Hindu militants staged frequent protests of Christian conversions before, during, and after the November visit of Pope John Paul II to India.

Although Christians in India represent two to four percent of India's 988 million people, Hindu fundamentalists have rallied members of the nation's Hindu majority to greater hostility toward Christians and other religious minority groups. Much of the Hindu protest has been against "forced conversions."

"We are against 'churchianity' trying to proselytize ignorant, unsuspecting poor people through bribes, fraud, and deceit," Hindu leader B. P. Singhal says in a Religion News Service story.

Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Christianity Today that when members of India's untouchables class convert to Christianity, it liberates them not only spiritually, but also to new social and economic opportunities. "One of the prime reasons of persecution of Christians is the church's involvement in empowering poor people," Howell observes.

During his two-day visit, John Paul II made a vigorous case for freedom of religious belief and practice, including an individual's right to change to another religion. "No state or group has the right to control a person's religious convictions," the pope said at a public gathering in New Delhi. The Indian government treated the pope as a visiting head of state, and before the papal visit arrested some Hindu fundamentalists who threatened violence in connection with the visit.

According to the ministry Discipling a Whole Nation, there are church-planting networks in at least 12 of 26 Indian states. Howell notes one of the ongoing issues for Indian Christians is their ability to set aside the caste system and truly create Christian community. "In some parts of India and in some churches, there is caste distinction," he says. "The church is working to remove this."

Related Elsewhere

See our March 1, 1999 Special News Report, "The Fiery Rise of Hindu Fundamentalism"

The U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom examines India's religious freedom from political and societal perspectives, and remarks on what the U.S. government has done in response to human rights infringements in the country.

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