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Controversy over conversion raises alarm among Christians in India

Country/Region: India, South and East Asia

A senior leader of a Hindu extremist group in India has demanded a new constitution that allows for “anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”, while there are fears for the safety of a Christian pastor over accusations of the forced conversion of Muslims.

Praveen_Togadia_4X3.jpg
Praveen Togadia, General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad
Arpit_Bakshi / CC BY 3.0

Praveen Togadia, General Secretary of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), made the inflammatory statement at the conclusion of a three day conference for VHP workers from across the country, held in Gujarat last week.

It sparked concern among Indian Christians, who fear it will stir up Hindu extremists to commit attacks against them and other minority groups.

A Christian human rights group in India said the speech “clearly promotes enmity, hatred or ill-will and disturbs public tranquillity. It also implies that minorities, especially Christians and Muslims do not bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India and must be denied or deprived of their rights as Indian citizens.”

Togadia’s statement follows an article in July by Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy that recommended a national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to any other religion.

Conversion is a sensitive issue in India where, despite the constitution guaranteeing religious liberty, a number of states have introduced “anti-conversion laws” under which non-Hindus are liable to penalties for converting someone by “force”, “fraud” or “inducement”. Christian communities have come under attack by radical Hindus because of unsubstantiated accusations about conversions.

Pastor threatened

There is also pressure on Indian Christians from Muslims over the issue of conversion. Last week, the Grand Mufti of Kashmir called a Christian pastor, Rev. Chander Khanna, to a sharia court to explain the alleged forced conversions of young Muslims.

The grand mufti claimed to possess a video that showed Rev Khanna urging young Kashmiri Muslims to embrace Christianity. He issued this threat:

I will take all necessary measures in exercise of the powers vested in me by Islamic sharia. It is a matter of grave concern that Christian missionaries active here should be running an organised and integrated campaign to convert young Kashmiri Muslims to Christianity.

Bishop Pradeep Kumar Samantaroy of the Church of North India (CNI) said the allegations of inducing conversion were “bogus and baseless” and expressed concern for Rev Khanna.

Police have received a complaint against the pastor and have asked him not to move from his home for his own safety.

Bishop Samantaroy said that the converts in question had attended the church for more than a year and had expressed their desire to be baptised. They have denied the allegation of inducement in police interviews.

The bishop added:

Our founding fathers ensured each of us citizens of our country the free will to choose their religion and if one wants of his own free will to choose or change his or her faith it is his or her constitutional right.

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