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Christian Today (02/10/06) – The General Board of Global Ministries, part of the United Methodist Church, is actively supporting Christian churches, faith bodies, and activists in India in opposing the possible forced conversion of tribal people, including Christians, to fundamentalist Hinduism.
As many as eight thousand Christians in Gujarat state, or around five per cent of the population in the region, could be forced to convert from their Christian faith at a massive rally at Dang organised by a Hindu sect, Rashtiriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), from Feb. 11th to 13th.
Global Ministries, the mission agency of the United Methodist Church, said that the tribal people are expecting violent consequences from the fundamentalist Hindus for practising their faith.
Chief officer of the General Board of Global Ministries, the Rev. R. Randy Day, stated in a recent statement: “The United Methodist Church strongly supports religious liberty and the right of persons to follow their conscience in faith. Forced religious conversion of any kind is an affront to human dignity.”
India’s principle Christian bodies, including the Church of North India, the All India Council of Churches and the Gujarat Conference of Methodist Church have won the support of human rights advocates and environmentalists in urging the Indian government to stop the rally known as the Shabri Kumabh Mela (Urn Festival) from taking place.
Other Christian groups pressing the state and central government for protection include the local Roman Catholic diocese, the Salvation Army, and the Christian Alliance Church.
Environmentalists are concerned about the damage that will be done by the event which will see large swathes of forest, upon which the tribal people and their culture depend, cut down to make room for the 500,000 tribal people the RSS is planning to mobilise for the rally.
The Gujarat government came under fire recently in the Human Rights Watch 2006 World Report overview which was published two weeks ago.
The report criticised the Gujarat government for again failing to investigate and prosecute those responsible for attacks on Muslims during the Gujarat riots of 2002.
“Despite legislative measures to protect marginalized groups, discrimination based on caste, social, or religious status continues widely in practice, with the failure to implement anti-discrimination policies being especially apparent after the December 2004 tsunami,” stated the report.
It continued: “Tribal groups who have converted to Christianity have been targeted for attack by extremist Hindu organizations.”
The Human Rights Watch report also highlighted the attempts by members of the right-wing Hindu extremist groups Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bajrang Dal to intimidate an independent people’s tribunal in June 2005 that was investigating the rise of violent sectarianism in Orissa state.
Rev. Day called for Christians to stand firm in the midst of threats to religious freedom, urging “all United Methodists to be at prayer for the Christians and for all the people of Gujarat as they face difficult days ahead”.
He added: “May God give the tribal groups strength to hold fast to their convictions.”