01/17/2021 India (International Christian Concern) – According to the Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN), a radical Hindu nationalist leader has demanded a district government in India’s Madhya Pradesh state close down all churches built in tribal areas. The radical leader went on to give the government 30 days before he threatened to initiate violence to stop church activities in tribal areas.
On January 11, Azad Prem Singh, a local leader of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), led a group of supporters through the city of Jhabua and handed over a memorandum demanding the District Collector shut down all churches operating in tribal areas. Singh based his demand on the false narrative that Christians are fraudulently converting people to Christianity in mass.
“In the past 70 years Christian missionaries have converted gullible indigenous people to Christianity and built churches specifically on protected tribal land,” Singh claimed. “All the illegally built churches should be shut down immediately and action should be taken against all priests and pastors involved in the process.”
Singh went on to issue a 30-day ultimatum to the government threatening to initiate violence to stop church activities.
Radical Hindu nationalists use the specter of mass religious conversions to Christianity and Islam as justification to pass laws limiting religious freedom. According to these nationalists, Indian Christians and Muslims are accused of converting poor Hindus and tribal peoples to Christianity and Islam in mass by fraudulent means.
In regards to Christianity, India’s own population data does not support this conspiracy. In 1951, the first census after independence, Christians made up 2.3% of India’s population. According to the 2011 census, the most recent census data available, Christians still make up 2.3% of the population.
Last week, Madhya Pradesh’s state government passed what many consider is the country’s most stringent anti-conversion law. In other states where these laws are enforced, they are widely abused. Radical nationalists falsely accuse Christians of forcefully converting individuals to Christianity to justify harassment and assault. Local police often overlook violence perpetrated against Christians due to false accusations of forced conversion.