NEW DELHI (CNS) — The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India criticized forced conversions of Christians to Hinduism.
Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, major archbishop of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, said in a statement Dec. 23 that he was gravely concerned that “conversion events are being held under the label of ‘homecoming.'”
He urged Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene to address concerns surrounding “forcible conversions” across India, citing reports of such actions in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Kerala states.
Some Hindu leaders have said that India is a Hindu nation, and the “reconversions” are simply reclaiming people who originally were Hindu. Some have called for a ban on conversions, since they say Indians should be Hindus.
“Those who strayed were lured away. They were looted from us,” said Mohan Bhagwat, head of the National Volunteer Corps, known as the ideological fountainhead of Hindu nationalism. “When the thief is being caught and my property has been recovered, when I am taking back my own property, what is new in it?”
Reports surfaced Dec. 9 that 57 migrant Muslim families were “reconverted” under the watchful eyes of members of a Hindu fundamentalist group in Uttar Pradesh. Other reports referred to “ghar vapasi,” or reconversion, of Christians by Hindu fundamentalist groups in December.
On Dec. 20, the World Hindu Council claimed to have reconverted 500 members of 100 tribal Christian families in a program in western Gujarat state. More than 40 Christians were reconverted a day later in two communities in southern Kerala state, and another 30 Christians “embraced Hinduism” in a ceremony at a Hindu temple, according to various broadcasts.
“The government should take stringent steps to stop (such) coercive conversions,” Cardinal Thottunkal said.
He also criticized calls for a law to ban conversions from Hinduism to other religions altogether, saying such a move would be “contrary to the rights enshrined in the constitution of the country.”
Three Catholic bishops in New Delhi, representing India’s three Catholic rites, joined other Christian delegates in a meeting with Modi Dec. 24. They expressed disappointment after they said Modi told them there is no need for him to speak out against what is happening concerning conversions.
Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto told CNS that Modi assured the leaders he would ensure the safety of Christians.
The National United Christian Forum, of which the Catholic Church is a member, expressed “serious concern about the current situation of the minorities” Dec. 20.
“We strongly oppose the call for a national ban on conversions,” the forum said. It said this amounted to “a direct attack on individuals’ freedom of conscience to choose one’s faith and on the freedom to profess, practice and propagate the faith of one’s choice” as enshrined in India’s constitution.”
The forum also deplored India designating Dec. 25 as “good governance day” to celebrate the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. The forum called the move an insult to Christians and an attempt “to undermine the importance of Christmas.”
The government also withdrew a Dec. 9 announcement that would have kept schools across India open on Christmas Day after some members of the Indian Parliament questioned the move and Christians and secular groups protested.