ST. AUGUSTINE, Trinidad, Aug. 21 (AP) - Hinduism may dominate the colossal country of India - but embittered Hindu leaders feel the religion is endangered by Christian missionaries increasingly zealous to convert their flock around the world.

They likened proselytizers efforts to a new colonialism.

That was the acrimonious message that emerged from a four-day World Hindu Conference - the first since a meeting in South Africa five years ago - which drew about 1,000 delegates from five continents and across the Caribbean and ended Sunday.

"Imperialism and colonialism (are) trying to create fissures in Hindu society and the proselytizing of churches is becoming increasingly aggressive," said Sri Ashok Singal, head of the World Hindu Organization.

Trinidad is an apt venue for sounding such alarm: the country, where almost half the 1.3 million people are Indian-descended, has been the focus of efforts by U.S. evangelists which local Hindu leaders admit have made inroads: census figures show Hindus now account for only a quarter of the Trinidadian population.

Several resolutions emerged from the conference aimed at bulwarking Hinduism - including the establishment of an "Anti-Conversion Task Force" aimed at promoting the faith among youth while countering Christian proselytizers wherever they preach.

Local Hindu leader Sat Maharaj, who helped organize the conference, said there were about 1 billion Hindus in the world today - although some estimates put the number at half that. He too said there was "great danger" from evangelicals.

Swami Aksharandanda of Guyana - a South American country across the sea from Trinidad with some 400,000 people of Indian descent - blasted "the Christian obsession to convert members of other faith communities." He called the missionaries "the new Conquistadors" seeking "denomination."

Some speakers at the conference said Christian groups are also spending many millions of dollars in conversion efforts in India itself.

Guyanese Agriculture Minister Reesu Persaud put a positive twist on the trend.

"We have suffered all sorts of oppression ... but history will show that we've been victorious, because we are inclusive and not only accept, but also respect, other religions," he told some 7,000 people at a closing rally Sunday.

Guests at the conference included Sankacharya Swami Divyanad Ji Maharaj, one of Hinduism's highest-ranking leaders; and Indian billionaire B.K. Modi, whose interests include tires, electronics and magazines.

Local Christian leaders gave no reaction to the charges leveled during the Hindu conference. In the past, missionaries here have been unapologetic.

"We're in the soul-saving business," said Pastor Tyrone Allen of Virginia Beach, Virginia, during a visit earlier this year. "We have a purpose, and this purpose is to give out our knowledge of the Lord. He commanded us to make disciples, and that's what we're doing."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus