Christians in central India have expressed relief as the first day of a Hindu festival passed peacefully.
“We are relieved that so far no untoward incident has happened on the first day,” said Bishop Gerald Almeida of Jabalpur, whose diocese covers Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh state where the three-day festival is underway.
He told ucanews.com today that the administration has provided tight police security for Christian institutions in the district.The Ma Narmada Samajik Kumbh (social fair of mother Narmada) began yesterday about 100 kilometers from the bishop’s residence in Jabalpur.
Media reports suggested the fair aimed to convert tribal Christians to Hinduism.
Church officials had approached the state government and the High Court for security for their people and institutions in the district.
The administration has declared a holiday for schools in and around the venue and no vehicle is allowed within eight kilometers of the event. Media persons are also not allowed to enter.
State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan joined Hindu religious leaders at the opening function.
According to some participants, several speakers accused Christians of using their charitable services to convert gullible tribal people.
They also criticized the Pope and made fun of the Old Testament narration of the creation, according to Father George Thomas, a local Catholic parish priest.
An exhibition at the venue displayed anti-Christian and anti-Muslim literature. Some accused Blessed Teresa of Kolkata of indulging in conversion.
“So far the Christians are safe, but we do not know what would happen in the next two-days,” said Father Thomas.
Ashok Masih, local president of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Christians in Madhya Pradesh), quoted unconfirmed reports to say that re-conversions of Christians are taking place at the fair.
Madhya Pradesh is among the Indian states that have banned religious conversion through force or allurement.
Bishop Almeida said Christians try their best to provide medical care and education to poor tribal people. “But we are being blamed of serving those whom nobody apparently wants to help,” he added.
He asserted that the Church has not converted anyone through allurement or force as has been projected.
Christians, who form less than 1 percent of the state’s population, have experienced sporadic violence since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in December 2003