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Church Wants Government To Examine Claims Of Christians Being Converted

ICC Note: Another “reconversion” ceremony where Hindus claim to take back 116 Christians shows that the country’s anti-conversion laws are a farce – they are only for the Christian missionaries.

10/19/07 India (UCAN) — The Catholic Church is demanding a probe into a ceremony in which a Hindu group claims to have converted 116 Christians to Hinduism in central India.

Church leaders have asked Madhya Pradesh state’s chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, to order “a free and fair” probe into the incident that reportedly happened on Oct. 11 in Dewas district. The district is in Indore diocese, based 810 kilometers south of New Delhi.

According to a memorandum sent to the chief minister on Oct. 15, the Church learned with “great pain” about the ceremony, reportedly organized by the Hindu radical group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council).

A copy of the memorandum that UCA News obtained says the Christian community “is highly skeptical” about the entire episode, and the event was organized to create communal discord and project the Christian community in a bad light.

Father Anand Muttungal, a memorandum signatory, told UCA News that Church leaders are “not sure about the identity” of the Christians at the ceremony and “that is why we need a probe.”

The ceremony is part of an ongoing “reconversion” movement in central India spearheaded by Dilip Singh Judeo, a politician and member of a former royal family. The movement, ghar vapasi (homecoming), claims to bring Christians “back to” Hinduism, which it insists had been their original religion.

Several such ceremonies have taken place since the movement began more than a decade ago. Media reports often describe them as stunts for political gains.

Judeo belongs to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, Indian people’s party), which has led the state government since December 2003.

With the government’s five-year term due to expire in about a year, a state election looms on the horizon. The BJP is widely considered the political arm of right-wing Hindu groups that aim to make India a Hindu theocracy.

Attacks and harassment of Christians in the state have increased since the BJP took power, Church leaders say. They suspect the recent ceremony was the “handiwork of miscreants (out) for publicity,” Father Muttungal told UCA News.

Such events, the priest said, help people get “headlines in print and visual media,” so people with election-ticket aspirations often organize such ceremonies to put themselves in the limelight.

Father Thomas Mathew, rector of Indore diocese’s minor seminary in Dewas, told UCA News, “No local Christian was part of that ceremony.” He said he personally inquired after local newspapers published news of the event.

Nand Kishore Diwedi, VHP district general secretary, told UCA News only seven of the 116 converts were from Madhya Pradesh, the rest coming from neighboring Maharashtra and Gujarat states. He and his group “strongly oppose conversion” of Hindus, he said, claiming the Hindu religion is “under threat” in several Indian states because of large-scale conversions.

“We want every Christian and Muslim to return to their parent religion (Hinduism),” added Diwedi, who maintains that “more than 99 percent” of Indian Christians and Muslims are converts from Hinduism.

VHP and affiliated groups have reconverted 240,000 in the past 15 years, and they will “continue” to do so to save the Hindu religion, he also said.

An eyewitness to the Dewas ceremony told UCA News, on condition of anonymity, that organizers erected a makeshift hall with a seating capacity of 10,000, but hardly 2,000 people attended.