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    Christmas Carol Singers Arrested in India, Priests Under Attack From Hindu Mob

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    A group of Christmas carol singers have been arrested in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and accused of trying to convert local Hindus. India's nationalist government has been accused of encouraging Hindu bigots.

    Police in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh arrested 32 Christians for singing Christmas carols and then a group of Hindu extremists set fire to a car belonging to a Catholic priest.

    Madhya Pradesh is one of five Indian states where missionaries need permission to try and convert individuals and the 32 Catholics were detained for trying to convert people.

    But the secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, Theodore Mascarenhas, said it was "laughable" and they had simply been singing Christmas carols.

    ​India's Christian minority says it is increasingly under attack from Hindu hardliners, who it says have become emboldened since Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

    Two Catholic priests and 30 lay people were detained in the town of Satna while "conducting a routine Christmas carol singing programme."

    'Frivolous and Laughable' Charge

    "The charge of conversion on which the priests and seminarians were detained is frivolous and laughable," Mr. Mascarenhas said in a statement on Friday, December 15.

    He said carol singing had been a part of the Christmas tradition in Satna for at least 30 years.

    The police said a resident had made a complaint about being "lured by a group of Christians to convert."

    ​After the group had been arrested another group of eight priests went to the police station in Satna to enquire about their detention and their car was then torched by members of a Hindu extremist group, the Bajrang Dal.

    Mr Mascarenhas described them as "terrorists who have taken on the garb of 'religious police'."

    The eight priests were then themselves held.

    The 40 Catholics from St Ephrem's Theological College were later released but nobody has been apprehended in connection with the attack on the priests' car.

    Hindus Claim Missionaries Offer Money to Convert

    Hindu nationalist groups claim foreign churches and missionaries target poor communities with financial incentives in a bid to convert them to Christianity.

    In Madhya Pradesh missionaries can be sent to jail for up to a year if convicted of converting someone without the authorities' permission.

    Around 80 percent of India's 1.2 billion people are Hindu but there are large minorities of Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Buddhists.

    ​When it became independent from the British Empire in 1947 India was designed to be a secular state, but critics claim Mr. Modi has eroded that secularism. 

    In September secular journalist Gauri Lankesh was assassinated in Bangalore by Hindu extremists.

    Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi claimed the extremists had targeted her for her secular views.

    The Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, a group which was involved in the destruction of a mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, which led to huge sectarian riots. It was later replaced by a Hindu temple.

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    Tags:
    Hindus, conversion, singing, missionaries, Christians, Christmas, Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), Narendra Modi, India, Madhya Pradesh
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