KADAPA, India (RNS) — A decade ago the residents of Kesalingayapalli, a village in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, succeeded in building a temple to the Hindu god Ram, modeling their home as a place “rooted in Indian culture and tradition.”Three years later, during the festival commemorating Ram’s birth, Bandi Venkatramana, a local farmer, erected an urgent red-and-white sign, known here as a saffron board, at the entrance to the quiet village.
It read: “In this village everyone is a Hindu, hence people of other religions can’t propagate their faith here. If someone violates this warning, stern action will be taken against them. If you convert to a different religion, it’s akin to changing your mother.”
Venkatramana is the district coordinator for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a Hindu nationalist paramilitary organization and the ideological forebear of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. He said he wanted to send out a clear warning to non-Hindus entering this village.
“Muslims or Christian evangelists can’t enter our village to propagate their faith,” said Venkatramana, wearing a checked sarong. “If they persist despite our warnings, strict action is taken against them.”
Bandi Venkatramana poses in the Kesalingayapalli village in Andhra Pradesh, India, in early February 2023. Photo by Priyadarshini Sen
Vekatramana’s efforts have borne fruit. Hindus in this village of 250 families surrounded by rice paddies and peanut fields have been asked to be vigilant in keeping Muslims and Christians out. Saffron flags printed with Hindu symbols and pictures of Ram flutter atop ho …