BETTIAH, India (UCAN) -- Allegations by Hindu radicals that Christians forcibly convert poor Hindus is a myth, says a 50-year-old Hindu-Brahmin convert to Catholicism.
Christians form barely 2.3 percent of India's 1.02 billion people, and they would not dare forcibly convert a Hindu, says Prakash Chand Dubey, who had to wait 26 years to become a Catholic. More than 80 percent of India's people are Hindus.
|Prakash Chand Dubey is a freelance journalist and a lawyer working closely with Church people in Bihar state, eastern India.
Dubey, who stays in Bettiah, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, credits an American Jesuit missioner for bringing him closer to Jesus. The biggest hurdle in becoming a Catholic, in fact, was objections by some Catholic priests. Dubey says he still cannot understand why they delayed his request for baptism.
In this commentary for UCA News, he explains why and how he became a Catholic and accuses Hindu extremists of using false propaganda to make Hindus hate Christians.
The commentary follows:
Pro-Hindu parties control several states in India now. Ironically, fundamentalist Hindus prop up the myth of forced conversion in these states. Orissa and Karnataka are the classic examples where such allegations have triggered violence.
Scores of Christians have been brutally murdered. The stark apathy of the state security forces has shockingly exacerbated Christians' helplessness and fueled a cult of impunity among marauding hordes of Hindu extremists.
I firmly believe the Hindu extremists rake up the issue of forced conversion for two reasons. First, it helps them sway simple Hindus to suspect and gradually despise Christians as the foes of Hinduism. Second, the conversion bogey offers the Hindu radicals a strong tool to woo rich and devout Hindu industrialists and traders from all over India. These business people contribute billions of rupees to defend Hinduism against the alleged Christian onslaught. Available cogent statistics indicate Hindu radical outfits such as Bajrang Dal (party of the strong and stout) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (world Hindu council) wangle more than 100 billion rupees (US$2.04 billion) annually from mesmerized Hindus.
I can firmly affirm that forced conversion is a myth, because I was a convert to Christianity, barely 11 years ago. I have crossed 50 years and believe my conversion was the work of the Lord, not of any human being. It is the same with all who have chosen Lord Jesus as their savior.
I solemnly affirm that none ever even tried to cajole (what to talk of forcing?) me to become a Christian. I discern force or inducement cannot convert anyone. Rather it is a spontaneous call that only the Lord alone decides. No doubt, certain individuals (priests and nuns) who authentically live the Gospel message do play a catalytic role to help people to respond to the call of the Holy Spirit to come to the Christ's embrace.
This is what happened with me. An American Jesuit, the late Father Joseph O'Brien, played this catalytic role in my conversion. However, the priest never even whispered to me to accept Christianity. I call this incredible, because many including some other priests, who knew our relationship and my growing inclination toward Lord Jesus, suspected the American Jesuit used to give me money.
Such suspicion had cropped up because Father O'Brien was reputed for helping thousands of refugees from Bangladesh settle in northern Bihar. He used to get funds from his family and friends in the United States for the purpose. However, the priest had never told any refugee to become Christian. I know hundreds of refugees who received help from the American Jesuit. But none of them is a Christian.
In my case, however, the Jesuit was my bridge to Jesus. He was my class teacher in the ninth grade in Bettiah's Khrist Raja (Christ the king) High School in 1971. I had approached him for coaching in English, since I came from a semi-literate family where English was alien. Father O'Brien readily agreed to help. He taught me the language for almost four years even after he retired from the school.
The priest's selfless, simple and prayerful life and acts of generosity immensely touched me. I managed to get a Hindi Bible and prayed with it. Gradually, the Lord began to reveal his graces and love to me.
After my 10th grade I mustered the courage to tell Father O'Brien I yearned to become a Catholic. He smiled but simply said to wait and keep on praying.
I left my hometown and stayed at various places to carry on my studies. I traveled to Europe and Africa for my doctoral works and received my doctorate in 1990. On my return to Bettiah, I would visit the priest every day, and I repeated my request. But he still counseled me to wait some more.
I had virtually given up the hope for baptism when suddenly the Jesuit told me in October 1997 that if I wished, I could receive baptism. On Oct. 12 that year, an Indian Jesuit baptized me. Three days later the American Jesuit died at the age of 86.
A day after my baptism and two days before his death, Father O'Brien divulged to me that he had been seeking permission for my baptism since 1974, but his superiors always declined. His age had probably prevailed upon his superiors eventually to his request. However, I take the delay as the work of the Holy Spirit.
My conversion journey began in 1971 but concluded more than 25 years later in 1997. I still do not know why Church leaders relentlessly declined my request for baptism. Meanwhile, I was blessed with a wife and two children.
My conversion exposes the myth of forced conversion. In fact, the Indian Church seems to be reluctant to even proclaim the Gospel among people of other faiths. This is especially so after foreign missioners passed on the Church's leadership to Indians.
The Church spotlight has turned to eradication of illiteracy and empowerment of the weak and poor. The Church is more focused on project-oriented programs and ensures its work does not have even a whiff of proselytization.
Against such a backdrop, I wonder why Hindu extremists accuse the Church of forced conversion.
Most priests and nuns in my region do not accept me as an integral part of the Church, although I have cordial relations with most. Some priests and nuns who trust my faith in Jesus have confided to me that their colleagues are skeptical about my faith. This is the most haunting challenge for me.
However, this has not wilted my faith. I laugh when I hear such things about my faith. Of course, my laughter has a mix of despair and resentment. Nevertheless, this helps me snuggle to the Lord more fervently through prayers and total surrender. I don't worry what others think about me. My only concern is that the Lord should not suspect my faith. I am grateful to the Lord for he manifests his trust in me through manifold graces.
Another major challenge stems from my Hindu friends and relatives. I have not suffered any persecution at their hands, but they do sometimes taunt me bitterly under the garb of jokes. I don't take umbrage because I know they have no inkling of the unique journey of my conversion.
I believe my conversion is a call from Jesus, otherwise it would not have happened amid suspicious Catholic priests. My conversion is a special gift from the Lord which even Catholic priests envy. This also implies that I am bound to suffer. As a devotee of Jesus, I have to carry my cross. However, I am convinced the Lord will eventually vindicate my faith.
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