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For Immediate Release

You are free to disseminate the following news. We request that you reference ICC (International Christian Concern) and include our web address www.www.persecution.org. Contact Jeff King, President, 301-989-1708, [email protected]

Summary: The World Hindu Council and Bajrang Dal (BD) on November 8 claimed they oversaw the conversion of 58 tribal Christians back to Hinduism in Sundergarh district, Orissa state. “Those who were brought back to the Hindu fold had embraced Christianity a few years ago, but they were following Hindu rituals for the last two years,” claimed Subash Chouhan, a leader of the BD. However, Ms. Shivani Sahini, a senior police official, told ICC, “The tribal people whom the Hindu groups are claiming to have reconverted were never converted to Christianity in the first place”. She also said, “The local police were not informed about the ‘reconversion’ program, which was organized secretly.” As per the anti-conversion law in place in Orissa, both the priest involved and the person wanting to convert are required to inform the local administration prior to the conversion.

Hindu Fundamentalists Claim Reconversion of 58 Tribal Christians in India

Senior police official denies reconversion claims

(November 28, 2005) – Hindu fundamentalist organizations on November 8 claimed that they oversaw conversion of 58 tribal Christians back to Hinduism in the western state of Orissa, a claim which was denied by a senior police official.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, alleged that it “re-converted” 58 “Christians” from tribal backgrounds at Dharanidharpur village in Bonai block, Sundergarh district, reported the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) on November 8.

The term ‘tribal’ is used to refer to India ’s original inhabitants. Sundergarh district has a sizable tribal and Christian population.

The IANS quoted a local Bajrang Dal leader, Mr. Subash Chouhan, as saying that 58 people belonging to 12 tribal families of two villages had embraced Hinduism at a function organized by his organization.

“Those who were brought back to the Hindu fold had embraced Christianity a few years ago, but they were following Hindu rituals for the last two years,” he claimed.

Chouhan had earlier told the IANS (in 2000) that a group of Hindu organizations were planning to “reconvert” at least 100,000 tribal people “proselytized by Christian missionaries” in the following five years.

However, when ICC spoke to Ms. Shivani Sahini, the Superintendent of Police of Sundergarh district, to confirm the alleged reconversion of the 58 tribal Christians, she rejected the claims of the Hindu fundamentalist organizations.

“The tribal people whom the Hindu groups are claiming to have reconverted were never converted to Christianity in the first place,” Sahini said.

“Some of these people allegedly attended Christian meetings, in which their sicknesses got healed. As a result, some of them might have started worshipping Jesus. However, they never converted to Christianity. They attended the so-called reconversion program pressure by the people in their neighborhood who were not happy with their association with Christians,” she explained.

She also denied Chouhan’s claim that his organization informed the local administration prior to the “reconversion” of the tribal people. “The local police were not informed about the ‘reconversion’ program, which was organized secretly,” she said.

As per the anti-conversion law in place in Orissa, both the priest involved and the person wanting to convert are required to inform the local administration prior to the conversion.

“Any person intending to convert his religion shall give a declaration before a Magistrate… prior to such conversion that he intends to convert his religion on his own will,” states Section 4 of the Orissa Freedom of Religion Rules of 1989.

Similarly, Section 5-(1) states that “…the concerned religious priest shall intimate the date, time and place of the ceremony in which conversion shall be made along with the names and addresses of the persons to be converted to the concerned District Magistrate before fifteen days of the said ceremony.”

Christians in India allege that the reconversion programs, known as “ghar-vapsi” or homecoming, are a part of the Hindu fundamentalist organizations propaganda to spread hate against the Christian minority community.

“Such shows are organized to propagate the false theory that Christian missionaries convert poor tribal people to Christianity by fraudulent means,” Rev. Dr. D.B. Hrudaya, a representative of the All India Christian Council and prominent Christian leader, told ICC.

“Such claims are often found to be false and exaggerated. And in some instances, extremists threaten Christians to ostracize them if they do not attend the re-conversion ceremony,” added Hrudaya, who has received several awards by the Orissa state government in recognition of his service to the marginalized people.

A representative of the Christian Legal Association of India, a network of Christian lawyers, said that it was due to the false propaganda by Hindu fundamentalists through programs like ‘ghar-vapsi’ that anti-conversion laws, which violate the religious freedom of the people, have been enacted in some Indian states.

Orissa state is infamous for the burning alive of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons by a mob of Hindu extremists led by Dara Singh at Manoharpur village in Orissa’s Keonjhar district in the night of January 21-22, 1999.

According to government estimates, Orissa has 897,861 Christians.