Christian Leaders Decry Mass Reconversion of Christians in India

Christian groups have condemned Orissa state in India for failing to stop the much-publicized reconversion of 100 Christians to Hinduism last week, sources reported. The reconversions, organized by activists from the pro-Hindu VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad), took place in the city of Sarat on September 19.

According to Ecumenical News International, Christian groups say the event openly flouted the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act, which bans conversions without government permission.

President of the Orissa chapter of the All India Christian Council (AICC) Rev P R Parichcha said the Orissa government was "acting as if the anti-conversion law does not apply to Hindus".

Convener of the Global Council of Indian Christians Sajan K George condemned the Orissa government's "selective application" of the law on conversions. "We are really concerned with the connivance of the state government in allowing the bigots to conduct such ceremonies."

Parichcha noted that the government had failed to act in February when 200 tribal Christians were reconverted to Hinduism, allegedly under duress.

In the recently released International Religious Freedom Report, the U.S. State Department reported that Hindu nationalist organizations frequently allege that Christian missionaries force Hindus, particularly those of lower castes, to convert to Christianity. Meanwhile, Christians claim that the efforts of Hindu groups to "reconvert" Christians to Hinduism are coercive.

Since the 1960s, anti-conversion laws have been in effect in Orissa, under which those "forcing" or "alluring" individuals to convert are subject to criminal action.

The State Department reported, however, that since what constitutes forced conversions or allurement is not specified, human rights groups, Christian religious leaders, and Dalits have expressed concern that authorities will use these laws selectively in the future to shut down educational, medical, and other social services provided by Christian groups to Dalits and "tribals" (members of indigenous groups historically outside the caste system). However, the federal government can prevent states from taking action if there is a threat to national integrity and communal harmony, or if the law violates the basic spirit of the Constitution as written in its preamble.

A proposal to introduce a national anti-conversion law was presented in 2002, however, it lapsed over time and the new United Progressive Alliance Government has not promoted such a law.