dventist leaders have appealed
to Indian authorities to investigate the possible forced reconversion of Seventh-day
Adventists to Hinduism in a northern Indian village.
Forced conversion is illegal
in India, and a reconversion ceremony last week in Asroi, located about 110
miles (175 kilometers) south of India’s capital, New Delhi, raised fears in the
wider Christian community that hard-line Hindus were compelling people to
switch faiths in a part of the world that can be especially challenging for
“We have made a petition to
the local civic authority and to even higher levels for an inquiry,” said T.P.
Kurian, communication director for the church’s Southern Asia Division.
He added: “May I urge you to
keep this matter in prayer.”
The last members of the
Asroi church switched to Hinduism at an Aug. 26 ceremony, church leaders said
Sunday. The church, which opened with 33 members in 2005, had about six regular
attendees left when the reconversion ceremony took place.
“It is obvious from
sources that there are some Hindu fundamental groups behind this havoc who have
forced these believers to go back to their previous faith,” said Mohan Bhatti,
communication director for the Northern India Union, citing a report from a four-member Adventist delegation that visited the village
Indian media reported that dozens of active
and non-active Adventists had reconverted at the ceremony, and that hardliners had
turned the Asroi church into a temple to
the Hindu god Siva, replacing its cross with an idol. The reports included a
photo of two men hanging a poster of Siva on a church wall.
But the visiting delegation found
no evidence that the church had been disturbed.
idol of Shiva was not found there, and the church has not been turned into a
temple,” the delegation said in the report. “It seems that a poster of Shiva
was brought and raised up there for a few moments with the purpose of filming
The report added: “The church building
is kept under police surveillance by civil administration to avoid any untoward
incident. We have the freedom to conduct our weekly worship service.”
Bhatti said an official inquiry was
needed “into this very sensitive issue that may cause disharmony in the
Asroi church’s history stretches back to 2001, when 33 villagers accepted the
Adventist faith, according to local Adventist leaders. Land for the church was
purchased in 2004, and Maranatha Volunteers International, a nonprofit
organization, built the church the next year.
attendance dipped in the following years. Two families stopped attending in
2007, leaving 20 people at Sabbath services. Only five to seven people were
attending regularly when the reconversion ceremony took place.
was unclear how many former Adventists reconverted. Indian media, citing Hindu
activists at the ceremony, put the figure at 72, although this could not be
reconciled with the lower membership figure offered by church leaders.
loss of the last church members surprised the pastor, said S.P. Singh, a local Adventist
leader who was on the delegation that visited the church.
local pastor, Vikas Paswan, has been taking care of the church for 10 years,”
he said. “He conducted Sabbath worship regularly. He didn’t have any idea that
this could happen in the future.”
called on church members to pray for the pastor and the Asroi church.
“Our pastor needs our
fervent prayers in this unfavorable situation,” he said. “Let’s encourage them
with our prayers and support.”
The Adventist Church has opened
its own inquiry into the situation.
Khem Chandra, who attended
the reconversion ceremony and is a member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a
nationalist Hindu group, said it was quite clear what had happened.
“They left by choice, and
today they have realized their mistake and want to come back,” he told The
Times of India in remarks published Thursday. “We welcome them.”
Chandra said he had met with
eight local Adventist families repeatedly over the years and urged them to
rethink their faith.
The notion that the reconversions
were voluntary was greeted with skepticism.
“It is the right of an
individual to convert to any religion of his choice, but such mass conversions
imply political, social and physical coercion and threat of violence,” said
John Dayal, a member of the National Integration Council, a group of top
politicians and public figures formed 50 years ago to find ways to resolve
problems that divide Indian society. Dayal spoke to UCAnews.com, an independent
Catholic news site.
One former Adventist
interviewed by the Times of India said that disenchantment with India’s caste
system had led him to Adventism and then back to Hinduism.
“As Hindus we had no status
and were restricted to doing menial jobs, but even after remaining a Christian
for 19 years, we saw that no one came to us from their community,” villager Anil
Gaur said. “There was no celebration of Bada Din [Christmas]. The missionaries
just built a church for us in the vicinity where some of the villagers got
married. That was all."
the delegation member who visited the church last week, said in the report to the
Northern Indian Union that he had made three previous trips to the church and
that during one of them, in 2012, he had overseen its repairs and made sure it
received carpets, songbooks, New Testaments, and materials for a pulpit.
Another former church
member, Rajendra Singh, 70, told the newspaper that a physical scare outside the
village’s church had convinced him to leave.
"While sleeping outside
the church one day I suffered a paralytic attack,” he said. “I found myself
unable to move. It happened last year, and since then I have been thinking that
it may have been Mata Devi's punishment for abandoning my faith.”
Chandra, the Hindu activist,
expressed hope that a first Hindu temple would soon be opened in the village,
perhaps even in the Adventist church.
"We will think about
the church building. It belongs to the missionaries, but the ground on which it
stands belongs to Hindustan,” he said. “We will not compromise on our dharti
[earth]. We will meet the villagers and decide about the temple.”
Contact Adventist Review news editor Andrew McChesney at [email protected].
The Times of India, Aug. 29: “Fearing More ‘Takeovers,’ Christians to Lock Aligarh Church After Reconversion”
The Times of India, Aug. 28: “Church Turned Into 'Temple' After 72 Valmikis Reconvert to Hinduism”
UCAnews.com, Aug. 29: “India Christians Accuse Hindus of Forced Conversions”