Christians denounce profiling of religious leaders in central India
Christians in the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, are outraged after government agencies began to profile Christian religious leaders working among indigenous peoples.
A tax official from the tribal-dominated Jhabua district summoned Christian leaders and asked them to provide personal information such as their appointment as a priest and the document relating to their conversion.
The official letter also asked them to certify whether they had been converted by seduction or by force, as the government wishes to take legal action against the illegal conversions.
A state law criminalizes religious conversion by seduction or by force, making it an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
The letter released on September 13 also asked them to present details of their work in person to the manager on September 22 at noon.
“Our 16 pastors have received similar letters,” said Auxiliary Bishop Paul Muniya of the Shalom Protestant Church in the district.
Christian leaders say their people are facing increased hostilities from right-wing Hindu groups opposed to their work in the district in their work among tribal people.
Earlier on August 26, the Additional Superintendent of Police, in a letter to police stations under his leadership, ordered to help activists from Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a right-wing Hindu organization in their drive to shut down illegal Christian prayer rooms and contain illegal religious conversion activities in the district.
Top congressional leader and former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh questioned the police decision by asking whether the state police had ceded their right to exercise their government duties to a private organization.
“Is this order in accordance with the Indian constitution?” He asked.
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The government action appears to have stemmed from complaints by right-wing Hindu groups to district officials in January 2021.
In their complaint, VHP activists demanded the immediate closure of all churches in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh and action against Christian priests and pastors involved in alleged religious conversions.
They also threatened to launch a special campaign to demolish churches if the administration did not.
In March, VHP leaders also released the names of more than 50 priests and pastors and called for an investigation into their roles, and accused them of being involved in an illegal religious conversion.
Right-wing Hindu groups accuse Christian leaders of converting gullible natives to Christianity under the facade of social works and other charities.
Bishop Muniya said they plan to speak to the district collector, the senior official, to brief him on the development.
“We will seek to protect our churches and other institutions against the threat of right-wing Hindu activists,” UCA News said on September 17.
“No doubt we will take all legal remedies against threats from Hindu militants,” he said, adding: “We have always wanted peace and harmony to ensure the common good of the people.”
Benedict Dhamore, a Catholic leader, said there was “some concern among Christians after open threats from VHP activists against us”.
“Hindu activists want indigenous Christians to give up their Christian faith and return to the Hindu fold, but no one is ready for that,” he told UCA News on September 17.
“Christianity reached the district over a century ago and people lived in peace until right-wing Hindu groups opposed Christianity,” he said with a call for peace to those who utter threats, “division only leads to discord and hatred”.
Father Rocky Shah, public relations manager for the Diocese of Jhabua, told UCA News on September 17 that “so far our priests have not received any official letter from the tax official.”
The priest said the Christian community contributes “enormously to the progress of the poor” in the district and denied the allegations of illegal conversion.
“We are not converting anyone illegally as it is claimed,” he said.
Jhabua has a high percentage of Christians, who make up about four percent of the district’s million inhabitants. Hindus make up 93 percent and Muslims about 2 percent.
In the rest of Madhya Pradesh, Christians make up less than 1% of the population, while the national average is only 2.3%.
Right-wing Hindu groups target Christians and Muslims, calling them foreign religions.
However, they have no hostility towards the Sikh, Jain and Buddhist religions developed in India.