An Indian participates in an alleged conversion ritual of some 200 Christians into Hinduism, at Aranai village in Valsad district, Gujarat state. (Photo by STR/AFP)
Church leaders in India want the government to investigate claims that a Hindu group converted 500,000 Christians and 250,000 Muslims to Hinduism in the past 10 years.
Pravin Togadia, leader of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council), recently claimed the conversions were part of his organization's ghar wapsi (homecoming) campaign, aimed at claiming back Hindus who became Christians and Muslims.
The claim raises "serious questions" about the implementation of laws framed to stop forced conversions in the country, said Father Gyanprakash Topno, spokesman of the Indian Catholic bishops' conference.
Father Topno said he was "not convinced" of the numbers but, he did say that the group has been engaged in converting Christians, particularly in the tribal areas of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh states.
This shows that "anti-conversion laws are selectively executed against religious minorities," Father Topno said.
He wants the Indian government to investigate the group's claim and take action if they are found to be violating the law.
Several Indian states have passed laws banning religious conversion through threat, fraud or inducement — a crime punishable with imprisonment. Christian leaders said the law aims at checking the church's activities in health care and education, which can be interpreted as inducement.
Cardinal Telesphore Toppo of Ranchi, based in the capital of Jharkhand, has dismissed the Hindu group's claims. "It is mere propaganda. I don't believe in these (numbers)," he told ucanews.com.
"Even if some such conversions take place, they are not real" as they are done under threat and social boycotts, the cardinal said.
Archbishop Leo Cornelio of Bhopal, in the Madhya Pradesh state capital, said the Hindu council's claims are part of a motivated public campaign to rouse religious sentiments for political gains.
"Those publically claiming of converting people should be punished as per the anti-conversion laws in the country," he said.
Archbishop Victor Henry Thakur of Raipur in Chhattisgarh told ucanews.com that no Christians have left their religion and that this was just a false claim by the group.
"They cannot outdo our good work done among the poor and the needy. Therefore they want to tarnish our image and show our work in poor light. These false claims are also part of that attempt," he said.
It is an irony that the government takes no action to a public claim made of converting thousands of people through intimidating campaigns, he said.