The Vatican on Thursday asked Hindus to fight “hateful propaganda” and allow Christians to practise their religion freely, in a message delivered to mark the upcoming festival of light, Diwali.

The message, signed by the head and deputy head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran and Pier Luigi Celata, comes as the number of Christians persecuted in certain regions of India rises.

From the state of Orissa in the east to Kerala in the southwest, the conversion of Dalit or Untouchables to the Christian faith has sparked violence, with groups of extremist Hindus attacking Christians and their churches.

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