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ICC Note:

Recently released government data in India has indicated that Christianity is growing among India’s tribal people. Christian leaders in India expressed their excitement over this new data, but also cautioned that the figures released by the government may be politically motivated. Religious conversions, especially to what Hindu nationalists consider “foreign faiths”, are a sensitive subject in India and often used as excuses to attack and persecute Christian evangelists. Despite the fact that India’s constitution provides for complete religious freedom, several states in India have passed laws that make it illegal to convert from one religion to another without government approval. Has this new data regarding the growth of Christianity been released with political motives? 

4/20/2016 India (UCAN) – A growing trend in India shows tribal people embracing either Christianity or Islam over Hinduism, said the latest government statistics. However some see divisive political fodder in the data.

Government figures released in mid-April said the number of Christian tribal people has increased from 6.3 million in 2001 to 10.03 million in 2011, recording a 63 percent growth.

The number of tribal people who profess Islam has grown 51 percent from 1.2 million to 1.8 million during the period when the national census was last conducted.

While the number of tribal people following the Hindu faith is much larger, their percentage growth has been comparatively less at 39 percent. The 60 million Hindu tribal people in 2001 grew to 84 million in 2011.

In contrast, total tribal population growth was only 23 percent from 84 million to 104 million for the period. The number of tribal people who do not belong to any religion or follow animism decreased from 16.4 million to 7.8 million, indicating increased religious conversions.

“There is nothing wrong” if the data is interpreted to show tribal people have been converting to Christianity, said Father Ranjit Tigga, head of the department of tribal studies at New Delhi’s Indian Social Institute.

He said the Indian constitution gives all citizens the freedom to profess and propagate a religion of their choice.

“If the data is correct, it is good news” for the tribal-based church in the north and northeastern parts of India, said Father Tigga.

Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega said that if the data is to be believed, then it is positive.

“It will give us a morale boost to work hard for evangelization and also it gives us the satisfaction that we are heading in the right direction,” said Bishop Barwa who is the convener of the national bishops’ office for tribal affairs.

Religious conversion has been a sensitive issue in Indian politics for several decades but assumed special significance after the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power two years ago. The party opposes religious conversion saying it destabilizes the nation and its dominant Hindu culture.

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