INDIA: Reconversion campaign terror

A small Christian community praying in a rural village in Sagar Diocese (© ACN)
A small Christian community praying in a rural village in Sagar Diocese (© ACN)

Christians in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh are living in fear after radical Hindutva activists stepped up a campaign to reconvert indigenous believers.

Speaking to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Rocky Shah, public relations officer of Jhabua Diocese, said: “Our people are frightened as radical Hindu groups are pressurising the indigenous Christians to give up their faith in Christianity.”

In Jhabua District, where indigenous people make up the majority, Christians comprise four percent of the population – but are less than one percent of the state’s population of 71 million.

After the Madhya Pradesh government implemented a stringent anti-conversion law in January 2021, more than a dozen Christians, including priests, were jailed and prayer meetings were obstructed following the allegation of religious conversion—a charge anybody can level without any proof.

Hindutva activists have accused 56 Christian leaders of carrying out illegal religious conversions.

Rev’d Paul Muniya, auxiliary bishop of the Pentecostal Shalom Church in Jhabua, told ACN: “Our pastors are getting summons, including myself, from the district administration to prove our Christian background.

“I appeared before the official on September 22nd, now I am summoned again. I will take the chance to witness my faith before the official as I have nothing to hide.”

Fr Shah, who himself is an indigenous priest, also reported that Hindutva activists held a reconversion seminar in their district headquarters, where the key-note speaker was a reconverted tribal member.

According to the priest, the function was apparently deigned to encourage indigenous people who had become Christian to return to animism.

He added: “When we tried to verify details of the ‘reconverted Christian’ we found that neither was he an indigenous person nor was he based in the diocese. He was brought from outside the area to demoralise the indigenous Christians.”

Christianity in the diocese, the priest asserted, “is more than a century old and the faithful are second or third-generation Christian. But still the Hindu activists are after them to reconvert. Still, people are strong in their faith and are not willing to go anywhere.”

Father Shah said Christians are contemplating taking legal action if harassment and persecution from radical Hindu groups continues.

He added: “The Hindu activists are running campaigns demanding action against priests and pastors who are leading the Christian communities and they threatened to demolish our churches under the false charge that they are built illegally on the lands of indigenous people”.

Father Shah concluded: “Our properties, including churches, were built legally with due permission from the government authorities. Therefore, we have no objection to submitting such details before the officials if that is required.”