Hindu militants objecting to Christian conversion staged frequent protests before, during, and after the November visit of Pope John Paul II to India.

Although Christians in India represent two to four percent of India's 988 million people, Hindu fundamentalists have rallied members of the nation's Hindu majority to greater hostility toward Christians and other religious minority groups (CT, March 1, 1999, p. 46). Much of the Hindu protest has been against "forced conversions."

"We are against 'churchianity' trying to proselytize ignorant, unsuspecting poor people through bribes, fraud, and deceit," Hindu leader B. P. Singhal says in a Religion News Service story.

Richard Howell, general secretary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India, told Christianity Today that when members of India's untouchables class convert to Christianity, it liberates them not only spiritually, but also to new social and economic opportunities. "One of the prime reasons of persecution of Christians is the church's involvement in empowering poor people," Howell observes.

During his two-day visit, John Paul II made a vigorous case for freedom of religious belief and practice, including an individual's right to change to another religion. "No state or group has the right to control a person's religious convictions," the pope said at a public gathering in New Delhi. The Indian government treated the pope as a visiting head of state, and before the papal visit arrested some Hindu fundamentalists who threatened violence in connection with the visit.

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