Indian Christians Wary of Police Survey

Mar 26, 2003 03:15 PM EST

AHMADABAD, India – The 2.4 percent Christian minority in India finds themselves in another predicament as the law against proselytism passes from state to state. Three states in India have passed the law that bans religious conversions or coercion since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party came into power in 1998. The party contended such laws as a necessary instrument to combat a “western conspiracy” to undermine India’s Hindu faith. As constituted under that law, Indian police began sending teams to Christians at churches, homes and businesses across the three states.

Carrying small red notebooks and a one-page questionnaire, the officers ask: "Were you a Hindu earlier? When and why did you convert? Are you getting any money every month from Christians? Do you read the Bible? Why did you convert? Do you want to be reconverted to Hinduism?"

"Some of the questions annoyed me but I could not say so. Who wants to argue with the police?" said a local Christian, Pranav Sharon, who added that the officers also asked if his grocery shop is financed by Christian groups.

Sharon expressed further concerns.

"I felt bad, though I have not committed a crime. My customers ask why the police were here for half an hour," said Sharon, 42, who converted from Hinduism to Christianity, along with his wife and three children, 23 years ago.

Sharon was among more than 12,000 Christians questioned in the first two weeks in the Gujarat state, where more than 1,000 people died in last year's religious riots. The governing party has been accused of letting police help Hindu mobs attack Muslims.

A group of Christian organizations has petitioned the state High Court seeking to halt the survey on the grounds it "unlawfully targets" Christians. The All India Christian Council said Christians are being "harassed and victimized in the name of collecting census information."

The High Court gave police until April 10 to explain why the survey is not illegal. Another petition, filed with India's Supreme Court, will be heard April 6.

The state government says the survey is being conducted to answer a question by a lawmaker in India's federal Parliament about the financing of Christian and non-governmental organizations. "There is nothing for Christians to fear," said Gujarat's home minister, Amit Shah.

Although Christians constitute a small minority in India, they hold a powerful presence because Christians run most of the traditional schools and hospitals; nearly all of the Hindu Elites have been educated in such institutions.

By Pauline J.