By Ajay Kumar Singh
The new head of the Catholic Church in Orissa has dismissed as lies claims by Hindu radical leader Praveen Togadia that he has converted 150,000 Christians to Hinduism.
“He is an habitual liar,” Archbishop John Barwa of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar said yesterday.
Togadia, international general secretary of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP, world Hindu council), also claims that Hindu groups in Orissa have stopped some five million Hindus from converting to Christianity.
Such claims are “full of lies and a ploy to foment violence,” said Archbishop Barwa, who was head of Rourkela, a tribal dominated diocese in northern Orissa, before becoming Orissa Church leader on April 2.
“Once Togadia claimed to have converted some Christians to Hinduism in Rourkela diocese and we cross-checked and found nothing but lies,” Bishop Barwa said.
The Church would not be “bullied” by people such as Togadia. “It is unfortunate that Togadia resorts to such tactics to foment violence and confuse communities,” he said.
Sister Justine Senapati of the Sister of Joseph’s Annecy congregation, a human right activist, wants the government to arrest Togadia if his claims are true.
Orissa is among half a dozen Indian states that have banned religious conversion by force, coercion or inducement.
Sister Senapati regretted that the police have arrested 14 tribal and dalit people on March 28 under the law “when real culprits such as Togadia go scot-free.”
The Christians were arrested for flouting the Orissa Freedom of Religion Act that ban religious conversion.
Sister Senapati alleged that Togadia had “scripted” the 2008 anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal district along with local Hindu radicals.
More than 90 people were killed and thousands of people made homeless as violence raged for seven weeks.
“No, he has now focused on Mayurbanj, another tribal-dominated district,” she told ucanews.com.
Balasore diocese covers Mayurbanj, where Australian missioner Graham Stuart Staines managed a leprosy center. A Hindu radical mob burnt him alive along with his two young sons in 1999.