New Delhi (Fides Service) – In recent years there have been over 500 attacks on India’s Christians and Christian structures. Christians in India are persecuted by fundamentalist ideological nationalism. Several extremist groups preach and practice violent Hindutva ideology demanding “one people ,one nation, one culture” threatening ethnic and religious minorities. Fundamentalists accuse Christians of using their social services to convert people, for their part Christians and other religious minorities say the government gives them little attention or protection. Meanwhile the government recognises “the constitutional right of Christians to pray” and the fact that “many Christians carry out praiseworthy work. Running more than 17,000 schools and colleges all over India, providing valuable education, and assisting the 250 million Indians (40% of the population) who are undernourished and live below the poverty line.
Some states of the Federation, for example Gujarat and Tamil Nadu have approved a Religious Freedom Bill stipulating that a person wanting to change his or her religion must first obtain permission for the local magistrate, giving rise to loud protests from the Conference of Catholic Bishops. “The Bill – said Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandez of Gandhinager in Gujarat, violates fundamental human and constitutional rights”. “The Christian community – says the Archbishop - has never created social tension, instead it has always spread a message of brotherhood, equity and harmony working for the development of the people of every community. Forced conversions are totally repudiated by our Churches.”
Explaining the reason for the protest Archbishop Fernandez said: “We believe conversion is a gift of God which cannot be subject to the scrutiny of a civil official. To request the permission of the civil authorities for religious conversion means abdicating from the personal responsibility of every individual for the eternal salvation of his or her soul. In this case every person must abide by the voice of the soul, not temporal rules”.
The Christian community points out that, the rumours of conversion obtained deceitfully, are not confuted by the demographic profile of Christians. Although there have been Christians in India for two thousand years today they are only 2.34% of the population. If they were guilty of fraudulent conversions then they would be at least double this number, say local sources.
The Bishops recall that the Greek word for conversion metanoia is used in the Bible to describe not conversion of religion or citizenship, but simply turning from evil to good. Archbishop Vincent Concessao of New Delhi says: “ It is a contradiction to say someone can convert someone else. Only God can touch the human heart and sow the seed of faith. All we can do it to share the Good News we have received” Mother Teresa was an example of this great service of announcing God’s love and sharing it with all. PA (Fides Service 31/5/2003 EM lines 43 Words: 527)