Modi’s ‘deafening silence’ on Hindu conversions

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has remained mostly silent on the forced conversions, causing concerns that the situation will get out of hand.
Anti-government protest in New Delhi over right wing Hindu groups allied to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party conducting a series of ceremonies across India over the past week to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.  Tsering Topgyal / AP
Anti-government protest in New Delhi over right wing Hindu groups allied to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party conducting a series of ceremonies across India over the past week to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism. Tsering Topgyal / AP

NEW DELHI // Opposition lawmakers threw India’s parliament into an uproar on Monday amid charges that the prime minister has done little to stop hard-liners from forcibly converting religious minorities to Hinduism.

Right-wing Hindu groups allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have conducted a series of ceremonies across India over the past week to convert Christians and Muslims to Hinduism.

Some of the Muslims later said they converted to Hinduism out of fear, raising the spectre of religious communalism and a growing political divide in a country that has struggled for years with intermittent Hindu-Muslim violence.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an avowed Hindu nationalist, has remained mostly silent on the issue.

The upper house of parliament was repeatedly adjourned on Monday after opposition lawmakers demanded that the prime minister clarify his position on the conversions, with the impasse paralysing a series of key bills and stalling government efforts to overhaul the economy and boost growth.

India is mostly Hindu but has a significant Muslim minority and a smaller Christian one.

On Sunday, members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council, converted 30 Christians to Hinduism in the southern Indian state of Kerala. In the western state of Gujarat, the VHP said 200 Christians had participated in weekend “homecoming” ceremonies.

Hindu hard-liners often call it “homecoming” because they say the ancestors of these families were once Hindus.

Similar conversions were performed earlier this month in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, where around 100 Muslims converted to Hinduism. Many said later that they were threatened with violence if they did not go along, and that they were promised government ration cards and money if they became Hindus.

Hindu hard-line organisations were key political backers of Mr Modi, who was voted into office earlier this year in a victory over the long-ruling Congress party. Since his election, the hard-line groups have become increasingly vocal, calling for the transformation of India into a Hindu nation.

“We are going to take the percentage of Hindus to 100 per cent in the country,” Praveen Togadia, a VHP leader, said. “We won’t tolerate Hindus becoming a minority in the country.”

Indian Muslims have long been wary of Mr Modi.

In 2002, he was accused of failing to stop anti-Muslim riots that shook Gujarat state, where he was then the top official. The violence killed at least 1,000 people.

Mr Modi has rejected the accusations, and India’s Supreme Court said that it found no evidence to prosecute him.

Some Christian groups say fear has also been spreading in their communities. Early this month, a Roman Catholic church was burned in New Delhi in a suspected case of arson.

Last week, a group singing Christmas carols was attacked in the southern city of Hyderabad.

Meanwhile, as members of parliament have battled over the past week about the conversions and the statements by Hindu leaders, Mr Modi has barely mentioned the issue at all.

To many members of religious minorities, it is deeply worrying sign.

“The prime minister’s silence has been deafening,” said Dominic Emmanuel, a spokesman for the New Delhi Archdiocese. “If Modi does not speak up now, the situation is going to slip out of his hands.”

Christians account for about 2.3 per cent of India’s 1.2 billion people and largely coexist peacefully with Hindus. About 14 per cent of Indians are Muslims.

Mr Modi’s education minister, Smriti Irani, caused an uproar two weeks ago when she suggested cancelling the December 25 school holiday so students could attend classes on good governance. That idea was quietly scuttled.

Opposition lawmakers say Mr Modi’s silence is damaging the secular nature of Indian society and the religious freedoms guaranteed by the country’s constitution.

* Associated Press

Published: December 22, 2014 04:00 AM

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