(Morning Star News) – Christmas-related anti-Christian violence and harassment have begun as Hindu extremists undertake an aggressive effort to “reconvert” tribal people to Hinduism, sources said.
Police arrested and Hindu extremists attacked Christians in three Christmas-related incident in three states the past two weeks.
“Christians in India are apprehensive of having a peaceful Christmas amid this wave of attacks as the right-wing groups are also becoming more aggressive in their mass conversion program that is taking place in different parts of India,” the Rev. Bhupendra Kohra, a church leader in central India, told Morning Star News. “We are fearful but we are praying.”
Police on Wednesday (Dec. 17) arrested 16 Christians, including four women, as they celebrated Christmas in Navipur, Pipraich, Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh, Liris Thomas of Alliance Defending Freedom-India (ADF-India) told Morning Star News.
“They were taken to the police station at about 10 a.m., and they were detained till 3:30 a.m. the next morning,” Thomas said.
All the Christians except Pastor Amit Kumar were released without charges, with the pastor being held for “disturbing the peace” and his belongs confiscated, Thomas said.
In Andhra Pradesh, Hindu extremists on Dec. 13 attacked pastor Bhimudu Nayak and members of the Banjara Baptist Church at about midnight as they were singings carols, seriously injuring Pastor Nayak and five others in Singareny, Hyderabad, area church leader and Evangelical Fellowship of India representative T. Monohar told Morning Star News.
“About 15 people suddenly came up against the carol team, accused them of forceful conversion and started to beat them up,” Monohar said. “The pastor was beaten unconscious and rushed to the hospital along with five other Christians.”
In Madhya Pradesh state, Hindu extremists on Dec. 9 beat pastor Paltu Ahirwar and another Christian from Blessing Youth Mission as they were returning home to Bamnora village, in Chattarpur District. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that the extremists were furious that the Christians were conducting a Christmas program in their village.
In the widespread Ghar Vapsi (“homecoming”) campaign launched this month by Hindu extremists, the Hindu nationalist Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) allegedly “reconverted” about 30 impoverished tribal Christians to Hinduism in Kerala state in a five hour-ceremony on Sunday (Dec. 21) in Alappuzha District, The Hindu reported.
The reconversion campaign is predicated on the Hindu nationalist belief that being born in India makes one a Hindu, and therefore anyone of a different faith must be “reconverted,” thus returning them “home” to their national religious identity. The unit president of the VHP, Pratap G. Padikkal, claimed that eight families from a Pentecostal church came forward voluntarily for conversion and that another 150 families expressed interest in conversion to Hinduism.
The converted families were not traceable, as the local VHP leaders had moved them to another location, The Hindu reported, noting that more than 200 Christians were also “reconverted” at Aranai village in the Valsad District of Gujarat.
Similarly, in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, 57 Muslim families on Dec. 8 were “reconverted” to Hinduism in a mass conversion ceremony jointly organized by the Dharma Jagran Samanvav Vibhag, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal, according to The Times of India.
“RSS people assured us that they will provide us a better place to live, better food and schooling for my grandsons,” Sufia Begum, 76, told The Times.
Some participants reportedly said they were lured to the reconversion event with the promise of voter identification, proof of address and government ration cards, while others said they were not aware that the ritual was one of conversion and that they still considered themselves Muslims.
“Any coercion or threats should be swiftly dealt with under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code,” attorney Tehmina Arora of ADF-India told Morning Star News.
The Uttar Pradesh Minorities Commission has stated that the Agra “reconversion” event was an “act of fraud.”
Hindu extremists had pledged to hold a massive reconversion event in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh state, on Christmas Day in which 5,000 Christians and Muslims would be “brought back to the Hindu fold.” Rajeshwar Singh, head of a wing of the RSS known as the Dharm Jagran Samiti, reportedly said Christmas was chosen as the day of the event as a Shakti Parish or “test of strength” between religions.
At press time the planned event appeared to have been postponed after the RSS came under government pressure.
These and other reconversion events raised sharp protests in parliament, with the opposition demanding on Dec. 10 that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has links to Hindu extremist groups, respond to the reconversion events and address the issue of fraudulent “reconversions.”
“The House and the country need reassurance that the constitution will not be violated,” Congress party leader Anand Sharma said, according to The Times of India.
In Chhattisgarh, about 33 members of 10 tribal Christian families were “reconverted” to Hinduism on Oct. 9 at Kunkuda, Bastar town, Jagdalpur, ADF-India reported. In the same area, the VHP demanded that Hindu idol Ma Saraswati should be installed in 22 schools run by Catholic missionaries, and the lead priest should be addressed only as “Sir” and not “Father.”