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Religious Conversions in India - For a few dollars more

Religious Conversions in India - For a few dollars more

Publication: India Abroad
Date: September 20, 2002

Fringe church groups are converting scores of Hindus to Christianity  across South India, reports, George Iype

In many villages across South India, religion is turning out to be a  question of money. Flush with funds from their headquarters in the  United States, a number of evangelical and Pentecoastal church  groups are converting hundreds of Hindus, especially belonging to  the low castes, to Christianity. Similarly, Muslim scholars are  touring villages in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka to lure locals to  Islam.

Hindu nationalists leaders claim that despite the hue and cry they  have raised against conversion all these years, `forced conversions  are taking place at a brisk pace in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra  Pradesh and Karnataka.

"Christianity has firm roots in these southern states, which may be  why some church groups have seized forced conversion as their  mission," says K. Radharkrishnan, a Vishwa Hindu Parishad activist  in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

Last week VHP leaders from South India sent an urgent appeal to the  federal government asking to prevent appeal to the federal  government asking it to prevent Christian and Islamic missionaries  from indulging in forced conversions. "These missionaries are  spending dollars to convert people here. We want the government to  arrest them for creating social and religious upheaval."  Radhakrishnan said.

Church and Muslim leaders concede that his charge is not entirely  baseless.

Consider the following:

August 22, some 250 villagers - all of them poor Dalits - in Madurai  underwent baptism by water and converted to Christianity. The  ceremony was conducted by the Seventh-Day Adventists, a U.S. based  Pentecostal church, which has missionaries working across India.  Over the last six months, reports say, Seventh-Day pastors have  converted as many as 2,00 Hindus to Christianity in the Madurai  region.

In July, the Covenant and High Land Trinity, an evangelical church  group working in Andhra Pradesh's Guntur district, converted 70  Hindu villagers to Christianity. Reports said that all the converts  were paid money and given jobs for changing their religion.  Last fortnight, two dozen Hindus in a poor mason's colony outside  Pathanamthitta town in Kerala were converted to Christianity  allegedly under the influence of a charismatic Christian prayer  group called Master Ministry of Jesus. `I did not have any work and  I could not feed my three children and wife. Now I go for Bible  teaching and we are living as a happy family,' says P K  Krishnankutty, who has since changed his name to Joshua Davis.  Intelligence reports sent to the A B Vajpayee government reveal that  the Deendar Anjuman, an Islamic sect that follows an eclectic  theology, has been converting poor Hindu villagers to Islam in the  rural areas of Hubli and Gulbarga in Karnataka and Vijaywada in  Andhra Pradesh. The Deendar Anjuman was outlawed two years ago after  it masterminded a series of bomb blasts in churches across Karnataka  and Andhra Pradesh.

Church insiders admit that evangelist groups with plenty of foreign  money have mushroomed all across South India with conversion as  their main agenda. "They have exotic names like Exodus Church, New  Life Evangelists, Covenant and High Land Trinity, Master Ministry of  Jesus etc. They reject church rituals. They are very Westernized and  fundamentalist," a senior Syro-Malabar Church official revealed.

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