02/22/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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Hindu nationalists slam conversions to Christianity as cultural "offence, terrorism"

by Nirmala Carvalho

Nationalist Hindu movements are clamouring for new, more severe legislation to "stop conversions to Christianity". A Verbite theologian says: "It's just a political move. They enjoy medical services and missionary schools but feel practically obliged to attack them".

Guwahati (AsiaNews) – The "urgent" call of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP – the largest Indian political party with nationalist leanings) on the central government to legislate against conversions to Christianity has been dismissed as "just another political move".

Talking to AsiaNews, Fr Augustine Kanjamala, a theologian and sociology professor, described thus the latest attack launched by Hindu nationalists who "from time to time feel obliged to attack Christianity, their favourite enemy". "It is a politicization of religion and it is the means by which the BJP hopes to whip up Hindu nationalist sentiments in Indian citizens, which could translate into votes."

The request to the government was made by Rajnath Singh, party leader, during a rally held last Sunday in the capital of the eastern state of Assam. "There is a threat to this country from Christian missionaries who in the name of development and welfare activities are converting poor people, especially in tribal areas across the country," he said during his speech.

Singh, who attended the rally to launch the BJP electoral campaign for political polls in April, said: "Large-scale conversions could threaten the social and the religious fabric of India". He added: "We have warned all states governed by our party: nobody can carry out conversions to Christianity."

"It is illogical because they all enjoy the educational and medical facilities of the Missionaries, but they feel obliged to defend their disappearing identity," continued Fr Kanjamala.

The same appeal was made by leaders of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP – a paramilitary formation of Hindu nationalist youth): they called for "clear legislation" to describe any religious "passage" as a punishable offence. The appeal was made to the government during a two-day pilgrimage to Puri, a Hindu sanctuary in the eastern state of Orissa. The VHP called on "all parties to unite without political distinction" to promote this battle "in the name of the unity, integrity and security of India".

On the same pilgrimage, nationalist Hindus urged a "halt to the influx of foreign money into the country through Christian organisations" because "it is used for conversions to Christianity and to fund terrorist activities on Indian soil".

At the end of the religious meeting, the VHP drew up a document which virtually threatened the government; "If our demand is not fulfilled, the VHP would launch an agitation throughout the country," wrote their leaders. The document said the first move Delhi must approve is the "immediate deportation of more than 3,000 Christian missionaries who came to the country as tourists or businessmen".

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, told AsiaNews: "Conversions, religious or political, by force or by fraud are illegal in India and in many other countries, and rightfully so. Conversions by free will and by choice are a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution, as well as a cardinal principal of the United Nations charter, because they fall under the freedom of profess, practice and propagate one's personal faith."

He added: "The freedom to convert is also an intrinsic component of Indian history and cultural tradition, as is evident from the spread of Indian Buddhism in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Mongolia. To demand an end to freedom of faith is to deny India's constitutional basis and to betray its democratic, pluralistic and republican roots. It is a fascist act."

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