India Group Seeks Action on 'Mass Conversion' of Aboriginals to Christianity

An influential aboriginal tribal group in southern India has lodged a formal police complaint seeking penal action against missionaries for allegedly converting more than 1,000 original indigenous families to Christianity by "allurement" and "brainwashing."

The Girijana Kriya Koota, a tribal welfare group in Karnataka state, has filed a complaint to senior police officials in the district of Mysore, seeking "protection" of the tribal culture, according to The Hindu daily.

The group has alleged that Christian missionaries had for years been promising the aboriginal people that their troubles would end if they accepted Christianity. The conversions can be attributed to "brainwashing" efforts by missionaries, it claimed.

Of India's population of about 1.2 billion people, 8.6 percent are aboriginal who are recognized as a historically-disadvantaged people in the Constitution of India, which provides for affirmative action for them.

The aboriginal people are largely seen as indecisive in their voting, and political parties – especially Hindu nationalist parties – have long been trying to woo them. Christian agencies have also been working for the uplift of tribal people for decades, and are therefore seen as competitors by Hindu groups.

Religious conversion is the subject of passionate debate in India thanks to Hindu nationalist groups. India's Constitution provides for religious freedom, but those who are opposed to religious conversions refer to the limits on the freedom. The charter states that the freedom of religion must not disrupt public order or adversely affect public health and morality.

Five states in India – though not Karnataka – have "Freedom of Religion" Acts (known as anti-conversion laws) which regulate religious conversions, claiming to merely purge the use of force, fraud and inducement from religious persuasion in the interest of public order but actually violate some key components of religious freedom, according to faith-based Christian groups.

While India's tribal people are not Hindus by faith, the Koota group appears to be making the same claims as made by Right-wing Hindus, that the conversions in Karnataka were leading to clashes in the region, and that it is the responsibility of the government to prevent conversions and protect the tribal culture. The group also demanded the formation of watchdog panels.

Deputy Commissioner of Police, C. Shikha, was quoted as saying that she has asked the Superintendent of Police to inquire into it.

Attacks on Christians shot up in Karnataka after the Right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in the state in May 2008. The Indian National Congress party, which is Left-of-Center, won the state election in May 2013, but Hindu nationalist groups are still active in Karnataka.

Hindu nationalist groups are known for launching attacks on Christians under the pretext of avenging "forcible" conversion of Hindus and others to Christianity.