By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife
NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife)– The leader of a hardline Hindu group wants India’s constitution to legalize the killing of Christian evangelists and, for instance, promoters of other non-Hindu religions.
Praveen Togadia, the general secretary of the influential Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or ‘World Hindu Council’, told supporters in the western Indian state of Gujarat this week that the constitution should be changed and “allow anyone who converts Hindus to be beheaded”.
His remarks, obtained by BosNewsLife Friday, November 11, came as American evangelist Franklin Graham began a series of massive evangelistic rallies in the south Indian city of Hyderabad.
On the second night of Graham’s ‘Hyderabad Festival’ on Friday, November 11, some 50,000 people poured into Lal Bahadur Stadium in the capital city of Andhra Pradesh state, witnesses said, despite protests from VHP supporters.
During the rallies in Hyderabad, which continue this weekend amid tight security, so far at least hundreds of people made clear they want to follow Jesus Christ, organizers said.
Hindu nationalist claim “Christian missionaries” seek to convert Hindus by offering money and other benefits and have urged the state to ban the event.
Previously, well-known activist Swami Agnivesh of the Hindu group Arya Samaj, or “Arya Society”, reportedly urged Pope Benedict XVI to establish a moratorium on the conversion of “unlettered tribals” and others.
His letter was a response to the pontiff’s Diwali message, which urged Christians and Hindus to work together for religious freedom, including “the freedom to change one’s own religion”.
In July, an article by Janata Party President Subramanian Swamy sparked controversy for its comments about Muslims, recommending a “national law prohibiting conversion from Hinduism to
any other religion”.
Rights activists have expressed concerns about the situation and urged India’s government to protect minorities, including Christians, in this heavily Hindu nation.
“India’s pluralist pedigree is once again under concerted fire,” said Andrew Johnston, the advocacy director of religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“Inflammatory remarks such as Togadia’s can be a spur for prejudice and violence against Muslims and Christians…For example, communal attacks against Christians in India are often linked to unsubstantiated accusations about conversions,” he told BosNewsLife.
His group has “encouraged” the government to continue with plans to “pass an effective law to prevent, control and deal with the aftermath of communal violence” and “make this as effective as possible.”
Johnston said the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion reiterated that “international jurisprudence” includes “the freedom to change religion, and the right to manifest a religion includes the right to share religious beliefs with others.”
Christians comprise roughly two percent of India’s over one billion population, but Hindu nationalists have expressed concerns about the spread of Christianity among ‘Dalits’, the ‘lowest’ caste in India’s ancient
system of Hinduism, and in other areas.