Police in India Arrest 2 Christian Missionaries, 11 Hindus Over Conversion Row

( [email protected] ) May 14, 2007 04:38 AM EDT

MUMBAI, India (AP) - Police arrested two Christian missionaries who allegedly forced conversions and 11 Hindu hard-liners accused of attacking them this week in western India, police said last week.

Indian law tolerates missionaries but bars forced conversions. Nevertheless, any missionary activity generally provokes a harsh reaction — especially in states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party or its allies, where the law has been used to harass, imprison or drive out Christian missionaries.

In the latest case, local police charged the two Indian missionaries with "unlawful religious conversions" after two Hindu residents of Ichalkaranji town, 225 kilometers (140 miles) south of Maharashtra state's capital of Mumbai filed a complaint, said police inspector Praful Bhingarde.

The residents alleged "they were deceitfully baptized" by the missionaries last Sunday, Bhingarde said Wednesday.

The missionaries in turn said they were attacked by Hindu hard-liners, although they declined to press charges, Bhingarde said.

But after television footage showed a group of Hindus kicking and punching the missionaries, the police "pursued the case since the attack was in full view of the public," he said.

Police arrested 11 people for the attack and charged them with rioting and causing bodily harm, said area police commissioner K. K. Pathak.

Dolphy d'Souza, president of the Bombay Catholic Forum, said the missionaries did not press charges, fearing wider retribution against themselves and the Christian community.

"They have been physically abused and attacked so brutally," said d'Souza. "What would the reaction be if they pressed charges?"

The Press Trust of India news agency said the 11 arrested belonged to the Bajrang Dal and the Shiv Sena — two right-wing Hindu groups leading a campaign against Christian missionaries.

The groups accuse the missionaries of trying to lure poor people away from Hinduism — India's largest faith — through monetary offers or coercion.

Churches have denied that anyone can be coerced or bribed to change his or her personal religious beliefs.

Hindus form 84 percent of India's more than 1.2 billion population; Muslims, 13 percent; and Christians, 2.4 percent.

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