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Indian Church leaders rebuff Hindu 're-conversion' claim

Some 184 Christians are said to have returned to the Hindu fold at a special drive launched by the World Hindu Council
Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists protest against an appearance of Canadian Christian evangelist Peter Youngren in Allahabad on Oct. 22, 2013. The Hindu nationalists launched a 'conversion free' drive in Jhabua district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on Nov. 6.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists protest against an appearance of Canadian Christian evangelist Peter Youngren in Allahabad on Oct. 22, 2013. The Hindu nationalists launched a 'conversion free' drive in Jhabua district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh on Nov. 6. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 11, 2022 08:05 AM GMT
Updated: November 18, 2022 05:34 AM GMT

Catholic Church leaders have dismissed a claim by a Hindu nationalist group of “re-converting” 184 Christians back to Hinduism in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh as “false and misleading.”

A report released by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, on a re-conversion ceremony at Kalyanpura village in Jhabua district on Nov. 7 said 184 Christians belonging to 38 families from 24 villages had returned to the Hindu fold.

“[The] VHP’s claim is totally false. Christians of all denominations are properly documented and nobody has abandoned the faith,” Father Rockey Shah, public relations officer of Jhabua diocese said.

The re-conversion ceremony is part of propaganda to defame Christians, he told UCA News on Nov. 9 and challenged its organizers to release details of those they claimed to have reconverted.

"How come so many churches are being built?"

Alok Kumar, the central working president of VHP, said a special drive to make Jhabua district and its surrounding region “conversion free” was launched on Nov. 6 and will continue until Nov. 20.

He had also sought to know from the state government how many Hindus had converted to Christianity under the provisions of the Madhya Pradesh Freedom of Religion Act, amended in 2021. But the reply was “none.”

The VHP leader said this raised suspicion about the Church’s activities in the district. “When nobody converted to Christianity, how come so many churches are being built?” he asked.

Kumar further claimed that churches were built without valid permission from the state government, which was denied by Father Shah.

“All our churches have valid permission and most of them were built even before the formation of the state. Some are as old as 100 years and even older,” the Catholic priest said.

Father Shah said the Hindu nationalists were misleading the people on the issue of religious conversions by Christian missionaries. “We don’t convert anyone illegally as is being made out,” he said.

"Claiming to reconvert them to Hinduism is misleading"

He said that Jhabua diocese was made up of second or third-generation Christians. There were no new converts.

“Those who target us should stop now,” the priest appealed.

Father Babu Joseph, a Divine Word priest based in Indore told UCA News that India’s tribal people are animists with their own belief system hence claiming to reconvert them to Hinduism is misleading.

Christianity penetrated the region almost a century ago and ushered in social and economic change among the tribal communities, the priest said.

“By organizing this kind of spectacle for grabbing headlines in the media what do the deprived sections gain? Do their social or economic conditions improve,” asked Father Joseph, a former spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India.

He wondered how long the government will allow organizations like the VHP to carry on with their “disruptive agenda that has created deep fissures in Indian society.”

Christians make up some 4 percent of Jhabua district’s 1 million people of whom 93 percent are Hindus. This is higher compared with the national average of 2.3 percent of Christians across India.

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