Christians worried as Hindu festival nears
Fear mounts rightwing extremists will attempt forced re-conversions
“There is mounting tension in Christian circles here,” says Father George Thomas, a Catholic priest working in the Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh.
“We are taking every possible step to protect our lives and property,” Father Thomas told ucanews.com today.
The Hindu groups plan to host their religious festival Feb. 10-12.
According to local media, some 2.5 million people from all over India are expected to attend the Ma Narmada Samajik Kumbh (Social Fair of Mother Narmada).
Narmada is a major river that runs through the district.
The main aim of the festival, according to media reports is to “return” tribal Christians to Hinduism, which the organizers claim is “their original religion.”
Media reports also suggested that hardline Hindu activists accused of terror attacks in various parts of India are backing the ghar vapasi (homecoming), or the religious re-conversion.
Local Christians plan to appeal to the collector, the highest-ranking government official in a district, for protection during the fair, Father Thomas said.
One Protestant pastor says threats have already been made. Three people came to my home to demand a donation for the festival. When I refused, they threatened me with “dire consequences” and took 50 rupees (US$1.10) from me, said Reverend Jai Prakash Koti.
“They also gave me the festival program and ordered me to attend all activities without fail,” the tribal pastor added.
He also claimed some people are encouraging Christians to convert to Hinduism to maintain the peace.
“We have left everything to God and hope no harm will come to us,” he said.
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