Hindu organizations plan to protest a Christian festival led by evangelist Franklin Graham scheduled to begin Thursday in Hyderabad, India, citing unlawful religious instruction.
Hindu groups Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajarang Dal said Graham would violate the terms of his visiting visa by conducting a Christian event and speaking to citizens of Hyderabad. Preaching or evangelical activities are not allowed on an Indian visiting visa.
VHP spokesman Yaman Singh expressed concern that Graham will irreparably alter the community by preaching Christianity.
“Protestant Christian evangelist Franklin Graham is going to address the gathering at the celebration at the stadium and convert Hindus to Christianity,” Singh said. “Franklin is coming to India on a visiting visa but will be participating in religious activities, which means he will be violating the visa norms.”
Local government has yielded the groups’ concerns to the Foreigner’s Regional Registration Officer who will look at the details of Graham’s impending visa.
“If the government does not respond to the violation of visa norms, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, along with Bajrang Dal and other Hindu organizations, will stage a protest at the stadium and force Franklin to go back to his country," Singh warned.
Local law enforcement is preparing for 40,000 people to attend Graham’s event. Volunteers from over 1,800 churches in the area are expected to help run the event.
Bajrang Dal has called for Indian nationalists to condemn Hindu converts to Christianity. Hinduism makes up over half the Hyderabad population, while Christianity represents just over 2 percent of the local population.
Contesting the visa suggests the groups are taking an indirect route in expressing concerns about the spread of Christianity.
Christian evangelism in India has been a source of heated contention for decades. Although 80 percent of Indians practice Hinduism, a small, but significant section of the country’s 1 billion people practice Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or another religion.
VHP, whose demonstrations are peaceful, has appealed to Christian converts by saying Christianity had provided them few benefits, and that a reconversion to Hinduism is straightforward.
VHP, which translates to “World Hindu Party,” is a worldwide Hindu advocacy group with significant numbers in the U.S. that has organized over 32,000 community projects around the world.
Graham has run evangelical events for over 30 years. He has come under fire in the past for publicly denouncing other religions, particularly Islam in the extended wake of 9/11. He is the son of evangelist Billy Graham.