02/04/2005, 00.00
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Hindu fundamentalists storm Christian prayer meeting

by Nirmala Carvalho
Fundamentalists oppose Christian presence in Uttar Pradesh. We shall fight against your conversions, they say. Church promotes human development.

Lucknow (AsiaNews) – Hindu fundamentalists forced their way into a large Christian prayer meeting on January 30 in Lucknow, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, central India.

Hundreds of worshippers had come from nearby towns and villages to take part in the rally, but, waving saffron flags (saffron being the colour symbolises Hinduism), members of Bajarang Dal, a Hindu fundamentalist group, stormed the premises and interrupted the event.

"These Christian rallies are aimed at conversions," the activists said. "These Fathers lure the people with gifts of land, money, food and clothes. We strongly protest against such conversions; we are prepared to fight against such tactics of forced conversions".

Questioned by the police, Rev Rajendra Prasad, a Protestant minister who had organised the event, said: "It is true that I am preaching in the name of Christ, but I am not converting anybody. I neither guarantee, nor promise healing."

For Reverend Prasad, the motives behind the fundamentalists' accusations are simple. "These poor villagers come to my conventions because they receive some consolation and are treated with dignity," he explained. "Why doesn't the Bajrang Dal do anything to help these marginalised people?" [All] the fundamentalists want [is for them] to remain as a depressed class of society so that they can exploit them".

As to the accusations of tricking people into conversion, the reverend is adamant. "I only conduct prayer meeting in Christ's name," he said. "I repeat: no forced conversions go on.  I offer my service to these poor villagers [. . .] free of charge, I demand nothing from them".

Among Indian Protestant communities, faith healing is a common occurrence. Sita Devi, a local woman who attended the prayer meeting, said that the "Father gave me some oil for massage and now I can walk properly. He says that God is up there and we must pray to him".

Interviewed by AsiaNews, Mgr Albert D'Souza, Catholic Bishop of Lucknow, said that, despite what many fundamentalists believe, the prayer meeting did not have the blessing of the Catholic Church.

"I made it abundantly clear to the media that we were neutral," the Bishop said. "Questioned by some senior Bajrang Dal activists [. . .] I assured them that the Church was not involved. [But since] the rally was held in the precinct of one of our Churches [. . .] they think that we were the organisers of the event".

Bishop D'Souza said that relations between the Church and the Uttar Pradesh state authorities were "cordial". He stressed the need for vigilance against attempts to trick peasants into converting with promises of gifts of food and clothing during mass rallies.

Of a different order is the role the Church plays. It is committed to human development projects such as schools, hospitals and dispensaries.

Still, even these initiatives have come under fundamentalist fire. Ashok Senegar, a Bajarang Dal leader, told AsiaNews that "Christians run a centre called Yeshu Darbar in a place that is even called Christ Nagar. For the past two years, people from the neighbouring villages and towns have been regularly flocking to this place. [. . .] And we will stop these Christian conversion activities". (NC)

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