Panaji: The opposition, as well as social media users, on Monday criticised a senior RSS leader's comment that his organisation was open to facilitate the "Ghar Wapsi" or conversion of willing Goan Catholics, whose ancestors were "forcibly converted" during the colonial Portuguese rule.
The Congress called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader's statement an attempt to polarise Goa, where Catholics account for 26 percent of the population, while several people on Goa-related Facebook groups have also expressed their outrage.
"If anyone is interested in believing in any faith, they will do it themselves, there is no need for right-wing extremists to 'arrange anything'... We will expose and fight all such attempts which threaten the secular fabric of our state and country," Congress spokesperson Sunil Kawthankar told IANS.
On Saturday after conducting a training session for young RSS volunteers, senior RSS office bearer Sharad Kunte said the RSS was willing to welcome Catholics, whose ancestors were converted during Portuguese colonial rule generations back.
"If they want to come back, we are ready to welcome them... It's like this, the Portuguese had forcibly converted thousands of Hindus. They (those converted) are not around now, but I think their later generations are," said Kunte, who heads the RSS' intellectual wing for the western region.
The training session was attended by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, Goa Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar and Goa legislative assembly Speaker Rajendra Arlekar.
Goa was a Portuguese colony for more than 450 years until it was liberated from Portuguese rule in 1961 by the Indian Army.
In the earlier part of the Portuguese regime, a large number of Goans were converted, often by force by Catholic missionaries, according to documented historical texts.
Goa has a population of 1.5 million out of which more than 26 percent are Catholics.
Kunte also said the RSS' "ghar-wapsi" programme was not about re-conversion with force or lure, but only serving as facilitators to those "who want to come back (to their original religion)".
The RSS leader's comments have triggered several comments on Goa-related Facebook groups, most expressing a sense of outrage, while few backed Kunte.
"How about conversion of RSS? Let them begin by first hoisting the Indian National flag every Independence and Republic Day at their HQ. Abiding by the Indian constitution and the articles enshrined in it, upholding its sanctity," says Jennifer Miranda, who works as a resource person at the Securities and Exchange Board of India on Goans for Goa group which has over 3,500 members.
Derrick Dias, a banker who works for a nationalised bank, said on Goa+, which has over 60,000 members that the "ghar-wapsi" bogey has been raised by the government, in order to distract the country from the "black money wapsi" (bringing home the black money) debacle, even as others on the same group, like Bengaluru-based Raghavendra Prabhu call it a "great initiative".
"There are so many who want to return and don't know how to proceed," Prabhu said.
A nationwide controversy erupted recently after a few Hindu organisations, some of which owe allegiance to the RSS, organised conversion programmes in some north Indian states to convert non-Hindus to Hinduism.
The opposition, which had stalled the proceedings of the Rajya Sabha for several days over the issue, has accused the Hindu organisations of offering money as well as government perks to those who converted or were potential converts.