By Malo Tresca
For Father Vincent Kundukulam, 61 years old, the trouble started almost 30 years ago, in 1997. At the time, the young priest from Kerala, a state in southwestern India known for its peaceful interfaith coexistence, had decided to tackle a sensitive subject in his doctoral dissertation.
His research focused on the stormy relationship between the Catholic Church and the National Volunteer Organisation (RSS, for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh). Founded in 1925, this extremist paramilitary organization is considered the matrix of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist party that returned to power in India with the election in 2014 of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I then found myself on the ‘blacklist’. I was never arrested, but police officers came to question me, to show me that I was under surveillance,” recounts the 60-year-old at St. Joseph’s pontifical seminary in Mangalapuzha (Kerala). Since then, Father Vincent, now vice-director of the seminary, has been subjected to other pressures. Last year, RSS militants again circulated false information by misrepresenting his words on social networks.
“They seek to divide Christians and Muslims by pitting them against each other in order to better reign,” deplores the theologian, who specializes in Hindutva, a Hindu ideology that seeks to banish all other religions from the country because they are imported. Although in contradiction with the constitution, which is supposed to guarantee a “socialist and secular” republic, it continues to gain ground.
Discrimination, vandalism against churches, disruption of prayers… In November, the United Christian Forum (UCF), a New Delhi-based interfaith advocacy group, counted 511 anti-Christian incidents in India – up from 505 in 2021. Uttar Pradesh (North) and Chhattisgarh (South) topped the list of the most problematic states, followed by Karnataka (South).
Missionaries accused of proselytizing
What is Christianity accused of? “This religion is worrisome to some, because it relies on missionaries accused of proselytizing in society by attempting to convert Hindus, with the risk of causing a demographic decline in their community,” explains Christophe Jaffrelot, director of research at Ceri-Sciences Po, in France. With this in mind, 11 out of 29 States have passed “anti-conversion” laws in recent years, providing for prison sentences and heavy fines in the event of infractions.
“We have to be very vigilant: it’s not easy to make people understand that we didn’t go looking for those who ask for baptism, but that they are the ones who come to us,” sighs Joseph (not his real name), a layperson who is very involved in a charitable organization in Uttar Pradesh. “Otherwise, to avoid being accused, we have to try to make arrangements with other neighboring states that are more lenient,” he elusively explains…
This story was originally published in international.la-croix.com. Read the full story here