MUMBAI, India – Hindu nationalists in India want Christian chaplains banned from visiting prisons, claiming they are trying to convert the prisoners.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal groups complained to police in the southern Indian state Karnataka about the distribution of Bibles to the prisoners in the Gadag district jail and demanded the immediate suspension of all Christian prison chaplains in the state.
The April 6 declaration came after a Hindu chaplain had met a prisoner and seen a Bible in the jail.
According to the complaint, a seven-person team of Christian evangelists visited Gadag District Prison on March 12 to pray with prisoners and distribute copies of the New Testament.
The Hindu activists alleged Christian chaplains were trying to carry out religious conversions and said they should not have been permitted to distribute religious texts, despite the fact that Hindu religious literature is often distributed in jails.
Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore said the complaint looks like a double standard.
“If Hindu preachers are allowed to meet Hindu prisoners, what is wrong with Christian preachers meeting Christian prisoners. If there’s evidence of forceful or fraudulent conversions of others, let them take action according to the law, with proofs of conversion at hand,” he told Crux.
Karnataka is ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has also ruled India since 2014. The BJP is linked with the the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group.
Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of using force and surreptitious tactics in pursuing conversions, and such “illegal conversions” can be punished with fines and jail time.
Christians leaders have noted that despite the fear-mongering of some Hindu groups, the percentage of Christians is actually going down in the country.
According to the government’s census data, the percentage of the Christian population in India in 2001 was 2.34 percent, but in 2011 it had dropped to 2.30 percent. A similar decrease was noted in Karnataka, where the percentage dropped from 1.91 percent to 1.87 percent.