Police raid Indian church, question US visitors after Hindu group alleges conversion activity

People take part in a religion conversion ceremony from Christianity to Hinduism at Hasayan town in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh August 29, 2014REUTERS

Christians in India were left 'shocked' after police in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh were called to a church by members of a Hindu youth group who demanded that the officers investigate a group of Americans they believed were engaged in forced religious conversions.

A team of officers arrived at St Andrew's Church in the village of Dadhauli, about 230 miles east of Lucknow, and found about 25 activists from the group Hindu Yuva Vahini with a written request for a police inquiry, according to the lead officer Anand Kumar Gupta.

Inside the church, the police found nine foreigners, including American tourists, and a group of villagers involved in a prayer service. There was no evidence of efforts to convert Hindus to Christianity, and after checking the foreigners' passports and ensuring that they all had valid tourist visas, the police allowed them to leave.

Gupta said: 'We did not file any complaint as we found no such activity happening there.'

The incident left the group's host as well as the foreigners shaken. 'We were all shocked,' said Dev Raj, a member of a Christian organisation in New Delhi who had taken a group of friends, seven Americans and two Ukranians, on a tour of northern India. 'My friends said: "Is this what normally happens in India? That you visit a church and are mobbed by a group of men?"'

The encounter brings into focus the tensions between emboldened right-wing Hindu activists and India's minority groups including Christians, particularly when it comes to missionary activity.

Last month India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his governing Bharatiya Janata Party shut down a Christian charity, Compassion International, because of suspicions that it was engaging in conversions.

The Hindu Yuva Vahini, or Hindu Youth Brigade, was formed in 2002 by Yogi Adityanath, a hard-line Hindu priest who was appointed the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh last month.

Adityanath is known for provocative comments about India's minorities. In 2015, when a Muslim man was killed by a Hindu mob outside Delhi over rumours that he had slaughtered a cow – revered as sacred in Hinduism – Adityanath defended the mob and said that the family of the man should be prosecuted. He has also called for India to be enshrined as a Hindu rashtra, or Hindu nation.

But since becoming chief minister, Adityanath has also moderated his language about minorities, saying all groups should be tolerated.