03/02/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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150 Christian outcastes “return” to Hinduism

by Nirmala Carvalho
It is the first time such a ceremony has been held in Himachal Pradesh, where an anti-conversion law was recently enacted. A Catholic bishop warns that this is a dangerous situation for all Christians.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – A total of 150 men, women and children who had converted to Christianity “returned” to Hinduism in a ceremony that took place on 28 February in Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. This is the state where a controversial “law on religious freedom”, better known as “anti-conversion law” came into effect last month. The approval of this law by parliament and the governor is cause for concern among religious minorities because Himachal Pradesh in northern India is the first state of the Union governed by the Congress democratic party to approve such a law. The bishop of Shimla, Mgr Gerald Mathias, said it is the anti-conversion law that lies at the root of the initiative that took place two days ago.

Local media said the people who reconverted were outcastes (Dalits) who had become Christian because of allurements by missionaries throughout decades of proselytism. A promoter of the grand ceremony was the All India SC and ST Mahasangh (League for Dalits from all India). The followers of many religions participated, from Sikhs to Buddhists, as well as Hindu activists belonging to Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other nationalist groups.

Mgr Mathias told AsiaNews that none of the reconverted people had been Catholic. He warned: “This is the fruit of the new law on religious freedom. Since its approval, extremist groups feel they have the right to carry out these re-conversions. It is a dangerous situation for all Christians of Himachal Pradesh.”

The law stipulates that converting members of tribal communities or women by “allurement” or “force” is punishable by three years in jail and high fines. The bishop said: “This is a means to block the missionary and social activity of the Church, which helps the most vulnerable people in society with its health care centres and schools.” He added: “Ironically the law allows for re-conversion ceremonies to Hinduism”.

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