NEW DELHI (RNS) Tensions between Christians and Muslims in India’s Kerala state have reached the boiling point over allegations of widespread coerced conversions to Islam.

Kerala’s communist Chief Minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, accused an Islamist opposition party of conspiring to turn Kerala into a Muslim-dominated state.

Youngsters are being given money and are being lured to convert to Islam, he told reporters at a news conference. Opposition parties accused the government of playing the Hindu card ahead of local elections.

Muslims and Christian minorities in India generally enjoy good relations and see each other as fellow victims of alleged persecution by right-wing Hindu groups. Kerala’s population of 31.8 million is 56 percent Hindu, 24 percent Muslim and 19 percent Christian.

The chief minister’s statement came after alleged members of the Islamist party Popular Front of India (PFI) cut off a Christian professor’s hand on July 4 in the central district of Kottayam. India’s National Investigation Agency is investigating the role of PFI in terrorism.

According to local daily Mangalam, a PFI-backed Taliban-styled Shariah court ”one of 14 reported Islamic courts in Kerala ”had ordered the punishment against Professor T.J. Joseph for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a paper.

Six weeks earlier, four people were killed and 38 injured when police fired at rioting Christian and Muslim mobs that were hurling bombs at each other in Kerala’s capital city, Thiruvananthapuram.

The hostilities have reportedly led some Catholic parishes to boycott local Muslim-owned shops, while others are meeting with Muslim leaders to try to stabilize relations between the two faiths.

Tensions in Kerala first flared last September when two female students at a Christian college alleged that Muslim men from PFI lured them into marriage and later converted them to Islam. The Kerala Catholic Bishops Council charged that around 4,500 Christian girls had been targeted. A Hindu group, Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, claimed that 30,000 girls had been converted to Islam in neighboring Karnataka state ”terming the ploy as Love Jihad.

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