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American tourists told to leave India for alleged evangelical activities
Three women who were touring India were asked recently to leave the country amid accusations that they were evangelizing.
Shelly Louise Deeds, 50, daughter Katelyn Header Deeds, 15, and Diane Gean Harrington were asked by state officials in Kerala to leave India, allegedly because they were trying to convert poor people in Alappuzha, which is a coastal district in Kerala, The Times of India said.
The women had been in the country already for two weeks when they were asked to leave. Their visas were valid until November, 2011, according to The Times of India.
However, state police claim that the women were asked to leave because they violated the rules of their tourist visas when they attempted to join organized meetings and activities, The Times of India said.
Activists from a number of Hindu organizations claim otherwise. They reported to local police that the three were trying to bribe poor families in order to convert them to the Christian faith, according to The Times of India.
RSS Taluk office-bearer Raghu told The Times of India, “They were targeting the poor families in the coastal area and were trying to convert them with several offers. The area had significant Hindu and Muslim population while only some recent converts were part of the Christian community. The pastors and foreigners were trying to influence the local people through the new converts. They had visited several houses in the area and conducted prayer sessions.”
The local pastors who allegedly were working with the three women are Jacob, 34, Sabu , 47, and James, 45, from the district of Kottayam. Police told The Times of India that they are continuing to investigate the case, and the U.S. Embassy in India has also been informed of the situation.
The investigation is headed by Circle Inspector J. Aanthoshkumar. The Times of India said the alleged prayer sessions created a disturbance, and right-wing Hindu organizations threatened to go to the streets in protest.
District SP Asok Kumar told The Times of India, “We have not received any evidence to indicate the three US women were engaged in conversion-related activities. However, they were about to attend religious prayer session[s]. They have come on visit visas and the law of the land doesn’t permit them to attend any organized meeting or group activities including the prayer sessions.”
Kumar also said to The Times of India, “We were not clear about their intentions. That is why we asked them to leave the country, and they agreed. There is no deportation involved. They are now waiting for their return tickets.”
A number of Indian states prohibit religious conversion, a highly controversial issue in parts of the country which, at times, can be deadly. Right wing Hindu groups believe that converting Dalits and tribals may pose a threat to the majority religion.
Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were burned to death in 1999 when their station wagon, in which they had been sleeping, was set on fire by Hindu extremists.