DELHI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Hindu hardliners are calling for the expulsion of Christians from India, in response to a Catholic bishop's prayer initiative.
On May 8, Abp. Anil Couto of Delhi announced a one-year prayer campaign leading up to the country's 2019 elections. He prescribed a prayer intention to be read at every Mass beginning May 13 and asked the faithful to fast from one meal on Fridays. The archbishop also wrote that parishes should have a Holy Hour every Friday, during which they consecrate the country to Our Lady of Fatima.
The prayer that Abp. Couto instructed to be read at Mass asks God for "the ethos of true democracy" and "the flames of honest patriotism."
But India's ruling party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), took issue with the archbishop's letter. The party's head, Amit Shah, said in response to the letter, "It's not appropriate if anyone is talking about polarizing people in the name of religion."
The Hindu backlash has continued for weeks. In a video circulating on social media since May 25, about 20 Hindus can be seen protesting against Catholicism and stomping on images of Pope Francis. The protest took place not far from Sacred Heart Cathedral in New Delhi. New Delhi is one of 11 districts in the city of Delhi.
UCA News, an Asian Catholic news site, broke the story of the Hindu protest to international media on May 30.
The protest video shows a man in red robes speaking into the microphone. That man is being identified as Swami Om Ji Maharaj, a controversial Hindu religious figure.
Maharaj was a contestant on Bigg Boss, an Indian reality television show comparable to the United States' Big Brother. The religious leader caused whirlwinds of controversy in 2015 for hitting a woman on live television. During a heated debate that devolved into a shouting match, Maharaj insulted female astrologer Deepa Sharma. She then left her seat, walked over to Maharaj and slapped him on the shoulder. Maharaj retaliated with one or two swings at the woman's head.
In the recent video clip from UCA News, another man took the microphone after Maharaj and led the protesters in a cheer that is being translated as "Down with Pope Francis!" The video then shows a few protestors stomping on images of the Pope.
During his remarks on video, Maharaj even accused India's Christians of "promoting terrorism and Maoism," according to the UCA News report. "Maoism" is the specific breed of communism practiced in China, named after Chairman Mao Zedong.
Terrorism is an ironic accusation against the country's Christian minority, as recent months have seen a spike in anti-Christian violence in India.
Southern India's Tamil Nadu State has witnessed 15 violent attacks against Christians since January.
Alongside the violence, there have also been unjust arrests of Christians. In some parts of India, local law enforcement is arresting Christian leaders under drummed-up charges of "forced conversion" — alleging that former Hindus who convert to Christianity are being forced into it.
Laws against forced conversion are on the books in seven Indian states. Featuring innocuous names such as the Freedom of Religion Act, these measures are being used to target Christian communities and deter evangelization.
Four Christians in eastern India's Jharkhand State were arrested on May 29 owing to "forced conversion" charges. Sources say the real reason why police arrested the four Christians is that two of the accused were planning to get married on May 30, but the local Sarna tribe did not approve of their relationship.
Maharaj, the Hindu religious leader who recently accused Indian Christians of terrorism, was charged in 2016 with stealing bicycles, hoarding weapons and using obscene pictures to blackmail women for money.
These charges became public knowledge in October 2016 during his stint on Bigg Boss. At the time, Huffington Post India published a hit piece on Maharaj. Based mainly on his on-camera behavior, the scathing article called him a "misogynist" and "self-styled godman."