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World Hindu Council Calls for Nationwide Anti-Conversion Law in India

Hindu mob detains, assaults six Christian workers in Orissa state.

by Vishal Arora

(Compass) — The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) has called for a comprehensive law to ban religious conversions in India as part of a new campaign to stem the “increasing” number of conversions around the country.

Addressing media on August 25, Mohan Joshi, national secretary of the VHP, said the existing anti-conversion laws in some states were not stringent enough to curb religious conversions.

“The law should have provision to penalize foreign nationals and organizations engaged in conversion with a fine of 10 lakh* rupees (1,000,000 rupees or $22,750) and 10 years of imprisonment to effectively check conversion,” Asia News quoted Joshi as saying.

Anti-conversion laws are in force in the states of Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, and Arunachal Pradesh. Gujarat state passed a similar law in March 2003; but the law has not been enforced because the government has not yet formulated rules under the Act.

Responding to the VHP’s demand for a nationwide anti-conversion law, John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Compass, “Such laws are against the constitution, and they violate international covenants to which India is a signatory, including the United Nations charter.”

After the repeal of the Tamil Nadu state anti-conversion law last year, all states should follow suit, he added.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa repealed the state Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Act in May 2004, following the poor performance of her party in the April 2004 general elections.

In his statement to the press, Joshi said the VHP would launch a renewed campaign across India to combat an alleged rise in proselytization by Christian missionaries over the past year.

The VHP would convene Dharma Sansads (religious gatherings) in six locations “as part of its fresh attempt to curb the increasing number of conversions in India ,” he said.

Claiming that the VHP had reliable information about plans of the Seventh-day Adventists (SDA) to convert 1 million Indians, Joshi said all foreign Christian missionaries should be expelled from the country.

The Chennai High Court in the southern state of Tamil Nadu passed an order in July to seize the travel documents of SDA South Asia president Pastor D. Ronald Watts and his wife, Dorothy Watts, both Canadian but based in south India, on the grounds that they had allegedly forced more than 1 million Hindus to convert to Christianity.

Joshi has also demanded an investigation into grants given to Christian missionaries, claiming that a large portion of the funds given by the Indian government or foreign sources were being used either for religious conversions or for creating communal disharmony.

The VHP was founded in 1964 with the goal of reconverting “all those who have been knowingly or unknowingly proselytized to alien faiths and are now desirous of coming back to the Hindu fold.”

Two other associations allied with the VHP continue to engage in violent attacks against Christians.

About 25 extremists belonging to the Bajrang Dal, the youth wing of the VHP, and members of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attacked members of the Indian Missionary Society in Orissa’s Malkangiri district on August 22.

The group stopped six Christian workers who were returning from a nearby village, seized books and tracts from them and ordered them to attend a meeting in the village hall on August 23.

The six were held in the room from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. while the extremists slapped, abused and threatened them, a local Christian told Compass on condition of anonymity.

In the end the Christians were forced to sign a blank piece of paper. Their captors also threatened to shave their heads as a punishment for preaching Christianity.

The local police finally intervened and took the Christians to the police station to record their statements. The Christians were released at 10 p.m. Angered with the police response, the extremists organized a protest the following day, blocking the main road into the village.

* Note: 1 lakh is equal to 100,000 rupees.