BosNewsLife – Hindu hardline groups say hundreds of Dalit and Tribal Christians have been “converted back to Hinduism” in India ‘s states of Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, where churches are being transformed into Hindu temples, BosNewsLife monitored Wednesday, October 5.
The Hindu organization Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or ‘World Hindu Council’ told the Pioneer newspaper about 200 Christians of the Bonda tribe were “reconverted to Hinduism in a reconversion ceremony” it organized with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), another Hindu group, in India’s eastern state of Orissa on Monday, October 3.
Hindu cleric Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati led the proceedings in Khariarpur village of Orissa ‘s Malkangiri district area, the news paper said. “Around 5,000 tribal people assembled in their traditional attires and weapons to witness the ceremony,” claimed the Pioneer, citing Hindu sources.
Tribals are India ‘s original and most impoverished inhabitants. Reports of a growing Christian movement among them have been criticized by Hindu hardline groups such as RSS and VHP.
The RSS and VHP launched the “district wise campaign” for Tribals to “reinstate Hindus to their own religion” on August 25, Indian media said. In addition to Tribals at least 1,800 Dalit Christians were reconverted in another ceremony organized by the VHP” earlier on Sunday, October 2, in the north-central state of Uttar Pradesh, the Pioneer claimed.
The term Dalit is used for the so-called “untouchables” of India , who occupy the lowest place in the 3,000 year-old caste system of Hinduism. Up to 1,800 Christian converts “re-embraced Hinduism” during Sunday’s ceremony in the state’s Etah district of the Agra division area, while “40 churches were handed over” to the VHP’s Department for the Protection of Religion, according to the Pioneer.
The Press Trust of India news agency put the figure of reconversions in Etah at 3,500. The VHP now plans to transform the churches into temples of Maharishi Valmiki, the writer of the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, news reports said. A “purification” ceremony took place “before a gathering of more than 3,200 villagers from 70 villages of Etah at the Saraswati Vidya Mandir,” location said the Pioneer newspaper.
“I witnessed the re-conversion ceremony, which was held at the Saraswati Vidya Mandir, situated on the Grand Trunk Road in the headquarters of Etah district,” added Pioneer Correspondent Vijay Upadhyay, who reported on the October 2 events in Etah, in an interview with BosNewsLife.
“Some of the Christians who reconverted to Hinduism had been following Christianity for the last 20 years,” Upadhyay claimed. The Additional District Magistrate of Etah District, Vijay Singh Pal, told the BosNewsLife New Delhi Bureau he had “no information about the re-conversion” ceremony.
“Many representatives of people visit my office, but no one has this [information]. I learnt about the incident from a newspaper. Although I can’t deny that the reconversions took place, I can’t confirm them either.”
He stressed the newspaper “does not even mention” in which exact areas the re-conversions took place. “Moreover, I wonder if there are so many Christians in the villages [as] even in the cities there are very few Christians,” the official added.
The Pioneer quoted VHP leaders as saying they aim “to bring back at least 80,000 Christian [to Hinduism] next year.” VHP officials earlier declared their plan to “reconvert” 80,000 Christians after a survey conducted by Hindu organizations claimed over 200,000 Dalits had converted to Christianity in Agra division alone in August.
Agra division, which is home to 638,000 Dalits, is composed of seven districts of Uttar Pradesh. The VHP allegedly reconverted 5,000 Dalit Christians from 26 villages of the Etah and Firozabad districts earlier this year on February 13, BosNewsLife reported on February 19.
Of a population of 212,578 Christians in Uttar Pradesh, 91,596 live in villages, and the remaining 120,982 in cities, according to a 2001 Census. Of the 91,596 rural Christians, 17,196 are below the age of six, the Census claimed.
VHP Regional Coordinator Indrajit Arya told reporters that many Christians want to “reconvert” in Uttar Pradesh. He told the Pioneer that “some converts’ families who arrived in the purification ceremony [Sunday, October 2] had been Christians for two-three generations and now they want to re-embrace Hinduism, along with their children, who were born Christians.”
He accused Christian missionaries of misleading Dalit Hindus, especially those from the Valmiki community, “to convert to Christianity.” The VHP official was quoted as saying “that Christian converts want to reunite with their heritage that they had lost by assuming Christianity.”
Arya stressed the Valmiki community “had always been considered untouchable and the missionaries took full advantage of this fact by promising lucrative terms like financial security and social equality.” While the VHP had “taken up this task of reconversion only a few years back, the Valmiki community of Agra was being misled by the missionaries for far too long,” he added.
Sunday’s ceremony in Uttar Pradesh was led by Yogi Adityanath, a Member of Parliament from the state’s Gorakhpur district, controlled by the Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party and the VHP. Adityanath is also the head of a regional Hindu extremist group, the Hindu Yuva Vahini (HYV) or Hindu Youth Group’, founded in 2002 with an aim to reconvert Hindus who converted to other religions.
The Times of India, a national daily, reported on October 3 that the HYV was selling a promotional audio cassette tiled Yogi ji ki sena chali or ‘The army of Yogi goes marching’ in several districts of Uttar Pradesh state. In the audio presentation, Adityanath “launches [into] a tirade against” Christian missionaries,” The Times of India said. 14,000 copies are already sold and a further 10,000 are being made, BosNewsLife learned.