11/08/2006, 00.00
INDIA
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"Hindu pope" attacks Christian conversions as nationalists bring Dalits "back to the faith"

by Nirmala Carvalho

Swarni Swarupanada Saraswati, Hindu spiritual leader, has described conversions as immoral, just as Hindu nationalists enjoying his protection "reconverted" outcastes who were never Christians at all.

Bhubaneshwar (AsiaNews) – The so-called "Hindu Pope", Swami Swarupananda Saraswati, has denounced conversions to other faiths and called on the government to impose "a complete ban on change of faith". 

Meanwhile, paramilitary nationalist movements protected by the man announced 10,000 "re-conversions" to Hinduism for next year.

Saraswati, leader of the Hindu monastery of Dwarka Peeth, said: "Conversion is ethically wrong", adding: "The problem will persist when one thinks about outcastes, the poor and needy, who are prey to conversion."

The religious man said: "Hinduism respects other faiths. But conversion through allurement is unethical. Those indulging in conversion perhaps don't realize they are hurting their own faith". 

In the meantime, the leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP, formation of nationalist Hindus that enjoys the holy man's spiritual and practical backing] "reconverted to Hinduism" 73 tribal Dalits in Rourkela district in the eastern state of Orissa, and announced "another 10,000 returns to the true faith" for next year.

However, Ignatius Lakara, a tribal Christian activist, said the "so called reconverted Christians are not Christians at all. They are actually non-Christian outcastes whom Hindu nationalists have brought from remote villages to stage these ceremonies, just to convince rich Hindus of the Union to give them donations in defence of traditional religion."

John Dayal, President, All India Catholic Council, told AsiaNews: "This is all ironic and tragic. Saraswati is among the very few Hindu religious leaders who supports nationalist groups and their prevalent Hindutva thesis, and yet he speaks of tolerance."

Dayal continued: "The ban he is calling for is a ban on freedom of faith, which violates the Indian constitution and laws. It is an accepted fact around the world that this freedom is one of the principal human rights. Fortunately, only a small fringe of fanatics shares these views."

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