Catholics in New Delhi pray during a Holy Week procession on April 4, 2017. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
A member of parliament from India's Andhra Pradesh state has alleged that Christian missionaries use money for religious conversion, a claim rejected by church leaders and activists.
Raghu Ramkrishna Raju, the minister who represents the southern state, claimed in a television debate on May 25 that Christian missionaries are pumping large sums of money to carry out widespread conversions in the state.
“The Catholic Church in Andhra Pradesh or in any part of the country does not promote or propagate religious conversion as claimed by the minister. From time to time, some people accuse Christians of religious conversion. Let them prove it,” Father Anthoniraj Thumma, executive secretary of the Federation of Telugu Churches, told UCA News.
“It is a baseless and misleading claim and there is no truth to it. Churches are involved in education, medical and social work, and there are incidents when some people may be attracted to Christianity, but that does not mean they are converted.
“The Holy Father and the Vatican Council II document clearly state that one’s faith is a matter of consent. It should not be forced on anybody.”
Father Thumma is also regional director of the Commission for Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue of Hyderabad Archdiocese.
Raju claimed that conversions in the state were not a recent phenomenon after Jagan Mohan Reddy, its Christian chief minister, assumed office but were taking place long before, adding that proselytization was prevalent across India.
Raju, who is part of the ruling Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party in the state, claimed Christian missionaries receive foreign funding to carry out mass conversions nationwide.
“Missionaries go to colonies and villages at night and preach and convert people. They say if you convert to Christianity good things will happen. I do not know if conversions are happening through inducement by way of money or through preaching, but they are happening,” he said.
Mohandas Pai, former Infosys director and another panelist in the TV debate, said that while Christian conversions are happening across the country, the practice is rampant in Andhra Pradesh. Pai claimed that a member of Reddy’s family is a leading evangelist.
In India the use of money or any kind of inducement or allurement for religious conversion is illegal.
So far no Christian has been convicted of conversion but in the last decade several cases have been filed. Many of these cases arose in northern villages where Hindu groups interpreted Christian mission work in education and health care as fraudulent or being carried out with the ultimate goal of conversion.
Uttarakhand became the ninth state to enact a religious conversion law in 2018. The other states are Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Tamil Nadu.
Religious conversion laws require a person officiating an act of conversion to inform state officials a month ahead of the ceremony. They also criminalize an act of conversion using fraud, force or allurement with jail terms and fines.
Mukti Prakash Tirkey, editor of a weekly newspaper on tribal affairs published in New Delhi, said churches across India are engaged in many charitable works which could be considered allurement to conversion.
“We have a constitutional right to follow any religion according to our choice. It should be respected and there should not be any forced religious conversion,” Tirkey said.
According to the 2011 census, Andhra Pradesh has 700,000 Christians, who constitute 1.4 percent of its total population of 84 million.