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ICC Note:

Across India, Hindu radical groups are conducting a campaign of converting Christians and Muslims to Hinduism, in many by allurement or force. Reports that several of these conversions have been done by force has brought India’s parliament to a halt with many calling on India’s Prime Minister to speak out against the conversions. To date, Prime Minister Modi, who comes from a Hindu nationalist background, has yet to speak out on the topic that has brought his government to a halt, leading many to fear Modi may be tacitly approving of the conversions. 

12/23/2014 India (New York Times) – Every other month or so, someone calls the Rev. Phil Oswald and asks if he would be willing to baptize Hindus so they can become Christians.

“They always follow the same script,” said Mr. Oswald, the pastor of Delhi International Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational service heavy on guitars and jeans. “It’s obviously a setup.”

The Soviets famously used “honey traps,” temptations of booze and beautiful women, to lure Westerners into compromising situations. For some Christians in India, there is a “Jesus trap”: temptations of soul-saving to lure visiting pastors and missionaries into conversions that could cause them to lose residency visas.

Mr. Oswald said he always refers such callers, whom he assumes to be Hindu nationalists, to native Indian pastors who cannot be deported, an offer that is invariably declined. Even so, Mr. Oswald, who is from the Midwest, said his visa applications have faced unusual delays.

Hindu nationalists here claim that Muslims and Christians have been forcing Hindus to convert to their religions for centuries. So there is deep sensitivity to proselytizing by non-Hindus, particularly foreigners. Visas for religious professionals are strictly limited, some missionaries are instructed not to proselytize openly and, now that a Hindu nationalist has become India’s prime minister, hardline Hindu groups have begun a long-dreamed campaign to claw back some of those conversion losses.

This month in Agra, nearly 200 Muslims were reported to have been converted en masse to Hinduism by an offshoot of the powerful Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist group that is the ideological wing of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party and that once employed the prime minister, Narendra Modi.

The same group has announced plans to convert thousands of Christians to Hinduism on Christmas Day.

Some recent converts reported being tricked into the ceremonies with promises of economic benefits. But the leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Mohan Bhagwat, has promised to press ahead with the conversions, which his group has called “homecomings.”

“We will bring back those who have lost their way. They did not go on their own,” Mr. Bhagwat said Saturday.

About 80 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people are Hindus, but nearly 15 percent are Muslims and the rest are Christian, Buddhist, Adivasi (indigenous tribes) or Zoroastrians, known as Parsees. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, made secularism a central part of his governing philosophy, but religious violence has convulsed India repeatedly and religious identity often shapes voting patterns. Hindu groups accuse centrist parties of pandering to minorities to win the support of “vote banks.”

Opposition lawmakers, denouncing the Hindu conversions as divisive and politically motivated, have united to paralyze India’s upper house of Parliament until Mr. Modi publicly condemns the conversions.

“This is far too serious a national issue for anyone but the prime minister to address in Parliament,” Abhishek Singhvi, a spokesman for the Indian National Congress Party, said in an interview.

With the present parliamentary session scheduled to end this week, the paralysis has stymied Mr. Modi’s modest agenda of change, dealing a serious blow to efforts to revive India’s stalled economy.

That Mr. Modi has refused to call for an end to the conversions despite the legislative paralysis has begun to worry political analysts here.

“The P.M. must end this debate unequivocally and shift the focus back to governance,” The Times of India said in an editorial Tuesday.

In an interview, Nalin Kohli, a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party, derisively noted that India’s previous prime minister, Manmohan Singh, rarely spoke publicly at all.

“We should leave it to the prime minister’s discretion to choose the time, place and message that he believes are important to the country for him to address,” Mr. Kohli said of Mr. Modi.

Shekhar Gupta, a political commentator, said he was surprised that Mr. Modi had so far refused to denounce the conversions — a seemingly easy price to pay to get his legislative agenda moving.

“So either the prime minister is not strong enough to stop these guys from doing these conversions, or he thinks like them,” Mr. Gupta said. “And I don’t know which one of those options is worse.”

Mr. Modi was himself a divisive figure, when as chief minister of Gujarat State, religious rioting there in 2002 left more than 1,000 people dead, mostly Muslims. But he came to national power promising to focus on India’s economic development while moderating his Hindu nationalism. Even his critics have acknowledged that he has shown few signs since his election in May of being the religiously divisive figure they had predicted.

But hard-line Hindu groups, impatient with Mr. Modi’s refusal to champion their causes, have shaken off months of quiescence and begun to speak out. Some insist that they are doing so with Mr. Modi’s tacit approval.

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