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Wednesday, October 20, 1999 Published at 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK

World: South Asia

Hardline Hindus rally against Pope

A sign in Delhi heralds the Pope's visit

By Sanjiv Srivastava in Bombay

Right-wing Hindu nationalist organisations in India have started a 1,500km protest march from the western town of Goa ahead of a visit by the Pope next month.

The protestors, who will end their rally in New Delhi on 3 November - two days before the Pope's arrival in Delhi - want him to issue a statement condemning the practice of religious conversions.

They also want the Pope to apologise for the religious persecution of the Hindus in Goa during the Portuguese rule in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Despite assertions by right-wing Hindu organisations about their protest plans being completely peaceful, there is no mistaking the heat now being generated by the Pope's visit.


Hardline Hindu organisations like the Vishva Hindu Parishad (International Hindu Council) say it will encourage Christian missionaries.

[ image: 'A hate campaign' says India's Catholic Church]
'A hate campaign' says India's Catholic Church
They see the visit as a conspiracy to convert low caste and poor Hindus to Christianity.

The Hindu groups say they want the Pope to condemn the practice of religious conversions and declare that all religions are equal.

The Roman Catholic Church in India, which has all along denied any forcible conversions of Hindus, says the Hindu organisations are using the Pope's visit to launch a hate campaign against the Church.

BJP on the spot

A series of attacks on Christian missionaries and institutions in the past year have already strained the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church in India and the nationalist Hindu organisations.

[ image: A challenge for India's new government]
A challenge for India's new government
For the newly elected right-wing BJP-led coalition government in Delhi, the controversy could not have come at a more inopportune time.

Idealogically, the BJP is regarded as being close to organisations like the International Hindu Council.

But the pressures of coalition politics, and also the governing party's desire to shed its hardline image, have made the BJP distance itself from the anti-Church education and welcome the Pope as a state guest.

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