illegal conversion of economically and socially poor Dalit and tribal people.
“They spread the impression that Catholics are working to convert. It is a blatant lie… but it is being publicized against us,” Father Alex said while expressing concern that such false news will eventually threaten the harmony of the society and the safety of a minuscule of Christians in the area.
Father Babu Joseph, a former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, said that the “uncalled for intervention and even intimidation of Christians and their institutions have unfortunately become a pastime for some organizations owing allegiance to the majority community in the state.”
Father Joseph said that Madhya Pradesh has been one of the first states in India to pass an anti-conversion law and recently amended it to introduce more stringent penalties on those who choose to change their religion.
“When there is a law, it was the duty of the activists to report their suspicion [of conversion] to the police rather than blocking the movement of Catholic youth, an illegal action,” Father Joseph said. “If everyone starts blocking the movement of others on any suspicion in a civilized society what will be the condition of the state? Obviously, there will be only chaos.”
Madhya Pradesh has witnessed several such incidents and is the hotbed of Christian persecution. The pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party currently rules it.
Christians are a tiny minority in Madhya Pradesh, making up 0.29 percent of the more than 70 million people, mostly Hindus.
– Raju Hasmukh with files from UCAN News