New Delhi (AsiaNews) Catholic authorities in Orissa have decided to appeal to the central government to stop an anti-Christian campaign launched in this eastern Indian state by local Hindu fundamentalists, police and media.
The Times of India yesterday reported three Christians were assaulted suspected of converting residents in the village of Gopinath, Balasore district. In another story, police reported a man was beaten by Christians for refusing to convert. Such contradictory accounts are part of a trend targeting "conversions".
Mgr Thomas Thiruthalil, Bishop of Balasore, told AsiaNews that the issue of conversions "is a tool easily used by extremist groups who want to arouse communal passion".
"Anti-social elements are taking advantage of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act," the Bishop said, "to intimidate Tribals with the knowledge and consent of the local administration".
The Act prohibits forced conversion but is used as a legal instrument to threaten Tribals most of whom are illiterate and easily swayed by fundamentalists and politicians.
Bishop Thiruthalil, who is also chairman of the Orissa Bishops' Regional Council, said he was going to write the Home minister to urge him to investigate this matter.
John Dayal, President of the All India Catholic Union, said that claims about forced conversions are fabricated by fundamentalists whilst stories about anti-Christian violence are all true.
"Why," Mr Dayal asks, "is the Orissa police not as zealous in investigating anti-Christian incidents as it is when just the word 'conversion' is uttered?"
Orissa is under a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) administration, a party that till May of this year also controlled the Union government. It is also a stronghold of Hindu fundamentalism. Groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council, the BJP's extremist religious wing, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or National Volunteer Corps, a Hindu paramilitary organisation, are very active in the state. They are well known for their anti-religious minority ideology.